Category Archives: Environmental Issues

When you use your fireplace or woodstove, you utilize wood or fuel and you create smoke. This has an impact on the environment.

The good news is that you have a lot of control over the magnitude of this impact. Read the articles below to learn how you can use your fireplace or woodstove in a more environmentally friendly way.

Your Source for Fireplace and Chimney Information

The following library of information is broken up in a way that will educate you on your chimney so you know how your chimney should be properly cleaned, maintained, and/or repaired. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a note in the comments and we will try to find you an answer!

The Basics

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About Chimney Sweep Certifications – The Need To Know

Chimney Sweep Certifications to Enhance Expertise

Chimney sweeps play important roles in our lives: they keep our fireplaces and chimneys happy and healthy so we can stay warm!  Kind of like a doctor for our chimneys!  These pros have to know what they’re doing when they stick their heads inside a chimney, and to do that, chimney sweeps obtain specialized training and the highest certifications in their field possible.  So what credentials do good, qualified chimney sweeps have?  There are a few necessary certifications, and we’ll look at those as well as what it takes to earn them.  Keep reading to learn more!

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How to Reduce your Chimney and Fireplace Pollution

Heating with Wood and the Environment – part 5: 7 Ways to Reduce your Chimney and Fireplace Pollution

Earlier on in our series, “Heating with Wood and the Environment”, we discussed the environmental issues of burning wood. We also discussed how what firewood you burn and how you operate a fire affect the environment. Last time, we compared the pollution rates of wood stoves and other wood burning appliances. In this article, we conclude the series by discussing why your fireplace and chimney may be polluting more than it should.

Chimney

Source: daviddarling.info

In general, the more efficiently you burn a fuel, like wood, the less smoke is produced per unit of energy. Since smoke contains the polluting gasses and fine particulate matter we want to reduce, it makes sense to ensure that your fireplace and chimney is setup to conserve heat and burn wood more efficiently. As a bonus, this also saves you money. In addition, an improperly functioning chimney may burn so inefficiently as to cause your firewood to not combust completely; poisonous gas like carbon monoxide is the possible consequence of incomplete combustion.

Since increasing the efficiency of your fireplace and chimney decreases pollution, there are actually a ton of ways you can reduce the pollution coming from your chimney. Below are 7.

1.     Ensure proper installation

Improper fireplace insert installation, chimney liner installation, factory chimney installation, masonry chimney construction, or venting configuration will decrease efficiency, increase fire hazard, and increase indoor and outdoor pollution. The number of things that can be done wrong is quite a lengthy list. For example, if the outlet on a fireplace insert is larger than the flue in your chimney, an airflow imbalance may result and the insert may not receive adequate air to combust at full efficiency. Similar chimney airflow problems might occur with other installation errors like improperly sized chimney liners or chimneys that are not tall enough. If you are getting any installations done, make sure you use an experienced, certified technician, and make sure they follow code, standards, and manufacturer’s instructions. Getting a thorough inspection of your chimney and fireplace by a qualified technician will ensure that installations have been done correctly.

2.     Make sure the damper is fully open during use

Many homeowners forget to open the damper to allow air to flow out of the chimney. It is also common for dampers to stop opening fully because buildup or damage; a partially open damper only allows partial airflow and may decrease fireplace efficiency.

3.     Don’t tolerate indoor smoke

In a properly functioning fireplace, smoke should only go in one direction: up. Indoor smoke is generally cause by the fact that air is being pulled away from the chimney and force of smoke’s naturally tendency to rise straight up through the chimney is not strong enough to pull air into the chimney to counteract the forces pulling air away from the chimney.  If you are getting house smoke, indoor pollution is your first concern — you do not want your family breathing in smoke. Your secondary concern is that the fireplace is likely not receiving enough incoming air (due to competing airflows) to burn efficiently, thus also increasing outdoor pollution. Always remember that indoor smoke is a fixable problem that must be solved.

4.     Get your chimney cleaned

The natural buildup of soot over time decreases chimney performance. According to the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America), a ½ inch buildup will restrict air flow by 17% for a typical masonry chimney and 30% for the average prefabricate chimney. A clean chimney burns more efficiently.

