1. “Green” Wood
Also known as wet wood, “green” wood contains a high percentage of water in the fibers of the wood. Burning this wet, “green” wood produces more smoke and pollutant particles, generates less heat because most of the energy is wasted evaporating the moisture, and dramatically increases hazardous deposits of creosote inside the chimney walls. Creosote runs a high-risk of igniting a chimney fire. Properly seasoned firewood should dry for 12-18 months until it contains less than 20% moisture content.
How to judge when firewood is properly seasoned:
Visual Inspection – As the split firewood dries out, it will develop small splits that create a rough, splintered texture, and the bark begins to separate in spots from the log. If the wood still looks smooth, and the bark is firmly attached, it probably needs more time to dry out.
Listening Test – Take 2 pieces of firewood and knock them together. The moisture in wet wood will muffle the impact and make a quieter “thud” than dry, seasoned firewood which makes a resounding “crack” when the pieces make contact. Listen to the difference HERE.
Moisture Meter – Like a thermometer for your firewood, this tool eliminates all the guesswork by giving a digital readout of the moisture content in a piece of firewood. Available online HERE.
2. Fire Accelerants
We once had a customer proudly describe how s/he always uses diesel fuel to light the pellets in the stove. This is a VERY bad idea because fire accelerants like lighter fluid, kerosene, and gasoline produce unsafe levels of carbon monoxide and other pollutants when burned. Using an accelerant will also generate exceedingly high temperatures beyond the safe operating conditions intended for a stove or fireplace resulting in warping and significant damage.
Not all paper is bad to burn. A little bit of newspaper or uncoated white paper makes great kindling to help light the fire initially. However, coated or colored paper such as glossy magazine pages, construction paper, or wrapping paper may release toxic fumes from the pigments and chemicals used to process them when burned. Too much paper at one time also runs the risk of releasing flying paper embers from the chimney or generating large flames that could ignite creosote and start a chimney fire.
Burning trash in a fireplace is not only dangerous but also against the law in many states. Plastics, Styrofoam, dryer lint, and other processed materials contain chemicals that are released into the air you breathe as they burn. Many woodstoves today use catalytic combustors to create a chemical reaction that reburns flue gasses and reduces particle emissions. Burning garbage will ruin the combustor by poisoning the coating that makes secondary combustion possible.
5. Processed & Treated Materials
Burning plywood, cardboard, treated- or painted lumber is not recommended because the glue and treatment compounds used in their production release poisonous chemical fumes such as arsenic and chromium. Inhaling the chemicals used to bond cardboard or plywood can cause brain damage and respiratory issues.