What to burn in a fireplace or wood stove (and what to avoid…)
Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to burn only one type of fuel. Used as all-purpose incinerators, these devices can pose the following hazards:
- Harmful vapours can vent into the living space. Even the most efficient fireplaces will vent directly into the living space while they’re opened and closed for cleaning and refuelling, exposing everyone in the house to potentially dangerous fumes.
- Harmful vapours will vent to the outdoors. Most newer fireplaces and wood stoves do an excellent job of funnelling smoke and fumes to the outdoors, but the problem doesn’t end there; this pollution persists, contaminating household and environmental air.
- Burning inappropriate fuel can cause mechanical damage. Chimneys can become lined with residue from inappropriate items, which may lead to a dangerous chimney fire. The fumes from certain items will quickly wear out sensitive components, such as catalytic combustors in wood stoves.
What can be burned in a fireplace?
- Dried, cut firewood. An adequate fuel supply will consist of a mixture of hardwoods, such as maple and oak, and softwoods, such as fir and pine. Softwoods ignite quickly and are useful in the early stages of the fire, while hardwoods provide a longer-lasting fire, and are best used after preheating the chimney. Despite the different burning characteristics of hardwoods and softwoods, which can be attributed to differences in density, the heat-energy released by burning wood is the same, regardless of species. To dry out wood, it should be stacked in an open area so the sun can warm the pieces and the breezes can carry away the moisture. Poplar, spruce and other softwoods generally dry quickly, as do wood that has been split small. Adequately seasoned wood has a moisture content of less than 20%, which can be checked using the following indicators:
- The wood has darkened from white or a cream colour to yellow or grey.
- There are cracks or checks in the end grain.
- A hollow sound is produced when two pieces of wood are banged together.
- You can split a piece and feel if the new surface is damp or dry.
- The wood does not hiss while burning.
- You can check its moisture content with a moisture mete
What should never be burned in a fireplace?
- Pallets, Although some pallets are safe to burn in fireplaces, those that are treated with the fumigant methyl bromide (labelled with the initials MB) are unsafe to burn.
- Painted wood, Paint contains heavy metals, such as lead, chromium and titanium, which are used to make the different colours. These metals, especially lead, can be toxic even in small quantities if inhaled.
- Pressure-treated wood, Wood is commonly made resistant to fungus and insects.
- Plywood, particleboard, chipboard or OSB.
- Rotted, diseased or moldy wood, This wood will not burn as long as normal wood, may produce bad smells when burned, and could bring insects into the house.
- Damp wood, Wood that has a moisture content higher than 20% will burn inefficiently and will contribute to a greater accumulation of creosote in the chimney, as well as air pollution.
- Dryer lint, While it’s often used effectively as a fire-starter, lint can contain a wide array of dangerous chemicals that come from your clothes and fabric softener.
- Trash, Never burn household garbage, as it contains a range of potentially hazardous materials and chemicals that react in unpredictable ways when burned together. Newspaper ink, plastics, aluminum foil, plastic baggies, and whatever else constitutes your particular trash can create a deadly chemical cocktail.
Use only approved and appropriate fuel to burn in your fireplace or wood stove; certain items should never be burned because they can cause problems ranging from minor irritation to a hazardous health threat to your family.