5.     Have a good liner

A chimney liner has a number of benefits in pollution reduction. A properly sized liner can make up for a flue that is too big for your fireplace insert. A chimney liner also helps keep the air inside the flue hot, to keep air moving up along as it should. In addition, the liner helps keep the cold out; a chimney (especially external masonry chimneys in northern climates) can get rather cold and will make the air inside the flue colder, restricting airflow and efficiency. A good liner will also help things dry inside the flue and fireplace, to the benefit of efficiency. These benefits are all in addition to the benefit the liner has of decreasing fire hazard. Thus, it pays to have an undamaged, properly sized, solid performing liner.

6.     Cover up well

Make sure you have the right kind of cover on the top of your chimney keep out rain and pests out. Pests such as nesting birds can really block airflow. A flue that is wet inside will always produce more smoke. Masonry chimneys will probably need a crown and cap; factory chimneys will probably need a chase cover. Your chimney may alternatively use a top sealing damper. Make sure your chimney has a cover, particularly one that best makes sense for your situation.

7.     Get Inspected

We mentioned already that a chimney inspection by a qualified and certified technician will ensure you chimney and fireplace are installed as they should be. An annual inspection is also a very important way to ensure your chimney is being properly maintained. A poorly maintained chimney is an inefficient and overly-polluting chimney.

Environmental Comparison of Wood-Burning Stoves

Heating with Wood and the Environment – part 4: How Different Types of Wood Burning Appliances Affect the Environment

woodstove

Earlier on in our series, “Heating with Wood and the Environment”, we discussed the pollutants and other environmental concerns in burning wood. We also discussed how what you burn and how you operate a fire can really reduce negative environmental impacts. In this article, we shall discuss how different types of wood burning appliances will affect your contribution to pollution rates.

Different types of wood burning appliances have different capabilities when it comes to how efficiently they maintain a flame and how complete the combustion is. Higher efficiency appliances require less wood is to provide heat and therefore produce less pollution, such as fine particulate matter. The main classes of indoor wood-burning appliances are listed below:

  • Wood pellet stoves are generally the most environmentally friendly and efficient wood-burning appliance. Wood pellet stoves burns small pellets derived from dried wood and other biomass waste. The wood pellets are fed into the main burn area via a small electrical device.
  • EPA-certified Wood stoves or fireplace inserts represent the next most efficient class. A wood stove generally consists of a solid metal closed fire chamber and has adjustable air control. A wood burning fireplace insert is basically a wood stove inserted into the fireplace, as opposed to a freestanding wood stove.
  • Masonry Heaters are appliances which retain heat through a large masonry mass and a maze of heat exchange channels.
  • Basic chimney and fireplace

However, note that the specific design and construction of an appliance has just has much impact on efficiency as the type of appliance.

The efficiency of wood stoves and inserts varies tremendously from model to model. One factor is whether or not the wood stove uses a catalytic converter; catalytic woodstoves are typically less polluting. Also, the difference in pollution between an EPA-certified woodstove and a non-EPA stove is tremendous. Even among EPA certified models, there are very large differences.  The environmental-friendliness of a wood stove is usually measured by two metrics: GMs/hr, or grams of particulate matter emitted per hour, and efficiency rating. For example the Regency Classic™ F1100 Wood Stove has a GMs/hr of 3.0 and is 77.7% efficient at optimal operation.

Thinking about replacing an old wood stove or fireplace insert? There may be government incentives for upgrading to a more environmentally friendly device. Be sure to check if your state has a changeout program or other incentive programs. Maryland for example, just started offering rebates for wood and pellet stoves.

Fireplaces also have a huge variety in efficiency. Typically, a factory-built fireplace, also known as a “low mass fireplace” will be more efficient. However, it is not uncommon for a family’s masonry fireplace to be more efficient than a neighbor’s prefabricated fireplace. Again, the design and construction plays a huge role in efficiency. The quality of the installation and the situation of the chimney also are important.

Learn what you can do to your chimney and fireplace to reduce pollution in part 5 of the Heating with Wood and the Environment series.

