We’re the Chimney Doctors – healing chimneys and curing flues. We can do wonders when it comes to keeping your chimney system healthy. But good health also depends on diet. If you don’t feed your fireplace the right fuel, it’s hard on the system – and it can cause some serious complications.
What is the right thing to feed your fires? Your fireplaces should enjoy a steady diet of seasoned firewood – and exclusively seasoned firewood.
What IS Seasoned Wood?
Seasoned wood is wood that has been dried until the moisture content is low enough to produce a good, hot fire.
Wood that burns hot will burn more completely, which means it will manufacture less smoke, cause less creosote to amass in the chimney, and generate hotter flue gases, which are more readily pulled out of the chimney.
Creosote, smoke, and flue gases are all substances you want kept out of your home. None of them is good for human health. They negatively affect the air quality of your home, and creosote is a tarry byproduct of incomplete wood combustion that is highly combustible – not exactly something you want building up over your fireplace!
Because seasoned wood contains less moisture, combustion is more complete. Not only will your fire start more readily, but your fire’s energy won’t be diverted to evaporate off excessive moisture – and therefore you’ll get a cleaner burn.
How Much Moisture Content Is Right?
Freshly cut, green wood has a moisture content that’s normally about 60% – and that’s much too high for burning in your fireplace. Burning it may have tell-tale signs of excessive moisture content: a sizzling sound, water bubbling at the ends of wood as it burns, lots of difficulting getting the wood lit, and, of course, a notably smokier output.
The optimal moisture content is 15-25%.
The optimal moisture content is 15-25%. If the wood is too dry, the resulting fire could be hard to control and could cause warping in your system due to excessive heat. By the way, this is also why you should never use accelerants, such as gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid, in your fireplace. The more common problem, however, is damp wood.
A moisture meter, which you can pick up at your hardware store or online, is the best way to know your firewood’s moisture content with the greatest accuracy. If you purchase your firewood from a supplier, ask them what the current moisture reading is, or test it yourself before it’s unloaded.
There are also sensory indicators that your firewood is well seasoned.
- It will be paler and more beige in color than green wood.
- It will make a more hollow knocking sound than green wood when two logs are struck together.
- It will be lighter in weight due to less water in the wood.
- I should have visible splits and cracks – which are also signs of drying over time.
Are There Any Safe Alternatives to Seasoned Firewood?
There really are no safe alternatives to burning seasoned firewood in your fireplace.
Household trash, construction waste, and other items may burn at the incorrect temperatures, just like wood with the wrong moisture content can. This means risk of uncontrolled fire and incomplete combustion. Furthermore, many substances release chemicals when burned that are hazardous to human health. Respiratory issues are particularly of concern, as is buildup of carbon monoxide in the home environment. These are definitely outcomes you want to avoid.
If it isn’t wood – think plastic, styrofoam, cardboard, colored paper, etc. – keep it out of your fireplace. If it’s wood that’s improperly seasoned, or a wood byproduct – think MDF, treated lumber, painted or varnished wood scraps, Christmas trees – the same applies.
What Species of Wood Are Best to Burn?
We’ve established that moisture content of the wood is a significant safety factor. But does the wood species matter?
Some people think that softwoods aren’t suitable for fireplace use, but this isn’t true. While hardwoods and softwoods do have some differences, either can be burned in your fireplace if properly cured and dry.
Softwoods, such as pine, spruce, and fir, are less dense and will burn more readily. Heat output of all types of firewood is consistent by weight, not volume – which means these less dense woods will also burn with less heat per for their size than a hardwood. If you have softwoods at the ready, use them for kindling or days you’re needing less intense heat output, such as spring and autumn evenings.
Hardwoods, such as oak, maple, walnut, and many fruit trees, are more dense and therefore burn hotter and longer for their size. If you have both hardwoods and softwoods, consider setting hardwoods aside for colder nights to maximize efficiency.
Can I Store & Season My Own Wood?
Storing well-seasoned firewood correctly helps keep it in ready supply. The bottom of the pile should be off the ground, the top covered, and the sides open. This will allow air to circulate freely around the logs, encouraging drying and discouraging molding and rot.
If you’re cutting your own firewood, keep in mind that it will take 6 – 12 months of seasoning before it’s ready for use. Chopping shorter lengths and splitting your logs will help this process occur and have your logs for use in as timely a manner possible.
When adding new firewood to your store, keep age in mind. Rotate logs so that you’re grabbing older, properly seasoned ones instead of letting them go to waste at the bottom of the stack and not reaching for green wood.
Schedule Your Inspections & Sweepings With Us
Your fireplace needs regular check-ups to ensure it stays working efficiently and in good health. But if you have concerns about what fuel is or was being burned, give us a call to have an extra look. We can check for warping or other damage, creosote build up, and other issues.
Our pros know what to look for and how to help, and we pride ourselves on doing so with the highest standard of professionalism and customer service.
Call (970) 234-3330 or reach out online to get started.