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Jan 2017: How To Have a More Eco-Friendly Fireplace

On a cold winter night, there’s nothing cozier than an evening by a roaring fire. Go ahead … as long as you’re sure it’s not a winter Spare the Air day. There are ways to maintain a relatively eco-friendly fireplace, outlined below. But first consider these adverse aspects of burning wood:

  • Cutting down a tree for the purpose of burning wood contributes to deforestation, which destroys local ecosystems. In addition, even if you plant two trees to replace the tree that was cut down, the amount of carbon dioxide that was produced by the large tree is not nearly replaced.

  • When wood is not burned efficiently and completely, particulate matter is released into the air. Particulate matter consists of tiny, solid particles that can be described as soot. These particles can cause many health issues, such as lung problems.

  • Another byproduct of incomplete combustion is a release of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. Nitrogen dioxide is brown, smelly, and toxic.

  • Incomplete combustion also results in a release of carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless, deadly gas.

  • The same as when burning oil, coal, or natural gas, burning wood releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

While natural trees do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when they are burned, VOCs are emitted as gases when certain liquids and solids are burned. That’s why you should never burn formaldehyde; pesticides; arsenic; wood that is painted, stained, or glued; diseased or moldy firewood; any type of treated wood, such as cardboard, particle board, and pallets; glossy or colored paper (newsprint is okay); driftwood (it releases chlorine gas because it contains ocean salt) or trash.

Feeling sufficiently guilty? But you’re still going to go ahead and burn, baby, burn? Here are some guidelines:

  • Do not burn unseasoned firewood. The combustion process is disrupted if wood contains too much moisture. “Green” wood creates a lot of pollution and greatly increases the amount of creosote that is deposited in a chimney lining.

  • Always burn seasoned firewood. When you use dry firewood and use the most environmentally friendly burning practices, the amount of particulate matter that is released into the air is greatly minimized. Store hardwoods for a minimum of six months. Stack wood split-side down and off the ground to allow air to circulate around the wood. Cover the top of the stacked wood with a heavy-duty tarp to protect it from rain.

  • Burn hardwoods. Oak, maple, almond, and walnut burn cleaner, longer and hotter than softwoods. Split wood in a range of sizes, but do not cut pieces that are larger than 6 inches in diameter.

  • Avoid a smoldering fire. Burn a hot but safe fire, since it will yield greater efficiency and achieve full combustion. A smoldering fire yields a lot of smoke and releases hazardous particulate matter into the air. The less smoke there is, the more heat is produced. To begin, start a small fire with dry kindling then add a few pieces of wood. Give the fire plenty of air by fully opening the air controls until it is roaring.

  • Keep your chimney clean and in good working condition. If a chimney is in a state of disrepair, it results in less efficient venting and more pollution. Make sure to have a certified chimney sweep annually inspect your wood-burning appliance and chimney for any gaps, cracks or creosote build-up.

  • If you don’t already have one, consider getting a fireplace insert for your open hearth fireplace. The efficiency of a fireplace insert can be up to 80%, whereas a regular fireplace usually only has about a 10% efficiency, at most. Otherwise, you can move trapped hot air near the ceiling, by running a ceiling fan counterclockwise on low speed.

For more ideas about how to transform your home and community into more sustainable places, please visit


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