Wood Burning Tips & FAQs

Temperatures are dropping here in Connecticut. It is the perfect time of year to stoke up a fire in your fireplace or stove. Heating up next to a roaring hearth, listening to the soothing crackle of burning firewood, can make this chilly season more enjoyable. Wood is an environmentally friendly heating source compared to coal or natural gas especially if you have an EPA-certified fireplace or stove.

Knowing what types of firewood to use and how to build an efficient fire will help you get the most out of your fireplace or stove this autumn and winter. Below are our top tips for burning wood and answers to other frequently asked questions.

What type of firewood should I use?

firewood, hardwood for fireThe best wood for a fire is hardwood. Hardwoods (such as oak, ash, cherry, and maple) are denser than softwoods which helps them to produce more heat and less smoke. Hardwoods can produce up to twice as much heat as softwood (up to 30 million BTUs per cord). There are hundreds of different varieties of hardwood trees in North America. One way to know whether or not a tree has hardwood or softwood is to look at the leaves. If it has needles instead of leaves, like a pine, cedar or fir tree, then it is a softwood. If it has actual leaves, it is most likely a hardwood tree.

Be sure to only use seasoned hardwood! Freshly cut wood has a high moisture content which makes it burn less efficiently meaning it will produce less heat and more smoke. That is why wood should be seasoned, or allowed to dry out for six months to a year, before it is burned.

What is the best fire starter?

Wood chips, shredded paper, and dryer lint are all excellent fire starters. They are highly flammable and ignite quickly. You should never use a liquid fire starter or accelerant to start a fire in your fireplace. Along with releasing toxic chemicals into the air, liquid fire starters and accelerants can make the fire get out of control quickly. When you build a fire in your fireplace, you want it to burn at a steady rate for a long period instead of quickly igniting and quickly burning out.

How do you build a good fire?

The first step is to open the damper so that smoke goes up the flue instead of into your home. Opening the damper will also allow oxygen from outside to feed the fire.

Once you’ve done that, crumple up newspaper or undyed packing paper for tinder. You could also use wood chips or twigs. Place them along the bottom of the fireplace around the grate.

Next, stack wood on top in a zig zag pattern. It should be on its side, not standing. Be sure to leave enough space between the logs so that oxygen can get in. Do not make the pile too big. You do not want to overload the fireplace. Wait to add large logs until you already have a fire going.

Use a long lighter or match to light the tinder at the bottom. Make sure to light the tinder in a few different places. The kindling should quickly ignite. Add extra if you notice that the wood is taking a while to ignite.

Add larger logs to the fire once it is burning well. Be sure to still leave enough room for oxygen to flow between the logs.

How should firewood be stored?

Firewood should be stacked and stored off the ground in a covered space where it is protected from rain and snow. It should not be stored inside your home since stacks of firewood can attract pests that you wouldn’t want indoors. Storing it outdoors, where air can flow around it, also helps to prevent mold or fungus growth.

How do you safely store ashes?

It is important to use extreme caution when you remove ashes from your stove or fireplace. Hot embers mixed in with the ashes can burn for hours and, sometimes, even days after the fire has gone out. That is why you should never vacuum ashes out or remove them with a plastic dust bin. Be sure to use a metal dust bin when you removed ashes from the fire. Place them in a metal container with an airtight lid. The container should be housed outside away from anything flammable including your home. Wait for at least 1 week before scattering the ashes on your lawn or placing them in a compost pile.

Is an annual chimney cleaning necessary if you burn hardwood?Westport CT fireplaces and stoves

If you are burning seasoned hardwood and regularly removing ashes from your fireplace, you might think that you can skip an annual chimney cleaning and inspection but that is not a good idea. Even though seasoned hard wood produces less creosote (a highly flammable byproduct of burning fuel) than softwood or green wood, it still produces enough to cause a chimney fire. DIY chimney cleaning techniques are not as effective as a professional cleaning and could cause serious damage to your chimney’s lining. Chimney sweeps who have been certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) are trained to do more than a thorough cleaning. They also look for signs of damage or wear and tear to the chimney that could pose a safety risk.

We hope that this information helps you take advantage of your fireplace and stove this year. If you have any more questions, leave them for us in the comments!

Are you thinking about upgrading your fireplace with an EPA-certified fireplace insert or installing a new stove? Come by our showroom to see our wide selection.