Tips for Cleaner, Better Burning Firewood

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The season is here for cozying up to crackling fires. For those of you who are burning wood, check out these useful tips on how to get a clean and efficient burn from your firewood. As a wise innkeeper in rural Pennsylvania once said to me, while stoking a fire like she was mad at it, "Romances should smolder - firewood should burn." Word.

I recently came across a great in-depth article in Mother Earth News on using cleaner, more efficient firewood. Here are some good tips I pulled for maximizing burn and minimizing waste:

1. Make sure firewood is properly dried or "seasoned", with a moisture content between 15-20%. This step can take anywhere from a few months to a year depending on the moisture levels in your region, the amount of direct sunlight in your drying area, and the type of wood being dried (hickory and oak take longer to dry).

Proper drying is an important step, as burning wood that is too wet can result in efficiency losses up to 30% as well as increased air pollution due to smoldering and smoking logs. Using properly dried wood means using less wood and achieving a cleaner burn.

2. Use this checklist to see if your firewood is dry enough to burn:
• Dry wood is lighter in weight.
• Dry wood has cracks in its end grain.
• If you bang two pieces of dry wood together, the sound is hollow, whereas wet wood makes a dull thud.
• Firewood darkens from white or cream to gray or yellow as it seasons.
• The exposed face of a freshly split piece of seasoned wood feels warm and dry, but green wood feels cool and damp.

3. Use clean firewood. Firewood that has dirt or mud on it will burn less efficiently. Look for wood that was harvested in winter so its bark will be free of dirt.

4. Use a range of piece sizes to make stoking easier, which will cut down on smoke pollution. Try to use smaller logs or wood pieces instead of large hunks of wood, as they dry and kindle more quickly, which is more efficient for drying and burning.

5. Consider salvaging scrap wood from tree removal companies, local mill cutoffs, or buying sustainably harvested wood.

6. Hardwood trees, like oak, produce the most efficient and long-lasting burn, so less cords are required, which in turn cuts down on consumption. Softer woods like poplar or aspen are not ideal for firewood.

7. Use a site like When to Burn which shows air quality throughout the U.S. and provides guidance on whether or not it is OK to burn firewood on a given day from an air quality standpoint.

Read More:
How to get the Best Firewood for Clean and Efficient Energy
Burn Dry Firewood includes information on properly drying firewood.
When to Burn

(Image: Flickr member Dunleavy Family licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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