December 17th, 2010

Tips to Make Your Fireplace Eco-Friendly

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Oh, the weather outside is frightful and in the Northeast the cold has hit us hard.  While we patiently wait for our first real snow, many of us have already spent an evening or two curled up in front of the fireplace. Wish it weren’t so, but your fireplace is not the most eco- friendly way to heat your home-but I’m not willing to give up those cozy days and nights by the fire.

FACT: Wood smoke accounts for 80 percent of residential air pollution, causing possible health issues for children, the elderly and others with a compromised immune system.


Photo used under Creative Commons from Jon Olav

  • A fireplace is not very green Most of the heat leaves the room by escaping through the chimney.  Best bet is to invest in a wood stove or insert is made after 1992, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforced strict emissions standards.
  • Maintenance Have your chimney and your stove cleaned regularly.  Creosote, a black, tar-like or flaky deposit, can build up the chimney lining, blocking the proper exhaust of smoke and raising the risk of a chimney fire.
  • Make sure your stove has a catalyst and if not, install one Catalysts reduce emissions by burning the smoke so that it doesn’t escape up the chimney unused. If yours doesn’t have one get one installed.

What to Burn

  • Pellets in a pellet stovePellet stoves are small electric stoves that burn small pieces of recycled sawdust, that have been compressed into pellets. The pellets are extremely efficient, produce very little waste, and use inexpensive fuel.
  • If you are going to use cord wood, only use dry wood (the logs should have spent at least 6 months drying out). Wet wood won’t burn as efficiently-it smokes and releases more pollutants into the air.
  • Burn hardwoods Hardwoods are deciduous (trees who lose their leaves seasonally) such as cherry, oak, maple, walnut, poplar, ash, and birch.  They burn longer, hotter and cleaner than softwoods (evergreens and spruce).

    Photo used under Creative Commons from Peter Burgess

  • How about Duraflame and Java Log ?  Something about these logs feels very wrong-maybe because they are manufactured.  Surprisingly, the Java Log is made from compressed coffee grounds! Java Log claims to keep 12 million pounds of coffee grounds from landfills per year, emit up to 78% less carbon monoxide and up to 66% less creosote than cord wood fires.  Maybe worth a try?

What NOT to burn

It is so tempting to dump all of your junk mail and  old magazines into the fireplace.   According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Never burn household garbage or cardboard. Plastics, foam and the colored ink on magazines, boxes, and wrappers produce harmful chemicals when burned. They may also damage your wood-burning appliance.

    Photo used under Creative Commons from Peter Mulligan

  • Never burn coated, painted or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.
  • Never burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board, or any wood with glue on or in it. They all release toxic chemicals when burned.
  • Never burn wet, rotted, diseased, or moldy wood.

Get a carbon monoxide detector. When wood isn’t burned completely it emits an odorless, colorless gas known as carbon monoxide.  A CO detector could save your life.

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For more information on manufactured logs:

Ask Treehugger: Is Duraflame a Burnout?

*Top photo used under Creative Commons from Towle Neu

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