I broke down the other day. I was weak, weak I tell you. On a particularly chilly November morning, I turned on the heat in our house.
I guess I’m a bit frugal when it comes to home heating. Why waste good money on home heating when I don’t need to? When it is cold, I can just add another clothing layer. My miserly winter heating philosophy doesn’t resonate well with my wife (or pretty much anyone else who comes over), and I must admit at 6 in the morning when the alarm goes off, I’m glad the house is heated.
We use natural gas to heat the house, but we also have a wood burning fireplace we can use. Wood burning fireplaces introduce unique hazards into the home, including the increased risk of a fire outside the fireplace and the possible emission of toxic chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies some of these toxic chemicals as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxin and inhalable particulate matter. These air pollutants can cause a wide range of health problems such as burning eyes, coughing, headaches and bronchitis.
Every home should have a smoke alarm on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area as well as one or more fire extinguishers. Homes with wood burning fireplaces should also have at least one carbon monoxide sensor located outside of the main sleeping area.
To minimize the risk of a fire outside the fireplace:
• Always use a screen in front of the fireplace to keep embers in.
• Keep flammable materials like kindling, drapes and furniture at least three feet from the fireplace.
• Extinguish fires before you go to sleep.
• Have your chimney inspected and cleaned every year as byproducts from smoke can build up in your chimney and cause a chimney fire.
To minimize the emission of toxic chemicals:
• Only burn dry seasoned hardwoods like oak, hickory and ash
• Avoid burning soft woods like pine and cedar
• Avoid burning wet wood and wood treated in any way (like painted wood, plywood, etc.)
• Never burn plastics, cardboard, garbage, gift wrapping, magazines, etc.
The EPA has more information on wood burning stoves and fireplaces here.