It's that time of year when there's a chill in the air and families and friends naturally gather around the warm glow of a fire. Here's some guidelines to help you pick the right kind of wood for the occasion.
Of course, before you burn a splinter of wood, have your chimney flue inspected annually – and cleaned, if necessary. HTI can perform the inspection, so please give us a call at 301-461-5731!
If you have a wood stove, you should also inspect it, have it cleaned, and address any parts like fiberglass rope gaskets that need replacing.
Now you're ready for a warm, cozy fire! So what type of wood is right for you? Whatever wood you choose, be sure it is well seasoned - meaning having a moisture content of 20% or less. Softwoods only take a few months to season, and many hardwoods require up to a year or more to be fireplace-ready. The smaller you split your wood, the more quickly it will season.
Many people don't burn wood to actually heat their homes, but have a fireplace that they use for special occasions. Some opt for gas logs, but others prefer the crackle and sweet smell of burning wood. Since the home's HVAC system is handling most of the house heating, there's no need to burn a wood that will put out a lot of heat or have a long burn duration.
Pine: Pine is great for an outdoor fire, but not in your fireplace, unless you're using a few small sticks of it for kindling. It's sappy and will quickly cause creosote buildup on your fireplace flue.
Poplar: Poplar is considered a hardwood, but only because it's not a conifer. The wood is just as soft as pine. It doesn't put off much heat, and it burns fast. Some folks call it "gopher wood" because as soon as you add a log, it's time to "go fer" another. Its biggest drawback is that it pops, shooting embers many feet outward from the fire. Do not burn this wood without a fireplace screen. If you burn it in an outdoor fire pit, be ready to dodge the flying embers!
Apple and Cherry: Though these woods are better for heating or for smoking meats, their sweet fragrances will enhance your enjoyment. If you have any large Hickory trees nearby, collect their twigs and small branches throughout the year and save them for kindling. They smell as good as Apple and Cherry. Save the larger pieces of Hickory for heating.
Fires for Heating
It's important to choose the woods that deliver the most heat (measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs), per weight in order to get the most warmth out of your woodpile. Again, it's important that hardwoods have seasoned for at least a year. Burning wet hardwood can cause creosote buildup just like sappier woods.
Cherry and Maple: In late Fall and early Spring, temperatures are not as harsh as in mid-winter. This is a good time to burn hardwoods that are a tad on the softer side. These woods will burn slightly faster and less hot than harder woods, but it's better to save your higher-BTU-yield woods for the cold snaps.
Ash, Hickory and Oak: These trees tend to be plentiful in our region and so are the most common woods that firewood purveyors offer - especially Oak. Ash seasons a bit more quickly than Hickory or Oak, though you'll get a little less heat out of it. Beech is another high-BTU-producing wood, though its erratic grain makes it difficult to spit, so you won't see much of it for sale.
Locust: Locust is one of the highest-performing hardwoods available in the East. It burns slow and hot, and leaves very little ash behind. This is the wood that is best saved for the coldest times of the Winter. Be careful, though: when burning locust, make sure you don't over-fire the wood stove, which could warp and damage it.
Whatever wood you choose, have a warm, safe Winter!