Winter is coming. The leaves and temperatures fall, and hopefully you have already been thinking about your fire this winter. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, insert, or stove, you need to have firewood readily available for burn season. It should be properly seasoned for safety and best results.
Why Your Wood Matters
Firewood is not created equal. The species of wood you choose to burn will determine how hot your fire is, how efficient your chimney system is, and how much wood you have to burn this winter. Check out this cool list that breaks it down by energy content per air dried cord, in BTUs. Drying your wood will mean a better fire.
Like every living plant, trees use water to grow and thrive, and this water is stored in their massive trunks, in microscopic tubes, like the arteries of a human. When a living tree is cut, it can contain up to 50 percent moisture by weight. This moisture should be dried before the wood is burned, otherwise it burns slowly, incompletely, and results in a less efficient fire. Firewood burns best when it has less than 20 percent moisture by volume.
How to Season Firewood
When firewood is cut from a tree, it should be cut and split, then stored in a loose stack so that air can circulate around the wood, and help the wood dry. This process can take as little as three months for soft woods, and up to six months for hard woods. You can tell when your wood is properly seasoned by it’s appearance.
- Your split wood should dull in color as it dries, it’s yellow meat turning a grayish hue.
- The wood should begin to crack around the sides where it was split, and around the outside where it meets the bark, called checks.
- The bark will pull away from the wood as it dries.
- Two pieces should sound hollow when hit together.
- If the wood is dry and gray or dull in color when split, it is dry throughout.
For best results when you store your wood, stack it loosely, in the sun, in a single row. Additionally, stacking the wood on a bed of gravel will allow for water runoff. Some like to store their wood in a wood shed, but a fully enclosed shed is not the best option, since it doesn’t allow for air circulation.
If you aren’t able to cut your own firewood, you can probably find a local source. If you buy locally, make sure your supplier is selling seasoned wood, or buy in the spring and store it for the coming winter. You should never pay for your wood before you see it, and be sure you are getting correct amount. Make sure that you get what you pay for when spending your hard-earned money for firewood.
For more information about firewood, and what you can and cannot burn in your fireplace, you can talk to a fire expert at Billy Sweep Chimney Sweep by calling 800-248-4900.
Not sure if your fireplace is ready for burn season? Maybe you have been burning green wood and need to check for creosote and soot in your chimney system. Schedule your chimney sweep online today.
Staying warm this winter requires the proper preparation. For maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the home, this could involve starting a fire in the wood burning stove or fireplace. To ensure the hottest, most fuel efficient fire, you have to start off with the best firewood.
The most critical trait to consider in your firewood is the extent of its seasoning. To be seasoned is to have been allowed to dry fully by being stored indoors for a specific amount of time. Essentially, seasoned wood means dry wood. How long the wood needs to completely season varies based on the type of wood. Softer varieties of wood may season in six month, while hardwoods can require as long as two years to achieve completer dryness.
Preferably, any wood you burn should have been allowed to season completely prior to burning. To follow this guideline, you have two options. First, you can purchase wood that is already fully seasoned. This wood can be burned right away for the best fuel efficiency, but you may have a hard time finding it. If you do find well seasoned wood for sale, it probably costs significantly more than the wet wood. The other option is to purchase wet wood and allow it to season in a shed or garage. This option saves you upfront costs, but it involves planning one or two years in advance. Either option you choose, you should always burn seasoned wood. A lot of energy is wasted on wet wood by boiling away the trapped moisture, so you end up with a colder fire, excess smoke, more spent on fuel, and incompletely burnt wood.
Incompletely burnt wood creates health risks because it produces a black, tarry material called creosote. Initially a vapor as it exits the fire, creosote condenses inside the chimney. Over time the creosote can build up and restrict the air flow through the chimney, which can lead to poor indoor air quality. The high flammability of creosote can also result in a chimney fire from a mere stray ember. Luckily, avoiding this risk is as easy as burning seasoned wood and having an annual chimney sweep and inspection done.
Just because you purchase seasoned wood does not mean it stays seasoned forever. How you store the wood after you buy it and before you burn it determines whether or not it remains fully seasoned. The ideal storage arrangement involves stacking the wood, with a depth of only one log, in a shed or other outdoor building. Leave the wood uncovered to prevent condensation. If the wood must sit outside, protect it from the elements by creating a sturdy roof for it. A piece of sheet metal works well. Be sure to leave the sides of the stack uncovered to encourage air flow.
If you have any questions about firewood or if you need to schedule a chimney sweep or inspection, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to speak with an expert.
Wood-burning fireplaces serve several functions in the home – from practical to aesthetic. Sometimes the fireplace is used to heat the home, while in other cases it acts as a beautiful, focal point on special occasions. Either way, owners of wood-burning fireplaces generally love everything their fireplaces have to offer. Aside from the regular chimney maintenance, most home owners don’t put much extra thought into the specifics of their fireplace, including purchasing the wood for fuel. The goal is usually to find the cheapest wood that burns the longest, but more care should go into choosing the right firewood – especially where it comes from.
Always investigate the source of your firewood before you purchase to ensure it has come from a local source. The Don’t Move Firewood campaign says “local” means within a county or two of where you plan to transport, store and burn the firewood. If the firewood came from any further than a few counties away, find a more local source. At the same time, if you plan to travel more than a few counties away with your firewood, choose to purchase wood more local to your destination instead. Importing wood from a different area can have devastating environmental effects.
Firewood is a good representation of the ecosystem that it originated from. It often contains native species, such as insects, fungi and bacteria. Sometimes these species can be seen on the firewood, but more often than not, they’re invisible to the human eye. For the trees and other plant life in the ecosystem the firewood came from, these organisms generally do not cause serious ill effects. For thousands and even millions of years, the trees, insects, fungi and bacteria have lived and evolved together and have achieved a natural balance. By moving firewood out of its original area though, you introduce these organisms to an ecosystem unaccustomed to them, which can have serious consequences.
An insect, fungus or bacteria introduced to an environment it has never inhabited before is called a nonnative or invasive species. These organisms have no natural enemies in the new system, and before the environment has an opportunity to adjust to the invasion, the intruding species has had the opportunity to grow rapidly and further infiltrate the area.
One consequence of this fast overpopulation is that similar, native species are outcompeted by the invasive species for shared resources, resulting in a decrease in the native species’ population. Another consequence is the introduction of disease. For example, the Emerald Ash Borer – a beetle originally from Asia – was found in Michigan in 2002 after it was accidentally introduced there. The beetles do little damage to the Ash trees they inhabit, but the larvae inside the trees disrupt the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Now, nearly every state in the eastern half of the United States has been affected and tens of millions of Ash trees have died. These beetles would not have traveled far on their own, but with the movement of firewood, logs and nursery trees, the damage has devastated the Ash tree population.
Countless other examples of this have occurred throughout the country and continue to occur as long as people refuse to keep firewood local. Trees and plant life are vital to the health of the environment for generations to come, so do your part to maintain the ecosystems around you by purchasing and burning firewood locally.