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A proper burning wood stove will have little to no smoke coming out the chimney

It's a cold winter day, a smoking chimney makes you think:

“Oh what a nice cheery fire inside that house!'

“Oh, no, that fire is burning poorly, wasting money and polluting the air.”

Most of us have been trained to think fires equal smoke. The truth is that, with proper burning techniques, no smoke should be visible from our chimneys.

In fact, visible smoke is caused by incomplete burning and is full of toxins that irritate airways, cause serious respiratory illnesses and even cause cancers, . This isn't only a problem for the outside air. This toxins include microfine particulates, smaller then bacteria, that easily penetrate our homes and pollute the inside air. Even “air tight” new homes are no match for these stealth particles, and many of us live in much breezier older homes.

So how can we protect ourselves from these toxic invaders?

Here is a list of quick tips to help clear our air:

The basics:

Use dry wood. Wood needs to be well seasoned, and cut into 10-15cm wide pieces.

Start a great fire by using generous amounts of paper (no glossy or coloured) and 5-10 pieces of kindling.

Add two or three pieces of additional wood.

Attend the fire closely while it gets going to ensure proper air flow. Starting a fire requires lots of air!

Open air fireplaces, remember that the amount of draw fireplaces require results in an overall heat LOSS. These fires are for beauty or “mood” only and should be kept small and very hot. Use small dry pieces of wood and burn them completely. Do not allow large smouldering logs to burn slowly and emit toxins into your home.

Wood stoves, as a primary source of heat, or added heat source, wood appliances are designed to burn wood efficiently.

If you can afford it, replacing an older stove with a new high efficiency stove will allow you to take advantage of new technology. New stoves increases secondary combustion of smoke within the stove, adding heat to your home and reducing smoke production.

No matter what stove you have these tips will help keep you safe from toxic smoke exhaust:

When starting a fire open the air intake completely and leave the door ajar to maximize air intake. The door may need to be open for up to 15 minutes to properly heat up the stove and chimney. Always attend closely during this time to keep watch for flying embers. For safety, remember to use a fire screen and ensure no combustibles are stored near the stove.

Once the stove is hot the door can be closed. If you have a glass front stove, check to ensure that the flames are bright orange/yellow/blue. Dull small flames indicate a lack of oxygen and incomplete combustion.

A thermostat on your chimney can also tell you if the fire is hot enough. A hot fire reduces polluting smoke and minimizes creosote build-up.

Minimize dampening down your fire. Limit air intake only to the point where the flame is still burning brightly and actively.

Allow the fire to burn down to large embers before building it up again. This will maximize efficiency and reduce that annoying “puff” of smoke that escapes when you open the door to reload.

When rebuilding the fire add a few pieces of kindling and a couple of pieces of wood. Open air intake completely and leave the door ajar for a few minutes to return the fire to a high temperature as soon as possible.

Never leave a smouldering fire, even overnight. While it may seem like a good idea or a time saver to have some embers in the stove when you go to relight, the damage to your health is simply not worth it.

If in doubt have a look at your chimney, if there is smoke coming out your fire is burning poorly.

These tips are just a starting point. To learn more about wood burning look for a Burn It Smart workshop in your neighbourhood.

SAFTY TIP: Always insure your home has functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors!