As we’ve said before on this blog, one of the biggest differences between gas and wood-burning fireplaces is the amount of variety that wood-burning allows for.  Folks who regularly use their fireplace all have different types of wood or tinder that they swear by, so the kind that you opt to use in your home is usually a matter of personal preference.
That said, not everything that can be burned in a wood-burning fireplace should be burned in there—and not just because it won’t burn efficiently, will fizzle out or will produce excessive amounts of smokeSome materials, when introduced into a wood-burning fireplace, can actually be dangerous for you, your family and your property.  If you have any of the following materials in your “to burn” pile, please remove them immediately:

Wooden Furniture or Art Pieces

It’s an old cliché that’s often seen in cartoons or movies: the characters are freezing cold and too poor to obtain firewood, so they start smashing up chairs and tables and tossing the pieces in the fireplace.  But like many survival strategies shown in the media, this may not be the best idea.  Modern-day furniture, wooden artwork and manufactured wood (such as particle board or plywood) is often treated with paint, lacquer or other chemicals that release toxic or carcinogenic fumes when burned.  Thus, using these items as fuel for your fire can cause health issues immediately and in the long-run.

Flammable Chemicals

After struggling for several minutes to get a fire started in the hearth, it might be tempting to grab that can of gasoline that you keep in your garage and splash a little on your firewood.  Doing this will certainly make the wood catch fire more easily…but unfortunately, it might also burn your entire house down.  Gasoline, kerosene and acetone are all considered “accelerants” because they’re extremely flammable and can turn a small flame into a huge blaze very quickly.  Deliberately igniting any of these chemicals may result in a large flare-up or even an explosion.  Materials containing flammable chemicals usually say on their packaging to keep them away from open flames.  Please take this warning seriously!

Paper or Cardboard Printed with Colored Ink

While many folks like to use shredded or balled-up newspaper to get fires going, that job should be reserved for black-and-white pages.  Wrapping paper, cereal boxes, magazine pages and other items of that nature may emit noxious fumes or create excessive amounts of smoke when burned; it’s due to the chemicals in the inks.  Worse, particles from burned paper can float upward and cause buildups or blockages in the chimney—they may even ignite any creosote that’s already present in the chimney walls.  Let’s be honest: burning old photographs of your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend can be extremely therapeutic after a bad breakup.  But for safety’s sake, please refrain from tossing a photo into the fire unless you’re at an outdoor bonfire.

Toxic Plants

Some people like to locate, chop and dry their own firewood instead of buying cords of pre-prepared wood from dealers.  There’s nothing wrong with doing this, provided that (1) the wood is obtained in a safe, responsible and legal manner, and (2) they’re not selecting wood that could be dangerous to themselves and the people around them.  Most of us know better than to burn poison ivy, poison sumac and giant hogweed, as the same toxins that these plants are infamous for can easily be carried by smoke and wind up in our lungs.  However, certain woods, like oleander and Mexican elder, can look innocuous while still being capable of emitting dangerous fumes.  If you’re determined to obtain wood yourself instead of buying it, always verify what kind of tree you’re dealing with before you chop it down!


A fireplace is a great tool for providing light, warmth and ambience in your home, but it is not an incinerator and it should not be treated like one!  Burning inappropriate material in the fireplace can result in serious damage to your hearth, the fireplace itself, or your chimney.  And, more pressingly, it can create health hazards for everyone exposed to the resulting fire and smoke.

If you have concerns about your chimney, give us a call today.  Whether you want a routine inspection or are worried that you may have done some damage by burning something you shouldn’t have, we’ll take a look and give you a recommendation.  And regardless of its current issues (or sordid past), Chimney and Wildlife Specialists can whip your chimney into shape!


Photo courtesy of Rowan Saunders on Flickr.