A wood burning fireplace is a beautiful addition to any home. In the cold months of winter it can serve as a source of heat and light, adding warmth and ambiance to any room.
One of the necessary evils of using a wood burning appliance is the removal, storage, and disposal of ashes. However, despite frequently cleaning their fireplaces many homeowners do not know the proper way to handle the remaining ashes.
In addition to impacting the performance of your fireplace, ashes can also pose a safety hazard if they are not properly removed and stored. Because of this, it is extremely important that homeowners know how to correctly handle the ashes created by their wood burning appliances.
Why are ashes dangerous?
Fireplace ash may not be as innocuous as it seems. Although the ash itself is not inherently dangerous, what it conceals can be. Small coals or embers can remain dormant in pockets of ash, only to be reignited when they come into contact with oxygen. According to forestry officials, even ashes that have gone “cold” should be treated with caution as “Wood ashes retain enough heat to ignite other combustible materials for several days.”
Improper ash disposal methods
Some of the most common methods of ash disposal are also the most dangerous. Ashes should never be collected in combustible containers such as paper bags or cardboard boxes. Likewise, ashes should never be put in a regular trash can or dumpster.
Although it may seem convenient, vacuums should never be used to remove ash. In addition to not being able to handle the heat from ashes, most vacuums will only cause the fine dust to become airborne. This can cause walls, furniture, or décor to become coated in ash dust while at the same time negatively impacting air quality in your home.
How to properly dispose of ashes
The first step in safe and correct ash removal is ensuring that the fire has completely gone out and there are no remaining hot coals or embers. The most effective way of extinguishing a fire is by letting it naturally burn itself out overnight; although you can close the fireplace doors, leave the damper open to ensure smoke and gas from the extinguishing fire do not back up into the home.
Once the ashes have cooled and there are no remaining coals, they can be removed from the fireplace. Ashes should be stored in a special ash container that is not used for any other types of trash. Typically, ash containers are made of metal, have tight-fitting lids, do not sit directly on the ground, and have long handles for easy carrying and transport. If the lid no longer fits correctly or the metal has become rusted or corroded, the ash container should be replaced as soon as possible.
Ash containers should not be stored near any flammable material to reduce the risk of dormant coals or embers causing accidental fires. This includes keeping ash containers out of garages and sheds and away from porches, decks, or other structures.
There are several methods for disposing of cold ashes. Many trash companies will accept cold ashes with their regular trash pickup. However, this varies with different companies; check with your municipality or company before putting ashes with the regular garbage. In addition, there are several alternate uses of ashes such as a slug repellant or as fertilizer.