For most homeowners, buying firewood is an annual, necessary chore that is done without much thought or consideration. However, many fail to realize that the type of wood you purchase can have an effect on not just the quality of your fires but also on the overall upkeep of your fireplace.
Types of firewood
Although it might seem like all wood will burn the same, each tree has its own distinct set of burning characteristics. Some are naturally smokier, have stronger odors, burn faster, or are harder to split. Firewood tends to be divided into two main categories: hard woods and soft woods.
Hardwoods tend to be dense, heavy woods; because of this, most experts agree these woods make much better firewood compared to softwoods. While there are a number of hardwoods to choose from, the best woods for home fireplaces are considered Ash, Birch, and Oak.
Ash burns at medium to high, produces little smoke, and is easy to split. Birch also gives off a considerable amount of heat, but does tend to burn a little quicker. However, it is often easy to find and relatively inexpensive compared to other woods, making it an ideal firewood choice. Oak, when dried properly, is a long-burning wood that produces a medium-high heat.
Softwood comes from pines, spruces, firs, and evergreens. Although it lights quickly, making it ideal for kindling, softwoods tend to produce a large amount of smoke. Because of this, they are often more suited for outdoor fires or activities such as smoking meat.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, homeowners should “never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood because it releases toxic chemicals when burned.” This includes plywood, wood used for decking, fencing, and playground equipment, or any wood that has come in contact with paint, wood glue, or other chemicals.
Seasoning firewood is simply the process of allowing the wood to dry; by removing moisture, the wood is able to burn more efficiently with less smoke and hotter temperatures. Seasoned firewood should only have a moisture content of 15-20%, as opposed to the nearly 50% of freshly cut wood. Properly seasoned firewood should feel lighter, appear cracked or split at the ends, and when two pieces are banged together, the resulting sound should be hollow.
For some firewood, the seasoning process can take more than a year. For this reason, when buying pre-seasoned firewood, be sure to ask when the wood was cut. Even the wood in trees that are dead or have been felled needs to be split into logs before the seasoning process can truly begin.
Wood that needs to be seasoned should be split, stacked in a single row, and placed in an area where the sun will help dry it out. In addition, it’s recommended that wood not be stacked directly on the ground, as this can cause ground moisture to seep in, thereby rotting the wood.
Storage for firewood in the cold fall and winter months should still be outdoors, but should be in a place where the wood is protected from rain and snow. Homeowners should only bring in as much wood as they immediately need; wood stored at room temperature can sometimes cause any remaining bugs to become active.