As temperatures get colder, many people start their first woodfires of the heating season, seeking the warmth of a cozy fire, but not the unhealthy smoke or the creosote build-up in the chimney that can increase the risk of a house fire.
The less efficient the fire, the more wood-smoke pollution is produced and the more potential for creosote to build up. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a leading factor contributing to fires from home heating is a dirty chimney (i.e., creosote build-up).
Here are some tips from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for burning the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance for a hotter fire with less smoke and creosote.
Burn the right wood
• Burn only dry, seasoned wood for a hotter fire with less smoke. Wood burns most efficiently if the moisture content is 20 percent or less.
• Split your firewood before storing — it dries much faster. Slope the woodpile cover to encourage rain runoff.
• Freshly cut wood needs time to season – store for a minimum of six months for softwood and 12 months for hardwood. To see if your wood is ready to burn, test it with a moisture meter.
Burn wood the right way
• The easiest way to get a fire going is to build a small fire. Use seasoned pieces of kindling or an all-natural fire-starter. Gradually add larger pieces of split, dry firewood.
• A fire needs oxygen. Provide sufficient air to the fire and keep space between logs when adding more fuel.
Use the right appliance
• Upgrade to a cleaner wood-heating device like an EPA-certified pellet device or catalytic/hybrid wood stove or fireplace insert. A properly installed and operated EPA-certified wood stove (or fireplace insert) can reduce air pollutants by 70 percent compared to older uncertified models. Find cleaner-burning appliances at www.epa.gov/burnwise.
• Have your wood burning appliance and chimney inspected and maintained annually by a certified professional for optimal performance and reduced creosote build-up.
• Avoid the wood storage and smoke altogether and upgrade to a gas heater or heat pump.
And remember — smoke may smell good, but it’s not good for you. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.
The NFPA Standard 211 states, "Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance and repairs shall be done if necessary."
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces be swept at 1/8 of an inch of sooty build-up and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. The presence of glaze indicates enough fuel build-up to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the structure and spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable build-up occurs.
Sublette County Unified Fire recommends hiring a certified chimney sweep trained to recognize deteriorating or venting problems to remove creosote and build-up.