It’s About That Time of Year Again: Firewood
Natural gas, electricity and oil are the most prevalent fuel sources for modern home heating systems. However, before these modern resources were available, the fireplace or wood stove was the sole source of heat in a home. Although the fireplace can’t compete with modern heating systems as an energy and cost efficient source of heat, the fireplace remains one of the most popular features in a home.
Unlike modern heating fuels, which are almost always supplied to the heating appliance by a local utility or Fuel Company, fireplace fuel, “wood”, is something that most people shop for. Some people are as picky about the wood that they burn in the fireplace as they are about what they put on in the morning. Others would just as soon burn whatever comes along, including household garbage. We assure you, there is a happy medium. You don’t need to be a Boy Scout to have the perfect fire, but there are a few basics you should know that will make for a stronger, safer and cleaner fire.
Let’s begin with a few terms that will help you be a better wood buyer. A “cord” is the legally defined measurement of firewood. In some states, firewood must be advertised and sold by the cord or fractions of a cord. A cord must measure 128 cubic feet. To measure wood, stack it in a row with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other. Stacks should be eight feet wide, four feet deep and four feet high. When properly stacked, about one third of a cord will fit in the back of a pickup truck.
If the thought of hauling firewood doesn’t appeal to you, most firewood suppliers will deliver for a modest charge. And if you’re even less excited about the prospect of stacking the wood, some companies will cheerfully stack the wood at the location of your choice. Again, this service is not included in the base cost of the firewood. Also, be mindful of log length. Logs should be sixteen to twenty two inches long. Anything longer will likely not fit in your firebox.
With all the choices of firewood out there, what’s best to burn? Osage orange wood, oak, hard maple, ash, walnut, locust, apple, cherry, peach and plum are the top burning hardwoods. Mixed hardwoods burn longer and cleaner with less creosote buildup in the chimney than softer woods such as willow, poplar, pine and cedar. Fortunately, most dealers don’t sell softwoods and recommend mixed hardwoods.
Although important, the species of the firewood is only one of many elements in choosing firewood. Seasoning is of equal importance. We’re not talking about the kind of seasoning that you sprinkle on chicken, fish or beef. We’re talking about aging.
Unseasoned (green) wood won’t burn well due to its high moisture content. A sure sign of an unseasoned log is when it is extremely heavy and sap is oozing out of it. With seasoned wood the sap has dried up and the logs are lighter. A good way to tell is wood is seasoned is to knock two logs together. Well-seasoned logs will make a sharp ringing sound. Also, logs that are seasoned and ready to burn will have cracked ends. Wood generally takes from six months to a year to season. Most wood being sold now was cut last spring.
With it, well-seasoned firewood brings the promise of crackling fires on a cold winter’s eve. Unfortunately, firewood can also bring with it some unwanted household pests, termites among them. Therefore, do not store firewood in the garage, under a carport or against the house. This is an open invitation to pests to make your home their home. The problem is that they don’t just want to visit, they want to take a piece of your home with them.
Your best bet is to store firewood at least ten feet from the house and no less than six inches off of the ground to avoid infestation. One storage method that we have found that works well is to create a platform using concrete blocks and boards. Lay the concrete blocks on their sides in a row and place fence boards on top of the blocks from end to end. Be sure to leave gaps between the boards to promote airflow. Stack the wood loosely alternating each row perpendicular to the next. If the logs are split, store them with the bark side up to help shed rain.