From chairs and tables to patio flooring, framing studs and more, pressure-treated wood is used in a variety of applications. Because it looks similar to standard wood, though, some people assume that it’s safe to burn. If you have some old furniture made of pressure-treated wood lying around your home that you want to get rid of, for example, you may assume that it’s okay to burn it in your backyard.
While burning pressure-treated wood probably won’t cause immediate harm, it’s not a good idea and you should be burning premium firewood instead. However, we’ll explain why and what the alternatives are in this article.
What Is Pressure-Treated Wood?
Pressure-treated wood is any type of wood that’s undergone a preservation process involving the use of pressurized chemicals. After harvesting a tree and cutting it into multiple sections, the lumber company places the wood into a negatively pressurized vacuum chamber where it’s exposed to chemicals. Although there are different types of vacuum chambers used for pressure treating wood, most are designed to perform two tasks:
- Remove air from the wood
- Inject preservative chemicals into the wood
A vacuum chamber essentially removes the air inside of wood and replaces it with fungicide, insecticide and other chemicals. The end result is pressure-treated wood that can withstand the hands of time. From hardwoods and softwoods, most types of wood can be pressure treated. The term “pressure treatment” simply refers to the aforementioned preservation process.
Advantages of Pressure-Treated Wood Over Traditional Wood
The reason so many construction companies and product manufacturers choose pressure-treated wood is because it lasts longer than traditional wood. With the exception of cedar, redwood and a few other varieties, most types of wood are susceptible to decay and insect damage. Destructive insects like termites, as well as rot-causing fungi, love to eat the cellulose matter of wood. Pressure-treated wood, however, avoids these problems by exposing the wood to pressurized chemicals that deters insects and prevents decay.
Why Pressure-Treated Wood Is NOT Safe to Burn!
It may look the same as traditional wood — giving you a false of sense of security — but pressure-treated wood is not safe to burn. When burned, pressure-treated wood releases a cocktail of harmful chemicals and pollutants into the air, some of which will inevitably end up in your lungs.
One of the most common types of pressure-treated wood is chromated copper arsenate (CCA). Originally invented in the 1930s, the solution consists of copper, arsenic and chromium. Following a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) raising concerns over the safety of CCA in 2002, however, the EPA began restricting the use of CCA for residential construction.
The EPA said that exposure to CCA-treated wood may cause illness, so it now restricts CCA-treated wood to commercial construction applications. Nonetheless, many homes and consumer products — especially those constructed or built before 2002 — still contain CCA wood. Burning CCA wood means that toxic chemicals like copper, arsenic and chromium will be released into the air where you and your family live.
Even if pressure-treated wood doesn’t contain CCA, it still contains other hazardous insecticide and fungi chemicals. Ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA) is a newer formula and successor of CCA. It consists of copper, zinc and arsenic to protect wood from pests and fungi.
Unfortunately, ACZA is also harmful when burned, and exposure to it increases the risk of chronic respiratory disease and even cancer.
How to Tell If Wood Is Pressure Treated
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to distinguish between standard and pressure-treated wood. You can identify CCA-treated wood by looking for its distinct greenish hue, as the chemicals create a green color. But other types of pressure-treated wood have few or no visible characteristics, making them nearly impossible to identify without sending a sample for a laboratory chemical analysis.
Only Burn Wood That You Know Isn’t Pressure Treated
For the sake of you and your family’s health, only burn wood that are you know isn’t pressure treated. If you have some old wooden planks lying in your basement or garage and don’t remember where you acquired them from, err on the side of caution and don’t burn it.
Only burn wood that you harvested yourself or acquired from a trusted firewood vendor, such as Cutting Edge Firewood. This allows you to enjoy the warmth and beauty of a backyard fire without worrying about toxic fumes harming your health.
How to Get Rid of Pressure-Treated Wood
If you need to get rid of some pressure-treated wood, don’t burn it and don’t toss in the trash. Instead, take it to local landfill or waste disposal center. While they may charge a fee, they should accept it, giving you peace of mind knowing that it’s being properly disposed of.
So what should you burn?
For the discerning individual seeking the finest firewood available, look no further than Cutting Edge Firewood. Our delivery service offers a curated selection of firewood that is not only safe for burning and cooking, but also elevates the very experience of a warm fire. We adhere to the most stringent drying process in the industry and personally select each piece to ensure that our firewood lights easily, burns brightly and hot, and generates minimal smoke. Indulge in the luxury of a superior fire by visiting our order page or exploring our exclusive box options.
i burned some old fence panels – not sure exact installation date, but according to old google images of my house, it was at least installed prior to 2006. I can send images, but my main concern is that me and the kids were outside playing while the fence was burning. I had no idea burning a fence was a bad idea until a friend pointed it out. Now im concerned about myself and mainly the kids health. Any advice? Any way to tell if I should worry etc? I know you arent a doctor and arent asking for medical diagnosis etc, just a concerned parent looking for “recommendations”
Hey Tim! Thank you for your question. I’m certainly not a doctor, so this is not medical advise. I personally wouldn’t worry too much about it. I don’t think there is anything you can do about it now. I definitely wouldn’t do it again as the issues compound the more you do it. How bad it affected you or the kids has a lot of different variables, like how close were you or the kids to it, where you standing in the smoke, which chemical was used to treat the wood, do any of you have any lung issues, etc
Can you burn treated wood in a mass rocket stove?
Definitely not! Since this is burning inside, it would be much more dangerous then even in a regular fire pit outside, which is not recommended. Thank you for your question Jeff.