If you have a wood insert, stove, or open fireplace, you need to burn the right wood. Whether you burn a fire every now and then for ambiance or every single day for warmth, you need to burn the right wood. Why? The kind of wood you choose will determine how well your chimney system works, how warm your fire burns, and how safe your family and house will be!
Choosing the Right Wood to Burn
Not all wood is created equal. Tree species can be hard or soft, and the hardest species produce the most heat in BTU’s. Softwood will burn well, but will not produce as much heat and will burn faster. Many homeowners prefer to cut and use hardwood because of the high energy content. However, there are plenty of homes in Canada and mountainous areas that withstand bitter winters by burning the softwoods that are in their region. You can have the best wood possible, and it still won’t burn unless it’s properly seasoned. In fact, unseasoned wood can cause problems for your fireplace!
Firewood is considered “seasoned” when it has dried enough so that it only contains 20-25 percent moisture. Freshly cut trees contain up to 45 percent moisture and shouldn’t be burned. The moisture causes the wood to burn poorly and incompletely. Not to mention, it produces more ash, soot, and creosote than necessary. In order to get the best use out of your firewood, you should make sure it is properly seasoned before burning.
- Cut firewood to length before storing.
The moisture is held in tubes while the tree is living, and can take years to dry up unless the wood is cut so that air can get in and circulate. Cut the firewood to the desired length, and then set aside to season. It will be easier to split once it’s dry.
- Store the firewood in an aerated space with sun exposure.
Many homeowners prefer to store firewood in a shed. However, if the shed isn’t aerated enough, or if the wood is crowded in too tightly, it will not season properly. The best way to store wood to season? Stack it on a bed of gravel (so that water doesn’t collect or pool around it) or in a lean-to. This is so that it is covered and air circulates freely. You can cover your wood with a tarp, or simply stack the pieces bark-side up to protect the wood from precipitation.
- Check your firewood for readiness before burning.
Your firewood should be allowed to season for 3-6 months. Hard woods will require six months to be burn-ready. If you cut the wood a year in advance, you don’t have to wonder if it’s ready.
Is Your Wood Ready?
If you cut during the summer, and are anxious to burn it this winter, there are a few ways you can tell if it’s ready:
- The pieces are cracking and bark is pulling away from the wood.
- The color dulls toward gray instead of tan or brown.
- The wood feels lighter in weight.
- Two pieces hit together sound hollow (as opposed to a dull thud).
- It burns well! (If all else fails, try burning a piece. If it doesn’t do well, you need to give it more time.)