Editorial: Where there’s smoke …

Fireplace by Francisco Belard via Wikimedia Commons
By Francisco Belard via Wikimedia Commons

Together with the requisite baseball hats and dungarees, Rappahannock newcomers can often be spotted by the fresh-off-the-shelf chainsaws they conspicuously carry around. That’s the oft-heard joke, anyway. But the jokesters themselves might profit from a refresher course this time of year on the best way to burn that which the chainsaws often cut: firewood. I, too, need reminding.

Air quality, both inside and outside your home — and thus your health — are at stake. And where there’s smoke, there’s not only fire but also concern. Whether you’re using a wood stove, pellet stove or fireplace, visible smoke from your chimney means your fire isn’t burning as efficiently or cleanly as it could.

Smoke from burning wood contains what’s considered hazardous fine-particle pollution — with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM2.5). Older people with heart, vascular or lung disease, as well as asthmatic children, are especially at risk.

A smoking chimney is a sign that your fire needs more air — or that the wood is too moist. A smoldering fire or a wood stove’s smoky glass doors is another sign.

So burn only dry, seasoned wood. Wet (or green) logs create excessive smoke — and waste fuel. Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. If in doubt whether the wood is seasoned, listen for a hollow sound when you strike two logs together.

To ensure that the fire you’re building has the proper air flow, start small with dry kindling, then gradually add more and bigger pieces of wood. Be sure there’s space between the logs, so they create the proverbial roaring fire and don’t smolder.

Needless to say, never burn painted or treated wood, or glued material like plywood or particle board. These fuels release not just smoke but also toxic chemicals when burned.

One of the true joys of life in Rappahannock comes on a winter evening — the colder, the better — snugly spent next to a fireplace or wood stove. And that joy is all the richer if you cut and split and stacked the logs yourself — to be well-seasoned, at least a year before you light the match.

Walter Nicklin