If you’re looking to get the most out of your fireplace or wood-burning stove — a warm, safe crackling fire on cold winter nights — using properly seasoned firewood is a must. But why is properly seasoned firewood so important? And how do you make sure that your wood has been properly prepared for your fireplace?
Trees are filled with tubes that carry water from its roots to its branches. When a tree is cut into firewood, the freshly cut wood contains about 45 percent water. Before that wood is burned, it should rest for at least six months, allowing the water inside to evaporate until the water content is between 20 and 25 percent. If firewood still contains too much moisture when burned in a fireplace, it lowers the efficiency of the fireplace and poses a host of dangers to your home and family.
As wet firewood burns, the water inside boils and evaporates quickly. In fact, the majority of the energy from the fire goes toward evaporating that water. That leads to less heat for your home. Even worse, that wet firewood produces an excess of smoke that can add to the air pollution in your home, especially if you have an open-hearth fireplace. Cool fires that produce a lot of smoke also cause a faster build-up of highly flammable creosote. Creosote buildup is a leading cause of chimney fires.
How to properly season firewood
Of course, if you chop, stack and store your own firewood, you’ll have the ultimate control over making sure it’s properly seasoned. There are several things you should be doing to prep you firewood for proper seasoning. First, you should cut logs that are sized for your fireplace, 3 to 6 inches shorter than the firebox. Those logs should be split to between 3 and 6 inches wide. Once split, the firewood should be stacked in a sunny, well-ventilated location. The firewood should be left stacked for at least six months. While the firewood is drying, your woodpile should be left uncovered to allow the sun and wind to help dry it. Once the wood has been adequately dried, the woodpile should be covered to keep it from reabsorbing water from rain or snow.
Whether you’ve cut your own firewood or purchased it, there are a few simple ways to check to make sure it is properly seasoned and ready for the fireplace. The wood should be yellow or brown, rather than a creamy white, and slightly cracked. The bark should be loose. Properly seasoned firewood will feel lighter. If you strike two pieces of wood together, you should hear a drum-like sound. Wood that is too wet to burn will make a dull thud. Once the wood is lit in your fireplace, you should hear a pleasant crackling sound. Wet firewood will let off a hiss, a finite sign that it is not seasoned enough to burn.
While it may take a little extra time and effort, making sure your firewood is properly seasoned will help you keep your fireplace safe and burning efficiently.