Expert answers to the most important questions about maintaining your hearth.
What Should (and Shouldn't) You Burn?Do burn soft woods like fir, pine, and cedar, which ignite easily and burn rapidly, so they are ideal to use as kindling. For staying power, use harder woods, such as oak, maple, and hickory. Freshly cut wood contains a lot of moisture, pitch, and resin and tends to produce creosote, a flammable substance that attaches to chimney walls. So buy seasoned wood, or season your own by keeping it off the ground under a rainproof tarp for at least six months, says the Environmental Protection Agency. (Hit a log against another; if it makes a hollow sound, it's ready.)
Never burn chemically treated or painted wood, foil, plastic, or other garbage, all of which produce noxious and sometimes toxic fumes. Other no-nos:
- Christmas trees. "The unseasoned wood and dry needles make them powder kegs, highly combustible," says Roy Marshall, director of the Residential Fire Safety Institute, a national advocacy group.
- Gift wrap, and other chemically treated paper―lit fragments can ignite creosote on chimney walls or land on your roof, says Ashley Eldridge, education director of the nonprofit Chimney Safety Institute of America.
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