This article was contributed by Reid from High’s Chimney Service, a local Maryland chimney service company that knows a few things about burning wood.
Whether it’s snuggling up to a cozy fireplace or a gathering around a spirited bonfire, open flame has an allure that has persisted for millennia. However, we must acknowledge that whenever something is burned – and this goes for wood – there will problematic emissions and environmental impacts. The most concerning emission in wood smoke is airborne fine particulate matter (basically, soot). Some other areas of concern include deforestation, carbon monoxide, forest fires, CO2, and carcinogens.
Two general principals to remember when burning a fire is to 1) burn clean and 2) minimize smoke; fortunately, there are several ways to do just that. Below are five easy ways you can minimize environmental tradeoffs while enjoying your fire.
1. Use seasoned firewood. Wood that has been “seasoned” is wood that has been properly dried out. Dry wood burns more efficient, and that equates to less smoke. Adequately seasoned firewood has been properly stored (in sheltered, dry, aerated stack) for usually around 6 months or so, and should have around 20 percent moisture. Seasoned firewood weighs at least 50 percent less than fresh wood and will typically have cracks, peeling bark, and a more gray color.
2. Try to use responsibly sourced firewood. Firewood is worse for the environment if it has to travel far to get to its destination or comes from deforested trees. Waste wood – for example, the leftover limbs of a tree-trimming job – is often as environmentally friendly as it gets and can be free as well. Just make sure the wood is also free of mold, pests, chemicals, and pesticides. If you buy firewood, feel free to ask some questions about its sourcing, species, and more. In VA or MD, the dealers must be licensed – this gives you some assurance that they have followed regulations and provide quality firewood. The State of Maryland’s website has more tips on buying firewood.
3. Burn firewood, not chemicals. Don’t ever, ever burn trash; there’s a ton of chemicals you could be releasing into the air if you do. Some things to remember to include in the trash category are: cardboard, glossy paper, and paper with colored ink (the ink turns toxic when burned). Don’t burn any wood that has been treated in any way, including wood that has been pressure treated, painted, stained, coated, or glued. A lot of the pressure-treated wood often used in building and decks contains arsenic, for example. Yuk. So please stick with natural firewood.
4. Don’t let your fire smolder overnight. If you do, you’re producing a lot of smoke, but not much heat. Plus, you know better than to leave a fire unattended, right?
5. Follow the rules. The majority of regions have some sort of regulations on fires, and they exist for a reason. Virginia, for example, has the 4pm Burn Law in the spring. Many other regional entities, from county to state governments, have fire restrictions to protect from smog, wildfires, and the like. Know your local laws and abide.
Well, we hope these tips help you burn a little better. Please burn smart and stay safe, friends.