Not all firewood provides the proper heat

Living in places where firewood is readily available – unlike, say, Manhattan or the Arctic Circle – has made it relatively affordable to heat by a wood-burning stove, at least when we’ve had one. (Let me repeat, it’s high on our renovations and home improvement list.)

OK, my Eagle Scout training left me quite aware that green wood – that is, freshly cut – burns inefficiently, unlike wood that’s had time for the sap and related moisture to dry out. That said, here are some other points.

  1. Seasoning can take as little as six months, though old-timers prefer at least a full year. Or more, if stacked in a way that allows sufficient circulation to avoid rot and fungus.
  2. Softwoods – generally conifers like pine, juniper, spruce, and cedar but also including poplars – ignite easily and burn hot, but they don’t blaze long. They also have a lot of creosote, which will need to be cleaned from the chimney as a housefire hazard.
  3. Hardwoods – maple, oak, hickory, ash, and birch – are denser and burn slower and longer, and while they release less immediate heat, there’s also less smoke and they add up as a layer of radiantly hot coals.
  4. All firewood has creosote, so annual chimney cleaning is recommended. Some sources say every two cords. Chimney fires are especially vicious.
  5. In colonial New England, a house typically required 40 cords or more of firewood a year. Imagine cutting, splitting, and stacking all that – even before bringing it indoors.
  6. Salvaged wood – such as lumber, poles, and fencing – often contain preservatives that release hazardous vapors as they burn.
  7. Destructive insects and plant diseases can be spread when transporting firewood more than a few miles from its source. That’s why it’s illegal to import firewood into Maine. Now I’m wondering about the guys from Maine who delivered to our house in New Hampshire.
  8. A cord is a stack 4-by-4-by-8 feet of standard 16-inch wood. Many stoves, though, require a shorter log.
  9. Do you really get a full cord when it’s delivered? I’ll spare you some old jokes.
  10. Favorite woods include apple and tamarack/larch, both for their aroma and a clean burn that leaves little ash.

As for air pollution? I really don’t want to go there. It could be a Tendril all its own, once we find the right tech geek to sift through the varied reports.


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