Operating a wood-burning fireplace seems fairly straightforward. You build your fire, open the damper, and ignite the wood. However, you also must consider what you are burning in your fireplace. Make sure you are burning only seasoned firewood in your fireplace or wood stove. This helps your fireplace burn safely and efficiently. Why season your firewood? Let’s take a look.
Seasoned firewood: A definition
For those who are new to operating a wood-burning fireplace or heating stove, seasoned firewood is wood that has been properly dried or “cured” to prepare it for home heating. When wood is first cut, its moisture content is high. To have it ready for your fireplace, the moisture content must be lowered from its starting point of around 45 percent to a moisture content between 20 and 25 percent.
Why seasoned firewood matters
Unseasoned firewood can cause several problems in a fireplace. First, it can be difficult to ignite. Second, when a wood’s moisture content is too high, it won’t burn hotly and efficiently. Instead, the water inside will boil and steam. Because of its low burn temperature, unseasoned firewood produces a lot of smoke. Therefore, a fire built from unseasoned firewood leads to a faster than normal buildup of creosote within your chimney.
How to properly season firewood
Whether you purchase your firewood or chop it yourself, there are some steps you will need to take to make sure it seasons properly. First, cut logs to the appropriate length, about 3 inches shorter than your firebox. Larger logs also should be split to a width of 6 inches. Once wood is split, it should be loosely stacked. It also should be off the ground, in a place exposing it to the sun and wind. While it is being seasoned, it is best to leave the woodpile uncovered. This is so the air and sun can help the wood to dry. Depending on the variety of wood that has been cut, it will take six months to a year for the wood to be fully seasoned.
Determining if your wood is ready to burn
Once you have cut and stacked your wood and left it to season, you will want to evaluate it to make sure it is dry enough to burn. There are wood moisture meters that will provide you with the accurate moisture content of your firewood. You also should be able to determine if the wood is adequately dry by checking a few things. The wood should be grayish and starting to crack. The wood bark should be pulling away from the wood, and the wood should feel light when lifted. If you are still unsure, burning the wood will make it obvious whether it has been properly seasoned. Fully seasoned firewood burns easily and crackles pleasantly, while firewood that is still too moist will be difficult to light and will hiss and smoke while burning.
And remember, if you have any questions about the safe and proper operation of your wood-burning fireplace, you can call the chimney and fireplace experts at Total Chimney Care at 203-874-6772!