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Heating with firewood - Fireplace Safety and Health Tips

When comparing heating fuels, wood has a lot of advantages. If properly used, wood is an excellent fuel source. But if done improperly, heating with wood can put our health, our homes, and our environment at risk.

fireplace burning wood with feet crossed in cozy socks in the foreground
Winter is the perfect time to build a fire. Stay safe and only use seasoned hardwood as fuel. Avoid using junk
mail and glossy paper in your fireplace.

The key to making the most of heating with wood is proper:

  • harvesting
  • storage
  • burn
  • equipment maintenance

    All of the above are key to keeping your indoor air quality healthy.

What is safe to burn in your fireplace?

Burn only Seasoned Wood!

The most important thing you can do to ensure you are getting the most heat and the least emissions from your wood stove is to burn only fully seasoned wood: wood that has been properly dried for at least six months and has reached a moisture content of about 20% or less.

  • When the firewood has dried in the sun and summer breezes, move it to winter storage that’s dry and sheltered from rain.
  • Seasoned wood burns much more efficiently, resulting in better burning and far less particulate matter emissions.

Wood smoke and your health

Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to safely contain wood-fuel fires, while providing heat for a home.

Chimneys serve to expel the by-products of combustion, which include smoke, water vapor, gases, unburned wood particles, hydrocarbon and other minerals. As these substances exit the fireplace or wood stove, and flow into the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs.  The resulting residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney is called creosote.

Burning wet or green wood results in more creosote buildup in your stovepipe.

Creosote is a tar-like substance consisting of oils that didn't completely burn in the wood stove. These oils can condense on the pipe and become a serious fire hazard. As the creosote builds up it's likely to ignite, creating a chimney fire.

Should I burn wet wood?

Burning fresh or wet wood is also a waste of money through chimneys because so much energy is used initially just to drive off the water trapped in the cells of the logs, and making the resulting exhaust air cooler than if seasoned wood is used.

What kind of wood should I burn?

What should I NOT burn in my fireplace?

Except for a small amount of newspaper to start the fire, never burn anything other than seasoned firewood in a wood stove. DO NOT BURN:

  • junk mails
  • bills
  • glossy magazine pages
  • wet or rotting wood 

All of the above items burn poorly and release high levels of particulate matter, which contains dangerous particles that can enter your lungs but can't escape. This can cause a host of health problems, including asthma and other respiratory diseases and cardiac issues.