If you have a wood-burning fireplace, insert, or stove, you might have a woodpile already waiting for burn-season. Maybe you’ve seen homes with piles along their yard or property, looming stacks, sheds or lean-tos filled, logs lying about for no reason. There is a reason for the stacking and storing of wood, and it’s not just so that a homeowner doesn’t have to cut wood through winter. That is a perk, but the wood is stacked and stored for another reason entirely.
Fresh V. Seasoned
Living trees use water to grow and thrive. When a living tree is cut, it has about 50 percent of the water in it’s trunk. This water is stored in microscopic tubes (like arteries) that run the length of the tree’s trunk and branches. They will hold the water in the wood unless the tree is cut up, allowing the wood to dry. When it’s ready to burn, the wood should have a moisture content of 15 to 20 percent.
- Fresh Wood – Often called green wood, fresh-cut wood will have a moisture content of higher than 20 percent. It will be difficult to light and keep lit. It will burn incompletely, creating more smoke, soot, creosote, and particulate pollution, and will require more wood to create warmth.
- Seasoned Wood – Also called dry wood, properly seasoned wood will light easily, burn hotter and more completely, and create less emissions. Seasoned wood will leave less corrosive residue in your chimney, making it cleaner, safer, and more efficient.
Choosing Your Wood
Many homeowners specifically choose wood-burning fire appliances because they have their own property and equipment to cut firewood. This is a great use of a renewable resource, but is a shame if you’re wasting wood by burning it green. You can decrease the amount of loss to your land, the work it takes to haul and cut the wood, and the amount of times you have to feed your fire by choosing the right wood.
Depending on the hardness of your wood, you may need to let it season for longer. Hard woods can take over six months to become dry enough, while softer woods can take as little as three months. Knowing which trees make the best firewood is a great place to start. Choosing the proper wood for your desired burn time and heat is also an important factor to consider. No matter what wood you cut, or how long it sets, you shouldn’t burn it unless there are clear signs that it is dry enough to burn.
Signs Your Wood is Ready to Burn:
- Color becomes dull
- Bark pulls away from wood
- Cracks called checks appear along the cut ends of the wood
- Two pieces sound hollow when hit together
- The wood pieces feel lighter by weight
Buying Properly Seasoned Wood
If you cannot cut and store your own wood until it’s time to burn, you can buy from a local supplier. It’s essential to know what you’re getting, and that its properly seasoned. Never pay for firewood until you’ve seen the wood. This insures that you’re getting a full cord for the cost, and that it’s properly seasoned. You should buy firewood locally to avoid carrying wood across county and state lines. Many local laws prohibit the transport of wood across state lines in order to prevent the spread of invasive species.
Many common issues that occur with wood-burning fireplaces, stoves, and inserts are directly related to the kind of wood you burn. Check out CSIA’s top firewood tips and ask a Chesapeake & Co chimney sweep for more information.