Michael’s Weird Jobs #6

Don’t let your friends burn garbage in their fireplaces.

This particular job took place during the winter.

In an effort to save money on heating his house, a homeowner, who we’ll call Bob, was burning all of his garbage in his fireplace – everything from plastics to paper to food.

We received a call from Bob’s neighbor, who we’ll call Dave, who had black soot completely covering the side of his house and all over the inside of the house. The soot was from all the garbage that was being burned next door. We ended up having to power wash the outside of Dave’s house and clean every square inch of the inside of his house.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t let your friends burn garbage in their fireplaces. Not only is it illegal and bad for the environment, but it can cause a lot of problems for them and their neighbors.

According to American Chimney & Masonry, here is a list of items you should NOT burn in your fireplace:

What NOT to burn in the fireplace

  • Cardboard – this is often treated with or contains man-made chemicals. When these chemicals are burned, it can release hazardous fumes into the air that are harmful to breathe in. It is also possible for the cardboard to actually float into the air as it is burning and leave the fireplace if a screen is not in place. If you do have a screen, it may travel up the flue and out of the chimney, causing an outside fire.
  • Pressure Treated Lumber, Plywood, Particle Board, and Press Board – this should not be burned for the same reason as cardboard, as it often contains man-made chemicals that are harmful when burned and the vapors are breathed in.
  • Unseasoned Wood – proper firewood is dried out (seasoned) for at least one year. Green wood, or wood that has not been dried out, will not burn properly and will create significant smoke and creosote buildup in the chimney. Properly dried wood is characterized by a graying color, cracking, and bark that easily falls off.
  • Trash – can produce emissions that are very dangerous to breathe in.
  • Plastics – will create hazardous fumes.
  • Paper – just as with cardboard, it can easily go airborne once it catches on fire. For outside fires related to chimneys, stray embers are the leading cause.
  • Christmas Trees – this happens quite a bit during the holiday season as people put dead branches or the trimmings when they bring home the tree and put it up. This will create significant smoke in the home as the tree is “green.”
  • Christmas Decorations and Wrappings – again, the fireplace is not a trash burning facility; it is meant as a secondary heating source. These decorations and wrappings will more than likely have chemicals or coloring that can create hazardous fumes. In addition, like paper and cardboard, they are probably very light and can easily go airborne once they catch on fire.