The Best (and Worst) Firewood to Burn This Winter

Whether you’re new to the world of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces or a seasoned veteran (pun fully intended), it helps to know the right woods to use to get the most for your money. Here’s some of the best firewood to burn, along with other kinds you should avoid at all costs this winter.

A Word on Seasoning

Before we get into specific types of wood, we need to mention “seasoning,” a term that will apply to all the woods we talk about going forward. Seasoning refers to the process of drying firewood before it’s burned in your stove or fireplace. Burning unseasoned (or “green”) wood releases more smoke and water vapor, which means more creosote buildup and a greater chance of chimney fires over time.

How can you tell the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood? It’s easy. Green wood often looks freshly cut with visible saw marks, while seasoned wood will look gray or white. The ends of seasoned wood shows radial cracking and the bark should come off easily. If the wood isn’t cracked and the bark is firmly attached, it’s still green and shouldn’t be used in your fireplace yet.

The Best Firewood to Burn

The firewoods that made our “Best to Burn” list had to meet a number of criteria, including having a high heat value and a pleasant experience (fragrance, long-lasting burn, etc.). One cord of each type of wood here produces heat equivalent to burning 200-250 gallons of fuel oil.

• Apple: deliciously fragrant aroma, slow-burning
• Beech: burns at very high heat, great for colder climates
• Cherry: hardwood with pleasant fragrance and long-lasting burn
• Oak: hearty and heavy weight, low level of smoke
• Sycamore: dense wood for long-lasting fire

The Worst Firewood to Burn

As a general rule, wood from coniferous trees isn’t very good for burning in your fireplace because it lacks the density of hardwood. It burns faster and doesn’t put off as much heat, so you need to use more wood to heat your home. The woods below produce more smoke that ends up as creosote deposits in your chimney, and tend to spark much more than hardwood, making for a less than relaxing fireside experience.

• Birch: bark produces lots of soot and smoke
• Cedar: filled with volatile oils that create popping and sparks
• Balsam Fir: lots of smoke with sparks
• Spruce: lightweight and fast-burning
• Pine: a resinous softwood that creates lots of creosote

Other Poor Choices

It’s definitely a bad idea to burn any type of treated lumber, as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can be released in the smoke and inhaled. You should also only use locally sourced firewood to avoid the problem of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, which can cause massive damage to native forests.

Find Your Local NPI Inspector for a Safe Fireplace

National Property Inspections wants your winter season to be warm, bright and safe! Give your local NPI inspector a call today to help keep your home’s wood-burning systems in top condition.

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