Burning a More Responsible Fire

Heating with Wood & the Environment: Part 3 – Burning a More Responsible Fire

FireIn this article, we discuss environmentally responsible practices for lighting and burning your fire. This continues our series discussing how you can enjoy wood heat in a more environmentally friendly way.

In Part 1, we described the environment impacts of burning wood. Recall that when something is burned, there will be harmful emissions. Fine particulate matter (which is soot when no longer airborne) is normally the biggest culprit when wood is burned; reducing wood smoke generally reduces particulate matter.

FirewoodIn Part 2, we discussed how to select the right firewood to reduce negative environmental impacts. Here, we learned how to look up species of wood that produce less smoke, and we learned the importance of using seasoned (dried), chemical-free wood. We also learned about the benefits of using responsibly and locally sourced firewood.

So now you know to use the right firewood, and you know to reduce harmful emissions. We assume you already know it’s not good to catch fire to things you did not intend to catch fire to. You’re now ready to review best operating practices to burn clean, smart, and safe.

10 Rules to Burning a More Responsible Fire

1. Always burn good firewood. Hey, it’s worth repeating. Never burn garbage, paper with colored ink (the ink becomes toxic), glossy paper, cardboard, or wood that is rotted or diseased. Wet wood produces more smoke since it burns less efficiently. Never burn wood that has been treated in any way (coated, painted, pressure treated, or glued). Avoid burning wood sourced more than 50 miles away or that contributes to deforestation. Be careful with artificial logs – they are not meant to be burned the same way as real wood. Always burn dry, well-seasoned, safe, quality firewood.

2. Have a “clear zone” around the fire. Make sure there is nothing flammable nearby the fire – sparks can travel a distance. Potentially flammable materials include rugs, grass, newspapers, and blankets. Remember, house fires and forest fires are not exactly good for the environment – or you.

3. Protect your home by using a carbon monoxide detector and keeping a fire extinguisher handy.

4. Build a moderately sized, hot fire. Really small fires have a proportionately longer start and smolder period, which means more smoke. Cool, smoldering fires produce more smoke. Hot fires burn more efficient. Just remember not to get too crazy building a fire so hot it’s dangerous. Overloaded fireplaces are dangerous because a huge fire can overheat your walls or roof.

5. Be kind with your kindling. Kindling should only be used as kindling, never as your main fuel source because it burns inefficiently. Remember to avoid using toxic materials for your kindling. Fuels like gasoline and lighter fluid are an explosion hazard – avoid using, or at least proceed with extreme caution.

6. Steer clear of smoke. Breathe in as little as possible, produce as little as possible, and make sure it goes straight up. You shouldn’t be having any backdraft from your chimney; if you do, you have a problem that needs fixed.

7. Use the doors and screens right. Shut the metal screen on your fireplace to protect the surrounding area from sparks. While burning, keep the glass doors on the fireplace open to ensure flow of air (combustion requires oxygen) to the fire. Shut the glass doors when the fire is out. Keep the door shut on wood burning stoves to keep carbon monoxide from leaking into your home.

8. Don’t let the fire smolder. Don’t let a fire smolder overnight – it will produce little heat and a whole lot of smoke. Furthermore, you should know to never leave a fire unattended, even if it is simply smoldering. Always put the fire out before going to bed or retiring for the night.

9. Dispose of your ashes properly. Not cleaning ashes in wood-burning appliances can clog the air vents. Excessive buildup of ashes can become dangerous. Ashes can stay flammable for days. Always place ashes into a metal container and soak in water. Fairfax County, VA has a good informational on ashes called Can Your Ashes.

10. Follow the Rules. Many areas have restrictions on burning fires. For example, there are restrictions on outdoor fires in Virginia and in Maryland. Many states have requirements on wood stoves and pellet stoves in addition to EPA standards. Some areas such as many counties in the state of Washington often implement temporary burn bans of all fires during adverse weather conditions such as stagnant weather. Please stay informed and make sure you follow the rules.

