Officials: Exercise caution when burning wood for heat

     A warm, crackling fireplace in action. (Image: digitalshay via Flickr)

    A warm, crackling fireplace in action. (Image: digitalshay via Flickr)

    As the days get colder, many New Jersey residents turn to fireplaces and woodstoves as a natural way to stay warm.

    But enjoying the natural heat source requires caution, the state Department of Environmental Protection advises.

    “Homeowners who have fireplaces or woodstoves should find an abundance of wood available this year as many trees were downed or removed after Superstorm Sandy,” said DEP Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Management Jane Kozinski in a prepared statement. “But it’s important to remember that wood smoke does contain pollutants and there are steps you can take to minimize your impact on the environment, on your neighbor’s air quality and your own safety.”

    While burning wood can contribute to air pollution, officials say that there are ways to reduce or eliminate smoke.

    Tips from the DEP:

    Allow wood to season for at least six months before burning it, meaning the wood should sit outdoors for at least this period of time. Seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood. Wood gathered after Superstorm Sandy is most likely dry enough now for proper burning but the longer the wood sits before burning, the better that the wood will burn, provided it is stored in a dry place.
    Use a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of wood. Wood burns most efficiently when its moisture content is below 20 percent.
    Store wood, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered to avoid rainwater.
    Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling and keep them burning hot. * Regularly remove ashes to ensure proper airflow.
    Never burn garbage, cardboard, plastics, wrapping materials, painted materials or other materials in your stove or fireplace.
    Remember to keep anything flammable – including drapes, furniture, newspapers and books – far away from any wood-burning appliance. Keep an accessible and recently inspected fire extinguisher nearby.

    For more information on wood burning in New Jersey, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/baqp/woodburning.html

    For more on the EPA’s Burnwise program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.