Hey everyone. Before we get rolling with today’s article, I wanted to share a quick Pro-Follow update. I’m spending the day at a new basement remodel project with general contractor Joe Bianco and his team. The framers have finished, and the plumbing is underway. I’m really excited for the articles that will come out of this, so stay tuned for the full details. Connect with me through Facebook or Twitter for all the latest updates. Today, we’re bringing you a guest post by JB Bartkowiak, Editor and MC @ BuildingMoxie.com.
Here in Maryland, this winter has been extremely mild. Temperatures are in the mid 50º’s more often than not, and it seems like weeks since it has felt anything like the winters growing up. I miss snow, snow tubing (or ice skating), and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. OK, maybe I don’t actually roast chestnuts, but these, plus a good (romantic) fire or two, are just some the promises I expect of winter.
source Barry Morgan
Winter also means heating bills, and if you’re like me, the current climate (economic) has you looking for ways to save a little on those heating bills. Using your fireplace to heat your home can be a cost effective solution. Before you run off and start setting things aflame, let me share some tips for making the most of your fireplace by picking the right wood.
Burn Hot and Clean
Simply put, we want fires to burn hot, and the hottest burning woods are dense hardwoods. We also want fires to burn clean because clean burning fires produce less smoke and creosote, hence reducing the frequency at which you must clean your fireplace and chimney.
The cleanest burning woods are those that are dried (aka seasoned) properly. The presence of excess moisture in firewood forces the fire to work harder (for the same BTU output), and generally makes the resulting smoke heavier. Too much moisture allows the smoke to linger, producing more creosote within the chimney’s flue liner. This is especially dangerous when the chimney throat is constructed of metals that are at risk of rust.
“Seasoned” is just another word for dried and refers to the moisture content of the wood. Unseasoned or “green” firewood can have a moisture content as high as 60 to 80%, but the moisture content of a seasoned firewood is usually closer to 20%. There is such a thing as wood that is too dry. Woods with 10% or less moisture content will end up burning too quickly for any sort of optimal heat output.
What’s a Cord?
There are two different types of cords; one is a full cord and the other is called a face cord. It is helpful to know that a face cord is approximately 1/3 of a full cord. Neither measurement is governed by a count of individual pieces. Rather a cord is a dimensional measurement (much like a yard of stone).
One cord of wood measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′, and it’s a lot of wood. To put this into context, it’s approximately equal to two, full-sized (Chevy or Ford) pick-up truck loads of roughly-tossed wood.
source John Bartkowiak, Jr
What is the Best Type of Firewood
When I asked chimney and fireplace contractor Cullen Davis at Clean Sweep Maryland, he says, “For larger quantities, I usually recommend Red Oak because it is affordable and easy to come by no matter where you live. I also recommended buying from someone local, a farm perhaps – someone you can trust.” For smaller quantities, a garden or home center usually does just fine; though note, these locations often offer kiln-dried wood at a slight premium.
From an impromptu panel, Ash, Hickory and even Black Locust were suggested types of firewood. Here is a very informative table from About.com that offers some more details about the best burning firewood species:
- Hickory – 25 to 28 million BTUs/cord – density 37 to 58 lbs./cu.ft.
- Oak – 24 to 28 million BTUs/cord – density 37 to 58 lbs./cu.ft.
- Black Locust – 27 million BTUs/cord – density 43 lbs./cu.ft.
- Beech – 24 to 27 million BTUs/cord – density 32 to 56 lbs./cu.ft.
- White Ash – 24 million BTUs/cord – density 43 lbs./cu.ft.
Jason Whipple, a friend who used to burn wood at his Vermont home as the primary heat source says, “Any seasoned hardwood works fine. I’ve paid a premium for fresh cut Ash in the past because it tends to cure quickly and burn well with just a month or so of drying after being cut and split.”
How to Identify Seasoned Wood & How to Season Firewood?
Properly seasoned firewood should feel relatively light, include checks (or cracks) in the ends, have almost a bleached wood color and should have an apparent lack of smell. If you bang two pieces together, they should generally produce a loud clang kinda like a baseball bat.
source Barry Morgan
Comparatively speaking, signs of unseasoned firewood include pieces that are relatively heavy, have a very tight end grain, a uniform wood color and a strong smell. Sap is a sure sign that a wood is green. When banging two pieces together (end to end) they create a dull thud.
source Barry Morgan
The length of time it takes to season wood depends on the species of wood and how it’s seasoned, and seasoning falls into two categories: air-dried or kiln-dried. Each is a viable option and both offer different benefits.
If air-drying, it’s a good idea to remove the bark as it will trap the moisture. Drying times vary between woods, but for most species expect a period of 9 – 12 months. Stack the wood, ideally under cover, in a spot where the pile gets some sun and is open to the wind. In a best case scenario, you have some sort of wood shed.
While air-drying of course is the more economically of the two options, you may consider kiln-dried wood, and especially if you do not have a broad home heating need. It is said that kiln-dried wood (wood that is essentially baked at temperatures for 2-3 days) produces no creosote and generates less ash than air-dried woods.
If you order wood, don’t be shy about asking when it was cut and how long it’s been split. Jason Whipple shares, “One thing that always bugged me about some seasoned wood- they would cut the trees down in spring but wouldn’t split until it was ordered. This isn’t seasoned at all if it sits in the yard in log form. It needs to be split so it can dry out.”
Thanks to Britt@CalFinder, Cullen Davis, Barry Morgan, Joseph Perrone, Ryan McCracken, Jason Whipple, Jane Griswold Radocchia, David M Lyons, Joan Worthington & my Dad John Bartkowiak, Jr for help on compiling the information and images for this article.
Happy fires. ~jb @BuildingMoxie.com