Firewood Facts: How to Choose the Best Firewood
On a cold winter day, nothing seems better than warming up to a hot blazing fire. But as you may know, sometimes getting this picture perfect winter scene is easier said than done. Burning green wood can create excess smoke but little heat, and firewood containing bugs and sap create a less than enjoyable burning experience as well. To get the most out of your fireplace, you’ll want to know how to choose the best firewood.
Avoid Freshly Cut Logs
Most people know that it’s detrimental to a fireplace and chimney to burn wood that’s still green or freshly cut. The underlying reason green wood is a poor choice for firewood is because of its moisture content. As long as a tree is alive and rooted in the ground, the nourishment system of the tree keeps it fairly bursting with moisture. Microscopic tubes run from the roots up through the tree and to the leaves, carrying moisture. The weight of a freshly cut tree is up to 80% water.
Burning moisture-filled green logs displaces the warmth that you want to radiate from the fire; instead, the fire’s energy largely goes toward the process of drying out the wood. What also happens is that the gallons of acidic water inside the logs are burned out in the form of creosote, which creates a lot of sooty smoke that is deposited in the chimney. Excess buildup of creosote in your chimney is dangerous because chimney fires, which can cause house fires, are more likely to occur.
An annual cleaning and inspection by a professional chimney sweep is advisable for anyone with a fireplace. One of the many issues a chimney sweep addresses is the removal of creosote. Even if you never burn green logs, there’s some amount of creosote buildup as a result of burning logs in your fireplace; for safety reasons, it should be removed.
Burn Seasoned Wood
Good firewood is, first of all, seasoned. In other words, it has moisture content of somewhere between 20% and 25%. From the time the logs are cut to the time they’re placed in your fireplace, they will need to dry out. If you want to season freshly cut logs naturally, you simply need to place the logs in the following basic conditions:
• Cut the logs to the ideal length for your fireplace
• If you split the wood before stacking it, you help along the process of drying
• Put some type of covering on the top of the logs so that they’re safe from rain
• Put some distance between the logs and the moist ground
• Expose the logs to sun and wind
It takes anywhere from six months to a year to season firewood (that’s without artificial help, such as heating/drying systems that lumber companies use). Seasoned firewood, as compared to green wood, ignites more easily, burns cleaner, and generates more heat.
Burn Dense Wood
Trees have different densities and are generally divided into hardwoods and softwoods. A truckload of hardwood weighs roughly twice as much as an equal load of softwood. As compared to softwood, hardwood:
• Burns approximately twice as long
• Potentially gives off twice as much heat
One of the reasons hardwoods put off so much more heat than softwoods is because the dense logs produce long-burning coal, an excellent heat source.
The best firewood comes from the logs of oak, maple, hickory, hackberry, birch, cherry, and ironwood trees, along with the other hardwoods.
Seasoned softwoods such as pine and fir trees are useful, too, since they ignite quickly. They are the best logs for starting a fire. And if the weather isn’t particularly cold, you may want to burn softwoods and save the dense logs for when more warmth is needed.
Avoid problems this winter and prepare for the burning season early with the correct type of firewood. It is best to purchase your firewood in the spring or summer to guarentee that it is properly dried out before use. Remember to store your firewood in a dry area and stick to hardwoods for a hotter, cleaner fire.
Photo Credit: Horio Varlan, Linda Cronin
Northeastern Chimney, Inc
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110