Burning Wood

There you have it. Follow these 10 tips to ensure you burn safer and more environmentally responsibly. Learn about the environmental impact of different types of woodburning stoves and appliances in Part 4. For some tips on keeping your fireplace, chimney, or wood-burning appliance burning clean, see Part 5.

Choose Environmentally Friendly Firewood

Heating with Wood & the Environment: Part 2 – Choose Environmentally Friendly Firewood

FirewoodIn this article we continue in our series discussing how you can heat your home with wood in a more environmentally friendly way. In our last article, we described the environment impacts of burning wood. In this article, we discuss how selecting the right wood can reduce those environmental impacts. Basically, before you select the wood you’ll throw in your stove or fireplace, you want to consider two things – what you burn and where it comes from.

What Type of Firewood is Best for the Environment?

The best burn for the environment boils down to some very simple math: Best burn = Maximum heat per unit burned + minimum harmful emissions. Thus, you want firewood that burns efficiently, produces minimum smoke, and has no harmful substances. Fortunately, efficiency and smoke are related – generally, the more smoke, the less efficiently the fuel is being burned.

Seasoned Firewood

Improperly Stored Firewood

Firewood that is not stored properly may not adequately dry out.

First, you want “seasoned” (or “cured”) firewood – firewood that has been left to dry for some time. Burning unseasoned firewood is probably the most common mistake people make. Wet firewood burns very inefficiently and produces lots of smoke to pour out of your chimney. Ideally, properly seasoned firewood has less than 20% moisture content. It typically takes a good 6 months of being left to dry in a well circulated stack to for wood to become adequately seasoned. Also, hard woods like oak take longer to dry out than soft woods. Adequately seasoned firewood will weigh 50% to 75% less than fresh, “green” wood. Some other indications that the wood is properly seasoned include: grayed, discolored wood; bark that is falling off; cracks and splits; and being dry to the touch.

Species of Wood
The next thing to consider is the species of wood. Some species burn more than twice as efficiently as others. Some species naturally produce more smoke.  Finally, some species are easier to split and start a fire with. Sometimes, you can find wood that is efficient and easy to work worth; other times you may need to combine long-burning woods Hickory, Beech, and the plentiful White Oak are three excellent species of firewood you might find in the Washington DC region. For more details on firewood species, go to the State of Maryland’s page on Buying Firewood; they have excellent charts, and we highly recommend referencing this page before selecting your firewood.

Harmful Substances in Wood
Not all wood makes for safe firewood. If wood has not been stored in a properly ventilated stack, it could get moldy, and mold is typically something you want to avoid breathing in any form. Chemicals are an even more serious hazard. Do not burn painted or stained wood, plywood, particle board, or any wood product that has been treated with chemicals. Pallets, for example, are often treated with chemicals like flame retardants and pesticides that contain toxins such as arsenic and formaldehyde. Is this the kind of thing you’d want to breathe in? Neither do your neighbors.

Where you get your Firewood Matters

Now that we’ve covered what types of firewood are best for the environment, we’ll explain where to source environmentally friendly wood.

Deforested Wood

Deforestation

Help stop the spread of deforestation.

As we discussed in our last article, deforestation is a major environmental problem that affects us all. Deforestation is where large pieces of forests are cut down and the trees are never replaced. Forests are home to millions of species; additionally, reductions in the number of the Earth’s trees are contributing to the greenhouse effect. Thus, it helps us all out when you choose to consume responsibly harvested wood over deforested wood. Responsible sources of firewood include sustainable logging, sustainable plantations, agroforestry, and waste wood such as deadfall, debris, and recycled pellets.

The Proximity Issue
It is always better for the environment to burn firewood near its origin. The fewer miles the wood travels, the less gasoline used, and the better the carbon footprint. In addition, some trees may be diseased or infested with pests, and you could introduce these tree killers to new areas when you move wood a long distance. Because of this issue, there are frequently restrictions and “quarantines” on firewood movement in many states – you can look your state up here. In Virginia and Maryland, for example, there have been restrictions and recent quarantines because of Emerald Ash Borer infestations. This troublesome Asian beetle is thought to have been introduced to the country in 2002 and to the DC area in 2007, and has utterly decimated local populations of Ash trees.

