How to Select and Store Firewood Safely

I feel one thing most Minnesotan’s can agree on is that fall here is an amazing season! As the temperatures start getting cooler at night we focus on the positives by getting excited about pumpkin spice candles, watching football and best of all a warm crackling glowing fire… whether outside or in! In this blog we are going to focus on the wood itself vs. other safety tip blogs I have done that focus on fire places and wood stoves to avoid a potential smoke or fire damage. Lets get back to the basics with the first step of what makes a fire even more enjoyable!

Most Important we want to get good quality, well-seasoned firewood, this will help your wood stove or fireplace burn cleaner and more efficiently. While green or wet wood can cause smoking (smoke damage), odor problems, rapid creosote buildup and possibly even dangerous chimney fires.

Seasoned Wood

All firewood contains water. Freshly cut wood can be up to 45% water, while well seasoned firewood generally has a 20-25% moisture content. Well-seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water must be gone before the wood will burn. If your wood is cut 6 months to a year in advance and properly stored, the sun and wind will do the job for free. If you try to burn green wood, the heat produced by combustion must dry the wood before it will burn, using up a large percentage of the available energy in the process. This results in less heat delivered to your home, and literally gallons of acidic water deposited in your chimney.

Wood is composed of bundles of microscopic tubes that were used to transport water from the roots of the tree to the leaves. These tubes will stay full of water for years even after a tree is dead. This is why it is so important to have your firewood cut to length for 6 months or more before you burn it, it gives this water a chance to evaporate since the tube ends are finally open and the water only has to migrate a foot or two to escape. Splitting the wood helps too by exposing more surface area to the sun and wind, but cutting the wood to shorter lengths is of primary importance. There are a few things you can look for to see if the wood you intend to purchase is seasoned or not. Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with cracks or splits visible, it is relatively lightweight, and makes a clear “clunk” when two pieces are beat together. Green wood on the other hand is very heavy, the ends look fresher, and it tends to make a dull “thud” when struck. These clues can fool you however, and by far the best way to be sure you have good wood when you need it is to buy your wood the spring before you intend to burn it and store it properly.

Storing Firewood

Even well seasoned firewood can be ruined by bad storage. Exposed to constant rain or covered in snow, wood will reabsorb large amounts of water, making it unfit to burn and causing it to rot before it can be used. Wood should be stored off the ground if possible and protected from excess moisture when weather threatens.

The ideal situation is a woodshed, where there is a roof but open or loose sides for plenty of air circulation to promote drying. Next best would be to keep the woodpile in a sunny location and cover it on rainy or snowy days, being sure to remove the covering during fair weather to allow air movement and to avoid trapping ground moisture under the covering. Also don’t forget that your woodpile also looks like heaven to termites, snakes and rodents, so it’s best to only keep a week or so worth of wood near the house in easy reach. With proper storage you can turn even the greenest wood into great firewood in 6 months or a year, and it can be expected to last 3 or 4 years if necessary.

Top Firewood Tips

  • It is far more important that the fuel be dry as compared to the species.
  • Do not burn any construction scraps of treated or painted wood, especially treated wood from decks or landscaping ties. The chemicals used can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other very toxic compounds into your house.
  • If the “seasoned wood” you bought turned out to be pretty green and you elected to try to burn it anyway, be sure to have the chimney checked more often than usual, you may build up creosote very quickly. You don’t have to burn only premium hardwoods. Less dense woods like elm and even soft maple are abundant and make fine firewood as long as you’re willing to make a few extra trips to the woodpile.
  • If you have access to a variety of species, learn to manage your woodpile. Save the more dense fuel for the coldest months and use the “lighter” wood for kindling fires and during the spring or fall when you don’t need as much heat.

Many people also have questions about burning artificial logs. Convenience is their strong suit and in general they are fine when time is an issue and you want a quick fire without all the muss and fuss of natural firewood. Usually they should be burned only one at a time and only in an open fireplace. One should be careful about poking them and moving them around once they are burning since they may break up and the fire may get a bit out of control. Be sure to carefully read the directions on the package.

Enjoy all the beauties of fall Minnesota! Want to learn more about burning firewood? Click here!

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