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Choosing the Right Firewood


Sweater weather will be here before you know it, which means it is almost time for building fires. Is there anything better on a cold winter night than sitting in front of a roaring fire relaxing? However, before you start tossing logs into the flames, you want to make sure you are using the best firewood. So, what constitutes good firewood and bad firewood?

Use Dry Wood - South GA, North FL - Homestead Chimney

Use Dry Wood – South GA, North FL – Homestead Chimney

Ideally, firewood should be solid (not half rotted), as it will burn longer and create more BTUs while it is burning. This is why oak is the favored wood of choice. Oak trees take much longer to grow than other trees, which is what gives it a better structure, especially for burning in fires. Other woods can be used, but they will burn more quickly and that cost does add up over the course of the season.

In addition to burning more rapidly, woods like cherry and pine will also pop when they burn. Cherry is a semi hardwood, many like due to the fragrance, don’t know about popping….popping is usually relative to knots, cat faces, and other areas of highly concentrated fuel storage exploding, sometimes sending the knot into orbit. Not only will this startle you, but it can be quite dangerous. Embers can become airborne and if there is no protective screen or the fireplace is out in the open, this could start a fire outside of the fireplace. You should always have a functioning screen to prevent any flying embers.

Before burning any firewood, it should be properly dried. If you bang dry wood together, the sound is crisp, while wet wood sounds muffled. Wood with too much moisture also causes a smokier fire. It also contributes to creosote buildup which is a fire hazard. With as little as 1/8″ being enough to cause a fire, this is an obvious concern.

Here is a great infographic on firewood that visualizes the concept of green wood vs. seasoned wood. Make sure your wood is covered on top, but not on the sides to allow for further drying. It is best when possible to burn with glass doors open and close when not in use or before leaving or going to bed. Glass doors are designed and rated for proper application and misapplication can cause shattering. Ideally, 1/4″ tempered glass is a good material. Choosing the proper firewood means a longer lasting fire, with less smoke and less toxic buildup in your chimney. Now you are ready for cozy nights by the fire.

Burning Green Wood

Green wood has more moisture in it when it burns and that can cause an excess of the much dreaded creosote that you want to keep out of your chimney system, if at all possible.

Green wood also has a tendency to smolder and put smoke into the air. Because the heat helps the smoke rise up through the flue, this smoke, if not hot enough, can “hang out” a little bit longer in the chimney system. If too much smoke is produced and it’s not going up the chimney as it should, it can back fill into your home. While that is a bit extreme, it can happen if all you are doing is burning green or unseasoned wood.

If you have to burn unseasoned wood, try to at least mix it with seasoned wood so the heat from the fire will help push all the smoke up through the flue. While the best wood to burn is seasoned, that is not always possible.

If you have suitable storage space and the time, store green wood until it has a chance to dry. This is the seasoning process. The amount of time needed will vary with weather conditions and protection from the elements. If the wood can be left to season for a year, this year’s green wood will make good seasoned firewood next year.

The best way to store wood is off the ground and in an area that is covered like a garage or shed. Unfortunately, many people just are not able to do what is optimum with the wood they buy and have to make due. If that’s all you can do and you know creosote is the main culprit, then it’s a great idea to contract with a chimney professional to come out and check out the fireplace and chimney system. They can tell you the shape it’s in as well as if it needs sweeping on any repairs made before the next use.

Creosote is a soot and tarry substance that collects on the chimney walls and is highly flammable. It is present in all chimneys in one of three stages and the chimney sweep can identify what stage it is in your chimney.

Is burning green wood the best choice? No, it’s not. But given the reality of what is sold to a lot of customers, you’re probably burning green wood to some degree unless you are drying it yourself. That’s one of the main reasons the National Fire Prevention Association recommends you get your system inspected every year.