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Firewood & Fireplace Safety

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December 14, 2018


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about firewood and fireplace safety. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist.

So John, how can folks lower their heating bill by using firewood and fireplaces?

John Kushla: Well, using wood burning stoves or furnaces or fireplaces can reduce your home heating bill, and now is the best time of year to prepare your woodpile and your wood burning stove or fireplace for winter use. Cutting and splitting the firewood now allows it to dry and season before burning.

Amy Myers: Okay, and when we do this safely, this is a really good thing to do. Now, what firewood is best to use?

John Kushla: Use only dry wood or tinder and kindling. Hardwood is the best because it has a higher density, which equates to more BTUs per volume. Oak, hickory, ash are good. Sweetgum, elm, or sycamore also burn well, but they are hard to split. Pine logs, on the other hand, burn hotter and create more soot because they have resins in the wood. Any wood removed during a timber stand improvement could be useful. Cut and stack wood in a sunny place, open to the wind but out of the rain, such as a woodshed. And stack away from the house or the garage.

Amy Myers: And what fireplace maintenance is required?

John Kushla: Every year you should inspect the chimney and fireplace. Look for cracks or missing tiles that need replacement. Creosote and soot can accumulate, requiring periodic cleaning. Use a chimney cap or to arrest sparks and keep out the birds. Prune branches away from the chimney at least 15 feet, and seek proper professional help to clean or repair. The Chimney Safety Institute of America has a webpage that you can go to at Keep things cleared away from the hearth. Use a fire-retardant rug in front of the fireplace if it doesn't have a stone sill, and make sure the damper is working properly.

Amy Myers: And what safety precautions should folks follow when using a fireplace?

John Kushla: I recommend using a fireplace grate to hold the wood higher and allow air flow underneath the fire. Do not use gasoline or lighter fluid when lighting a fire in the house. Do not burn trash or construction scraps in the fireplace because the coatings, the glues, the wood preservatives can create toxic fumes. Use a metal screen across the fireplace and keep the glass doors open when burning fire in the fireplace. Fire should be out before leaving, but do not douse with water, which can crack the masonry or the stove. Dispose of ashes and coals after they are cool. Put in a metal bucket until completely cold before discarding in the trash, or you can add the wood ash to your compost pile.

Amy Myers: How should folks properly use their fireplace?

John Kushla: Before lighting the fire, open the damper and keep it open until the fire has completely burned out. Stratify the size of the fuel to burn from the bottom up. So you would stack, in order, kindling and then tinder and then logs. Allow air flow for proper burning with less smoke. When using artificial logs, use as directed and do not burn with firewood. Let the fire go out before leaving the room, because the masonry will continue to radiate heat after the fire has cooled. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your house, and have a five pound fire extinguisher on hand rated ABC.

Amy Myers: Give me a summary of what we've talked about today.

John Kushla: Inspect your fireplace and chimney annually. Use the fireplace and burn only seasoned and dry firewood. You will enjoy a warm fire on frosty winter nights for many seasons to come. If you have any questions, call your local Extension office or me at 662-566-8013.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Forestry

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