A wood burning fireplace (or wood burning stove for that matter) is a wonderful item to enjoy during the fall and winter months. The snap and crackle of burning wood. The orange glow through the fireplace glass. The warmth that permeates the room. A wood fire feels homey and comforting.
Yet as fires are built from day-to-day, ashes builds up. At some point, it must be cleaned out. If not, it will spill out onto the hearth. To prevent this messy situation, periodic ash removal becomes a regular chore of fireplace or wood burning stove use. But do you know how to safely dispose of fireplace ashes? We have all heard the stories of how a house fire was started with fireplace ashes. Don’t become a statistic, learn how to safely dispose of ashes.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America there as several reasons why it is important to remove ashes. 1) if the layer of ashes is deep enough that it comes into contact with the grate… the grate may burn out resulting in a much shorter life span than normal. 2) a very deep layer of ashes reduces the volume of wood that can be placed in the fireplace (or wood stove).
Basic Tools Needed
- ash bucket – container made of non-flammable material such as metal or earthenware
- ash shovel – a specialized tool or even a metal trowel could be used as a substitute
- fire resistant gloves – help prevent accidental burns
- face mask (optional) – reduce chance of inhaling ash
With tools in hand, you are now ready to remove ashes from your fireplace. If possible, wait 24 hours after the last fire burned in the fireplace. This gives time for the ashes and any remaining pieces of wood to have cooled down. Now during winter months, wood fires may be constant or with very little downtime between fires. If this is the case, it is even more important to handle wood ashes safely.
Open the screen, fireplace door (or wood stove door). Place the ash bucket in front of opening. Reach in with the ash shovel and scoop out the ashes. If there are live coals, push those towards the back or off to the side. Do not remove them and leave a thin layer of ash around them. By doing so, it will make it easier to start your next fire. The ash acts as an insulator for the coals.
Once you have removed a sufficient amount of ashes from the combustion chamber of the fireplace (or wood stove), place the ash bucket in a cool, well-ventilated area away from combustible materials such as newspapers, cardboard, rags, etc… You may also place the ash bucket outdoors, but be sure to place in a location where it cannot be knocked over by winds or curious animals. Even when the ash bucket is placed outdoors, remember to keep away from dried leaves and firewood.
Safety Precautions When Handling Ashes
- treat all ashes as hot
- wait at least 24 hours after a fire before removing ashes
- do not add live embers to the ash bucket
- do not add anything combustible to ash bucket
- place lid over the ash bucket to reduce the possibility of oxygen reaching a live ember or smoldering ashes in the ash bucket
- store the ash bucket (with ashes) in a well ventilated location as ashes may contain live coals (embers) from which carbon monoxide emits
- do not place ash bucket (with ashes) next to anything combustible
- pour a little water over ashes in ash bucket (think of properly extinguishing campfires), but do this in an outdoor setting in case of live embers or smoldering ashes or….
- allow ash bucket to sit for at least three days before disposing of ashes
When it comes to disposing of cold ashes, they can be bagged up and placed in the trash. Or if you are a gardener, they can be sprinkled across garden beds or worked into compost bins.
With these tips, you too, can stay safe during wood burning season.