Waste wood
Lying TimberThe best sources of firewood, ecologically speaking, is waste wood; the wood has already fallen or been felled – you will just happen to burn it instead of letting it decay. There are several ways to obtain waste wood.

First, if you have the capabilities to remove the wood yourself, you can ask around town to see if anyone has wood they need removed.  Your neighbors may have free wood in the form of stumps, fallen trees, limps, and branches just laying around on their property. You might be able to do them a favor, and get free eco-friendly firewood in the process.  Just be sure to ask them first – assuming wood is free for the taking could bring you some problems!

Another way of obtaining waste wood is to ask a professional give you theirs. Landscapers and tree care professionals often have an overabundance of wood. If you pass one at work next to a pile of freshly felled limbs, you may be doing them a favor by seeing if they would like help taking some of it off their hands.  Occasionally, a friendly tree professional will even drop off the wood for you if you aren’t out of the way.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for waste wood when driving. Sometimes, firewood appears on the curb – keep your eyes peeled when you’re driving for piles of wood on the side of the road with a “free wood” sign – it happens!

A final way of obtaining free waste wood is by scanning internet classifieds. There is almost always free wood posted on DC’s Craigslist, for example.

Wood pellets and wood brick are also often made of waste wood that has been recycled into great burning wood. Just remember that pellets are for pellet stoves, not your average fireplace. Many wood bricks, on the other hand, work great in standard fireplaces. Many dealers provide pellets and bricks.

Just remember the following in regards to waste wood: always properly season firewood; make sure it is not ridden with mold, chemicals, or pests like termites or ash borers; and do not move the wood long distances. We also advise familiarizing yourself with local ordinances if you plan on heavily utilizing waste wood.

Buying Firewood
It’s often easier to buy your firewood. When doing so, you want to make sure you get good firewood sourced responsibly. Anybody can have leftover wood and claim to be a firewood dealer, and many don’t know or care what they sell or where it came from, so you should use a reputable dealer.

Most states have regulations on firewood sales, and many states, including Maryland, require firewood dealers to have a license. To find or verify authorized dealers in Maryland, go to http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/fpo_search.asp.

Anytime you burn fuel, there is an environmental impact. So remember – what you burn matters!

For more on Wood Heat and the Environment, read:
Part 3: Burning a More Responsible Fire
Part 4: Environmental Comparison of Wood Burning Stoves & Appliances
Part 5: 7 Ways to Reduce your Chimney & Fireplace Pollution

When And How To Service Your Gas Heating Appliances

Late Fall: time to cover the outdoor grill, in most of the country. It’s also a great time to have the barbeque serviced, so it will be ready to go next Spring.
gas heating appliances

It’s also time to think about your fireplace insert or gas stove. If you’re planning to be indoors for the next few months, you’ll want to make sure that your indoor hearth is as safe and clean as possible.

Gas fires burn cleaner than wood, which emits polluting smoke and lots of greenhouse gases. One sign of the difference is that gas stove chimneys typically do not require cleaning as long as the burner is correctly adjusted, while wood fire chimneys should be checked annually for soot and creosote buildup that can cause chimney fires. So your chimney should be fine – as long as your gas fire is operating properly.

A gas fire or other hearth appliance can provide a beautiful and warming focal point to a living room or bedroom. But as the price of fuel continues to increase, you’ll want to be sure that your gas fire is delivering all the heat you paid for. This is not a DIY project. Whether your fireplace or stove burns natural gas or propane, it’s a precision instrument that requires special tools and factory training from the manufacturer to make sure that it is burning fuel cleanly and efficiently.

The safety of your family and home are at stake, so don’t put them at risk by playing with fire: hire a qualified service person. Hiring an NFI Certified Chimney Sweep is the best route to go to ensure effective maintenance and your own safety.

Only a select few retailers have NFI Certified Specialist on staff. The National Fireplace Institute is a non-profit agency that operates independently of manufacturers to create standards for certification of installers, designers and service technicians. NFI certification is your assurance that the person working on your gas heating appliance has passed a rigorous exam. You should also ask about factory training by the manufacturer, since every make and model of gas heater is a little different.