It has been unusually warm this October in Portland, but the cold, rainy weather is right around the corner. A lot of us are thinking about cozy evenings in front of the fireplace or the wood stove. Therefore, it’s important for us to make sure that our firewood is safe to burn and efficient, so that we can have the warmest winter possible!

Here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your firewood.


1. Buy Local

When possible, of course. There are many benefits to buying firewood locally here in Portland. One, it promotes sustainable forestry. Two, it prevents to import of various insects and fungi from other regions that can be damaging to your local ecosystem. Three, the cost will often be much lower because you are not adding significant transportation costs to the cost of the wood itself.

2. Density

The type of wood you buy makes a huge difference in the quality and length of the burn. Denser woods like oak, maple, cherry, and walnut will burn much hotter and longer than softer woods such as conifers like pine, fir, and spruce. The denser woods will naturally be a bit more expensive, but the space and labor you save can be well worth the difference.

3. Moisture

Wood that has been properly dried and aged will bun much cleaner than wood with a higher moisture content. It will also cut down on the amount of creosote produced by the burn. Creosote is the nasty, black substance that coats your chimney, smells rank, and can start chimney fires. Kiln-dried wood has a much lower moisture content (about 18%) than even the best air-dried wood. Moisture meters (hydrometers) are available for purchase at your local hardware store and can be used to measure the moisture content in a piece of wood. Opinions vary on the optimum moisture content, but most agree that 30% or less is a decent level to shoot for. If you don’t have a hydrometer, you can often tell by looking at the ends of the logs, which will be split or cracked if they are dry enough to burn.

4. Season the Wood

It is not always easy or affordable to get a hold of well-aged and dried firewood, so it is certainly an option to buy greener wood and season it yourself. Most trees have a 40-60% moisture content when cut down, and if seasoned properly, can get down to about a 20-25% moisture content. Wood should be cut into short pieces, stacked uniformly off the ground, covered on top to keep condensation and other moisture off, but open on the sides to allow air flow around it. Soft woods take at least 6 months to season properly, and hard woods take about a year or more. So make sure you get started with plenty of time to spare!

5. Avoid the Bad Stuff

Be careful of burning scrap wood or old lumber. A lot of lumber and plywood has materials in it or on it that you don’t want to burn: glue, paint, varnish, plastic, nails and the like. Burning these produces toxic smoke and creosote. This wood may be cheap or even free, but it isn’t worth the risks!

Follow these firewood tips and have a warm and safe winter!

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