The first step is making sure you have the right wood
While most homes no longer use wood burning fires as their primary heat source, there’s nothing like an old wood stove or fireplace glowing bright and flickering through the cold winter weather. Just the smell of woodsmoke puts one in the frame of mind of hot cider and warm toes.
Whether you’re new to the world of wood fireplaces or an old hand at stacking logs, we’ve got a few good tips about firewood that are worth reviewing.
What Characteristics Of Wood Give The Best Results?
First off, aged wood—at least two years—is best. Even better if it has been cut, split and stacked outside, exposed to the elements of nature.
Like a fine champagne (drank in front of a glowing fireplace of course!), good wood has been rotated in the stack to ensure an even and consistent aging, with decent exposure to sunlight and air flow to help dry it out and lower the moisture level to less than 20%. Less seasoned wood has as much as 50% moisture, which will smoke when lit.
Why is aged wood better?
Aged wood burns hotter and more slowly, giving you a better result in the fireplace and requiring you to add wood less often. The slow burn gives a more consistent temperature and heat, rather than a fast flare up that dies out quickly. There is also little to no smoke with well-aged wood.
There are three characteristics you are looking for beyond aging:
- Density of the wood, which gives you more heat per cubic foot volume of wood.
- BTU (British Thermal Unit) of the wood, which gives you more heat per piece of wood.
- This refers to the ability of the wood to form coals after the initial burn, extending the fire life.
Overall, a well-aged quality hardwood will have more density, BTUs and coaling ability, giving you a better burn, with consistent and even heat.
White birch, which is a hardwood, has a density of 42 lbs per cu. ft. , 20.8 million BTUs / cord and is good at coaling.
In contrast, pine, which is a softwood, has a density of 22 to 31 lbs per cu. Ft., 15 million BTUs / cord and is poor at coaling. In addition, it has a strong smell and can leave an oily residue in your chimney.
Pieces that are cut from 12” to 16” are ideal to fit in most fireplaces so be sure to ask your provider what you are getting before you take delivery.
What Types Of Wood Are Available?
Hardwoods—maple, oak, ash, birch, and fruit trees—burn hotter and longer but are more expensive and harder to split. However, with a longer burn, you’re using less of it so it probably comes down to an even split for the recreational fireplace user.
Softwoods—pine, balsam, spruce, alder, and poplar—these are much easier to split and light, but they burn out quickly and are prone to creating creosote buildup in the chimney, which can cause a chimney fire.
TIP: Avoid FREE firewood sales! Very often, ‘free firewood’ is made up of wood pallets that have been broken down. Pallet wood is a major fire risk. They catch fire very easily and burn at such a high temperature that the fire could easily spread to nearby objects. They break down into wood dust, which can combine and ignite into a fireball! In addition, most wood pallets are treated with harmful chemicals that act as pesticides, such as Methyl Bromide or fungicides: when burned, the toxins are released into the air and can pose a serious health risk.
How Should Wood Be Stored?
When you’re checking out a seller, beware of those who simply pile the wood out of doors. This means that there is little to no airflow for the pieces underneath, resulting in wet, even mouldy wood that won’t burn well. You’re looking for nicely stacked wood that has plenty of airflow and a seasoned appearance.
It should go without saying but it’s best not to store your firewood in the house. Split logs should be stacked with the ends facing prevailing winds, off the ground with only the top covered and bark facing up. This helps to ensure that sunlight and air can still reach the split logs but the bark protects them from rain and snow.
It’s best to get this done within two weeks of delivery from your firewood provider, so best to plan your location before you order! The goal is to prevent moisture from building up in your wood pile, which will make the wood too wet to burn properly.
How can you tell if your wood is too wet? If you try burning it and it hisses or steam bubbles appear at the ends, your wood is too wet to burn.
Well seasoned, dry wood is darker towards the ends, with cracks and splits in it; it’s also relatively light weight.
Before you get your first roaring fire going this season, check out our Fireplace and Chimney Checklist! Toemar has been in the business of selling firewood for more than thirty-five years, so if you’re looking for a source of wood that you can trust, give us a call.