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Winter is in full swing, and your woodstove or your fireplace is hard at work.

That’s why we want to focus today on safety. We’ve written before about what to do to maintain and clean your fireplace, but it’s also important to know what not to do.

More specifically, we want to look at some of the materials you shouldn’t burn in your Bucks County fireplace or stove, and why you shouldn’t burn them.

  1. Colored paper

When we say “colored paper,” we mean things like magazines, newspaper inserts, and wrapping paper. The inks used in these papers contain metals that could emit toxic vapor when they’re burned.

And because paper burns quickly, there’s a risk the flames can rise into the chimney and ignite the creosote that’s collected in the flue. Hot air can carry balls of burning paper up out of the chimney and ignite flammable materials outside.

  1. Cardboard

Just as with colored paper, cardboard is often treated with chemicals. Cardboard can also float out of your chimney if you don’t have a screen and – like paper – cause a fire outside the home.

  1. Evergreens

Save this tip for next Christmas – or use it this year, if your tree or other decorations are still up. You should never burn Christmas trees or other evergreen decorations in your fireplace. Dry evergreens contain fast-burning resin that produce embers. Those embers can rise up and start chimney fires.

  1. Treated wood

Wood that’s been stained, painted or treated should never go in your fireplace. The same thing goes for manufactured wood such as plywood or particle board, as well as pressboard, gypsum and railroad ties. Burning any of these materials can produce toxins and carcinogens.

  1. Unseasoned wood

Proper firewood has spent a long time – at least six months, if not a year – drying out. When wood is new and green, it won’t burn properly, giving off a lot of smoke and creating creosote build-up in your chimney. Wood that is dried out and ready to burn will be grey and brittle. Wet/moldy wood will spread mold throughout your home.

  1. Plastics/chemicals

Once again, these materials give off toxic fumes. Keep them out of your stove or your fireplace.

  1. Coal/charcoal

Fireplaces and woodstoves are meant for wood. Coal and charcoal burn much hotter, and may exceed the temperatures considered safe for your fireplace and your chimney. They also produce more carbon monoxide than wood.

  1. Accelerants

Don’t start your fires with gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid or any other accelerants. All of these substances can create large flare-ups.

  1. Trash

Finally, remember that your stove or fireplace isn’t your incinerator. Burning items such as pizza boxes, Styrofoam, plastic wrap or packaging material can generate a blend of toxic fumes.

So, what should you burn? As we mentioned earlier, go with hardwoods that have seasoned for at least six months. Ash, birch, maple and oak are your best choices. If you use manufactured woods, pick those made from 100% compressed sawdust without chemical additives.

The kindling you pick to get the fire going should consist of real wood, natural or organic fire starters, or newspaper without colored ink.

And use a wealth of caution whenever you burn wood in your stove or fireplace. Have a fire extinguisher close by and schedule a Bucks County chimney inspection once a year. You should replace your carbon monoxide detectors every five years, and your smoke alarms every 10 years. Replace the batteries in these alarms based on the manufactures’ recommendations.

If you still have concerns about chimney or woodstove safety, contact Estate Chimney Sweep. Since 1979, we’ve been installing fireplaces and stoves and inspecting chimneys. We can make sure your home stays warm – and safe – this winter.