Fire Wood

Wood Pile
 
        Firewood can have great influence over how well your system performs and how enjoyable your experience will be.   Quality, well-seasoned firewood will help to burn cleaner and more efficiently, while green or wet wood can cause smoking problems, odor problems, rapid creosote buildup and even dangerous chimney fires.

        Understanding firewood will be time well spent, so please read on for general background information, as well as how to buy wood and store wood.

General Background

        Through the process of photosynthesis, trees are able to store solar energy as chemical energy that can be used for heat when needed.

        Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like gas or oil, which is believed by many to be upsetting our climate for the worst, burning firewood releases no more harmful greenhouse gases than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor.   If we are responsible in the ways we select, cut, and burn our firewood, wood burning can actually be the correct choice for the environment too.

Seasoned Firewood

        All firewood contains water.   Freshly cut wood can be up to 45% water!, while well seasoned firewood generally has a 20-25% moisture content.   Well seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, while burning cleaner.   If you try to burn green wood, the heat produced by combustion must dry the wood before it will burn, using up a large percentage of the available energy in the process.   This will results in less heat output.

        Wood is composed of bundles of microscopic tubes that were used to transport water from the roots to the leaves.   These tubes will stay full of water for years after a tree is dead.   That is why it is very important to have your firewood cut to length for at least 1 year or more prior to burning it, giving this water a chance to evaporate since the tube ends are finally open and the water only has to a short distance to escape.   Splitting the wood helps too by exposing more surface area to the sun and wind.

        A few things you can look for to see if the wood you intend to purchase is seasoned or not.   Well seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with cracks or splits visible, it is relatively lightweight, and makes a clear clunk"clunk"  when two pieces are beat together.   Green wood is very heavy, the ends look fresher, and it tends to make a dull "thud"  when struck.   These clues can fool you however, and by far the best way to be sure you have good wood when you need it is to buy your wood the spring before intending to burn it and of course store it properly.

        Trees are either hardwood or softwood.   They both produce a limited amount of heat.   Both can help you enjoy the rest of the holiday season with the exact warmth you desire.   Depending on the kind of fire and the amount of heat you want, you can pick from among these well-seasoned wood.

        Softwood can produce a crackling effect on your fire.   The pop and crackle sound is something to look out for when the wood starts to burn.   It has this vibrant aroma that is just right for the cold winter nights.   Pine has all the characteristics a crackling fire needs.   Just make sure there are protective screen doors so that no one is harmed when it starts to pop.   Softwood can burn quickly, cleanly and more efficiently thus creating a quick burning fire.   On the downside, it does not provide too much heat compared to that of hardwood.   But there are some who prefer their wood that way.   This type of wood can be ignited right away.   Cedar and White Spruce are examples of wood used for this kind of fire.

        Hardwood, on the other hand, gives off more heat because of its thickness.   They have the highest (BTU) British Thermal Unit content which doubles the output of heat compared to that of softwood.   They burn more slowly thus bringing heat to the highest level possible.   There is also minimal smoke produced with this type of wood.   The only disadvantage of this type of wood is that it takes more time to ignite a fire with it.   Some examples are Maple and Oak.

Storing Firewood

        Even well seasoned firewood can be ruined by bad storage.   Exposed to constant rain or covered in snow, wood can reabsorb large amounts of water, making it unfit to burn and causing it to rot before it can be used.   Wood should be stored off the ground if possible and protected from excess moisture when weather threatens.

        The ideal situation is a wood shed, where there is a roof but open or loose sides allowing for plenty of air circulation to promote drying.   The next best would be to keep the wood pile in a sunny location and cover it on rainy or snowy days, being sure to remove the covering during fair weather to allow air movement and to avoid ground moisture under the covering.   With proper storage you can turn even the greenest wood into great firewood in a year, and it can be expected to last 3 or 4 years if necessary.

Buying Firewood

        Firewood is generally sold by volume, the most common measure being the cord.   Other terms often employed are face cord, rick, or often just a truckload.   A standard cord of firewood 128 cubic feet of wood, generally measured as 8 feet long by 4 feet tall by 4 feet deep.   A face cord is 8 feet long by 4 feet tall, but it is only as deep as the wood is cut, so a face cord of 16" wood actually is only 1/3 of a cord, 24" wood yields 1/2 of a cord, and so on.

        Webster defines a rick simply as a pile, and truck sizes will vary tremendously, so it is very important that you get all of this straight with the seller before agreeing on a price; there is a lot of room for misunderstanding.   It is best to have your wood storage area set up in standard 4 or 8 foot increments, pay the wood seller the extra few dollars often charged to stack the wood, and warn him before he arrives that you will pay only when the wood actually measures to an agreed upon amount.

        Another thought concerning getting what you pay for is that although firewood is usually sold by volume, heat production is dependent on weight.   Pound for pound, all wood has approximately the same BTU content, but a cord of seasoned hardwood weighs about twice as much as the same volume of softwood, and consequently contains almost twice as much potential heat.   If the wood you are buying is not all hardwood, consider negotiation of price.

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Yes, it's OK to burn a little pine, even construction scraps, using it mainly for kindling.
   
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DO NOT however burn large quantities of resinous softwoods as these fires can quickly get out of hand.
   
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DO NOT  burn any construction scraps of treated or painted wood, especially treated wood from decks or landscaping ties.   Chemicals used can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other very toxic compounds into the living area.
   
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If the "seasoned wood"  you bought turned out to be pretty green and you elected to try to burn it anyway, chimney should be checked more often, the build up of creosote may develop very quickly.   You don't have to burn only premium hardwoods.   Less dense woods like elm and even soft maple are abundant and make fine firewood.
   
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Many people also have questions about burning artificial logs.   Convenience is the main strong point and in general they are fine when time is an issue and you want a quick fire without all the mess of natural firewood.   Usually they should be burned only one at a time and only in an open fireplace.   Be careful about poking them and moving them around once they are burning since they may break up and the fire may get out of control.   Be sure to carefully read the directions on the package, or the Duraflame website has more detailed information straight from the world's largest fire-log manufacturer.
   
   
   

Points To Remember

        It's important to know that too much moisture in wood reduces its burning efficiency.   The smoke that it produces cannot compensate the heat needed in the home and can cause the build-up of creosote in your chimney since it directly goes there.   The harmful chemicals it contains can put your lives in danger too.

        We all want the best type of wood especially during the holidays.   There are those who prefer more heat and there are those who would rather want lower heat intensity.   The wood plays a hand in the intensity of the flame.   Another important note to remember, regardless of the type of wood and the characteristics it bestows, is that the wood should be seasoned.   The drying process usually takes six to twelve months.   Also keep in mind that in order to maintain the natural capability of the wood to produce fire, it has to be properly stored.

        Regardless of the type of wood you prefer, it’s always best to make sure that your fireplace and chimney are intact and safe from any debris or damage. Annual chimney inspection and sweeping is highly recommended.

 
 

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