Are all woods created equal? The short answer is no. When it comes to selecting firewood, you’ll want to keep in mind that not all wood burns the same. Different types of wood have distinct properties, as well as different levels of seasoning will yield varying burn qualities.
So, which type of wood is best to burn in your fireplace?
The Benefits of Burning Hardwoods
Softwoods have their virtues, such as their tendency to light quickly and easily. This means that a bit of softwood can make handy kindling. But when it comes to a clean, cozy, and sustained blaze, hardwood is king.
Hardwoods are more dense than softer woods, and this factors into the generous heat output they generate. By volume, you’ll simply get more warmth from hardwoods. Their density also means that hardwoods burn longer, reducing trips to the woodpile, as well as any maintenance throughout the duration of your burn.
Which hardwoods are great for taking advantage of these benefits? Good hardwoods include fruit tree varieties such as apple and cherry, nut trees such as chestnut, walnut, hickory and oak, and other varieties such as maple and elm. These woods are solid choices (no pun intended) for an enjoyable blaze.
The Importance of Curing (Seasoning) Your Firewood
Whatever your firewood variety of choice, it’s imperative that it be well-seasoned, or cured, over time. Dense hardwoods will take a while to season – think at least six months to a year from being cut – and must be stored well during this time to avoid exposure to water. If you’re tempted to abbreviate this process, don’t! That time is doing important work that will help you both enjoy your blaze and reduce aggravating chimney issues later on.
So, what does it mean if a log is well-seasoned?
Well, all woods contain moisture, and green (freshly cut) wood has a very high water content. Excessively high water content makes firewood unsuitable, as a lot of your fire’s energy would be directed merely to evaporating off the water. The result? Difficult ignition, a weak and sputtering flame, and lots of smoke. Not exactly a recipe for a pleasant evening around the fireplace!
It’s not just the immediate enjoyment of your fire that’s at stake, however. Incomplete combustion (the result of trying to burn green or damp wood) leads to accelerated build up of creosote in your chimney flue. Creosote is a hazardous substance that needs to be regularly swept from your chimney in order to continue using your fireplace safely. Creosote is present in smoke, and combined with moisture it will condense and accumulate in your chimney in time.
To sum up… burning unseasoned firewood will lead to glazed, tarry creosote that’s difficult to remove. Your chimney professional can usually get the job done, but it requires more costly interventions. Occasionally this will include chemical treatments, and at times even complete replacement of the chimney flue liner will be necessary. Is it worth it? We think not.
When you burn well-seasoned firewood, buildup is not only greatly reduced but is of a different quality – drier and easier to remove.
How Can I Tell if Firewood Is Ready for Use?
How can you tell it’s ready to use?
Your logs should be much lighter than freshly cut ones, with visible cracks, splits and darkened edges. If you strike two pieces of firewood together, the resulting sound should be a hollow knock, not a dull thud. Or, for greater reliability and accuracy in measuring water content, purchase a moisture meter. These are commonly available and will give you a precise reading. The ideal moisture range for firewood is between 15 and 25 percent.
If you’re chopping your own wood, keep in mind that logs that are cut shorter and split on the ends will have more surface area exposed, and therefore will season more quickly – but curing to perfection will still take some time, so plan ahead and keep your firewood rotated so the most well seasoned wood is ready at hand.
Be sure to store your firewood off the ground with its edges exposed to the sun and (most importantly) circulating air too. Covering only the top of your woodpile should be sufficient to ward off contact with any rain that would encourage dampness or mildew if sustained.
Need a Chimney Sweeping?
Even when burning only ideal fuel, your chimney system will need regular attention for continued optimal performance. Chimneys need to be inspected annually and swept by a certified chimney sweep technician in order to keep them clear of blockages and creosote accumulation. Your chimney professional will inspect the components of your chimney from top to bottom to help ensure that things appear in good working order and take note of any cracking, deterioration, or leaks – things that if attended to early are likely to be remedied with much less hassle and cost.
Reach Out to Us With Questions
At Integrity Chimney, we’re constantly investing in current industry education and maintaining the highest level of technical knowledge and expertise, so you can feel comfortable trusting us with all your chimney and fireplace needs. If you want to know more about keeping your chimney working optimally, give us a call at 570-221-4113 or you can request an appointment with us online today.
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