Pros and Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace + Safety Tips

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Pros and Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace + Safety Tips

Is August too early to start talking about fall?

I’m usually not one to romanticize the changing seasons. But since buying (and renovating) a house with a wood-burning fireplace, I can see the appeal of colder weather. Imagine curling up with a book and a cup of coffee next to a warm fire. Talk about the epitome of fall, am I right?

Truly, when we first bought our abandoned little bungalow, the wood-burning fireplace was one of the features I was excited about the most. Granted, it looked absolutely nothing like it does now and required SO MUCH WORK to get it looking like it does today. But it’s one of my favorite features in our house, and everyone that steps foot in our home remarks on its character.

Pros and Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace + Safety Tips

Besides the coziness and romantic ambiance it provides in the colder months, a wood-burning fireplace also allows less dependability on utility companies – at least in the colder months – because it truly does heat up a large part of the house, especially since we’ve converted the main living areas into one open space.

As with anything in life, however, a wood-burning fireplace has its disadvantages, too – none of which even crossed my mind when we first bought our home.

Take the regular maintenance, for example.

At least twice a year – before and after the winter months – you must hire a professional to examine and clean the chimney. Regular cleaning helps avoid creosote and soot buildup, both of which are byproducts that are extremely harmful to lungs.

Then, there’s the constant buildup of ashes to monitor and clean.

Let’s not forget about the firewood and the work that it requires. For example, did you know that you can’t just burn any wood? Only certain types of wood are recommended if you want to minimize smoke and creosote buildup.

What’s more, firewood needs to be chopped properly and dried completely. The first requires knowledge and manual labor, while the latter some sort of indoor storage space.

Then, there’s the common issue with pressure imbalances within the house. If your home is fairly small like ours then every time you turn on the bathroom exhaust fan or the kitchen hood, the fireplace emits an odor. These exhaust systems push air out of the house. But because the fireplace is one big, gaping hole, it tries to balance the indoor air pressure by pulling outdoor air into the chimney. It picks up all sorts of odors as the air is pulled inside the house.

Last but not least, wood-burning fireplaces are at risk of incomplete combustion, especially if you use damp wood. Incomplete combustion can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide (CO)? Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless and deadly gas that can be produced by any fuel-burning device, such as a furnace, boiler, stove, or cars. Even dryer vents and chimneys pose a threat. CO alarms detect this poisonous gas and provide early warning.

I had previously heard about the risk of carbon monoxide with wood-burning fireplaces. But besides adding “buy CO alarms” to my ever-growing to-do list, I didn’t give it much thought. Then, Julia Marcum – a fellow blogger – shared about her family’s near-death experience of a carbon monoxide leak in their home, and I knew that it was time to take action.

Pros and Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace + Safety Tips

First Alert has a variety of CO alarms that fit your family’s needs: plug-in alarms, tabletop alarms, wall- and ceiling-mount alarms that also double as smoke alarms. I personally like the Carbon Monoxide Alarm with 10-Year Battery and Digital Temperature Display, shown below. Not only does it require zero installation, but the built-in 10-year sealed battery means you never have to worry about changing batteries during the lifetime of the detector.

Pros and Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace + Safety Tips

First Alert created a video to help spread the word about the importance of CO alarms. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous of topics, but it could save lives. If that’s not enough of an incentive, many states have legislation requiring CO alarms. In 2011, many states adopted new building codes. As a result, one and two-family homes built in 2011 feature carbon monoxide alarms whose useful life of seven years is expiring or will expire soon. It’s our responsibility to know the CO safety legislation in our state and practice CO safety. Learn more about carbon monoxide and the CO safety laws in your state by visiting

Below are additional safety tips:

  • Install CO alarms on every level and in every bedroom.
  • Test carbon monoxide alarms regularly.
  • Remember to replace your alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage.
  • Do not use generators, gas powered tools or grills inside the home.
  • Plan and practice an escape route with your family.
  • If you carbon monoxide alarm does sound, leave the home immediately for fresh air and call 911.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make possible!

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