Chimney Cleaning: Burning The Right Kind Of Fuel To Prevent Excessive Fine Particulate Emission

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fireplaces produce an average of 28 lbs/MMBtus of fine particulate in emissions. This is comparatively a higher emission of fine particulates than the amount produced by uncertified woodstoves, oil furnaces and even gas furnaces. Because of the high emission rate, experts recommend inspecting chimneys at least once a year to prevent the soot from clogging the chimney pathway. By burning the right kind of fuel, you can limit fine particulate emission.

The Rule of Thumb

When considering the type of wood to burn in your fireplace, the rule of thumb is to choose wood that will produce a hotter fire. The cooler your fire, the more particulate emission, like soot, will be produced as a byproduct since the wood is not burned through effectively or efficiently. Soot not only causes health problems when inhaled, but also tends to accumulate on the surfaces of the chimney.

The type of wood that is being burned determines the temperature of the fire and not how much wood is being burned. In short, you can pile up kindling and logs from the same tree and the temperature of the fire will not change. When the wood first burns, the fire will heat the wood up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. At which point, the water stored in the wood becomes steam and escapes. As the wood dries up at 572 degrees Fahrenheit, combustible gases are released and will gradually raise the temperature of the fire.

When all of the gases are released, you will end up with charcoal, which is mostly made up of carbon. At this point, the fire can exceed 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Problem with Soot

When enough of soot has accumulated, your chimney will become clogged. This causes the chimney to be unable to draw air as efficiently, which results in energy inefficiencies. The fires also become a lot smokier. In worst-case scenarios, the accumulated soot may be the origin of chimney fires.

Wood Features That Produce a Hotter Fire

The type of wood used has a huge influence on the temperature of the fire. To get a hotter fire, you want to remove the majority of the moisture in the wood before burning it. If you want to produce a hotter fire, choose:

  • Seasoned wood. Seasoned wood is wood that has dried up. In short, it has been sitting around for at least six months to a year. In comparison, unseasoned wood is also known as green wood and still contains a high concentration of moisture and sap. If you're not sure whether the wood is seasoned or not, take two logs and knock them together. Well-seasoned wood will produce a sharp ringing sound. Well-seasoned wood will also not have a woody smell.
  • Hard woods. The fibers in hard woods are more compact than the ones in soft woods, so the fire has more material to work with. In addition, hard woods tend to contain less air and moisture as well. Popular hard woods for fireplaces include ash, oak and even beech. Stay away from pine and fir if possible.

Make sure to never use wet wood. If you have been storing the wood outdoors and they have become wet due to rain, let the wood sit for a couple of months in a climate-controlled environment.


Fireplaces are beautiful additions in homes, and can really add a different level of character and beauty to the room. You should take advantage of the fireplaces as often as possible instead of letting them sit unused. Make sure you use the right type of wood though to prevent excessive fine particulates from being produced, and do not delay annual chimney inspections and cleaning services. You can check out sites like for more chimney cleaning information.