Ah, winter. Whether snow is just starting to stick, the skies are threatening rain, or you’re basking under a Florida sky, the season is turning, and for many of us, it’s going to feature wood fires. Those without the latest HVAC systems may be using solely wood heat to keep the temperatures stable in their homes, while others of us may be lighting up decorate and supplemental wood fires to enjoy the attractive flames and the crackle of wood as it burns.
But did you know that not all wood is created equal, and it’s important to choose the right kind of wood for your fireplace or wood stove? For starters, the best woods burn cleanly and smoothly, which means you won’t be needing to call an HVAC technician to come inspect and clean your chimney as much. Additionally, some woods tend to produce more byproducts of combustion including soot and a variety of compounds that you don’t want to breathe in — or release into the environment.
Burning the right wood is good for you, your home, and the beautiful natural world around you, so let’s take a brief tour of what you should and shouldn’t be burning.
Utah State University has helpfully compiled a detailed list of wood types and their efficiency, which can help you pick the right wood for your needs. As a general rule, hardwoods are a better choice (such as ash, maple or oak), because they tend to burn hotter, which translates into more complete combustion and less residue. Furthermore, a large hardwood log can burn all night, keeping the stove warm without forcing you to get up and tend it, which is a definite plus if your house is cold!
But, as Ask Umbra points out at Grist, it’s not just about the wood, it’s also about the condition of your wood. You need to make sure your wood is completely dry, ideally left to dry or “season” for at least six months (a year or more is better) before burning it. Wet or “green” wood produces more particulates, which create more pollution. Furthermore, you should never use treated or painted wood in your stove, because it can throw off chemical compounds, and it’s a good idea to remove nails and staples before burning if you’re burning recycled or salvaged wood (local Portland carpenters can be a good source for salvage wood to burn).
It’s also a good idea to read the manual for your stove carefully and make sure you use it properly. A woodstove thermometer can help you determine if you’re hitting the sweet spot between too cold (not hot enough for comfort, and also too cold to completely burn the wood) and too hot (potentially posing a safety risk). Use the damper correctly to create adequate ventilation, make sure you regularly empty out the ashes, and get that chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year.
And, guess what? Your area may be sponsoring a Wood Stove Changeout Program to help you switch to a more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly heating source. A quick Google search can determine if there’s one in your area, and if your community isn’t sponsoring one, consider contacting the local air quality agency to discuss the possibility of starting one.
Photo: State Farm/Flickr.