Browsing Month October, 2013

Firewood Storage: Holder, Rack, Shed

By at October 28, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

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Firewood is a wonderful and unique heat source.  It is unlike other energy sources since it has to be stored on your property prior to being used.   Long-term storage of firewood should be in a location that is dry, sunny, and has good air circulation.  Firewood needs to be protected from rain and snow or it will absorb water; becoming too wet to burn efficiency and eventually rotting.  Be aware that large amounts of firewood should always be stored OUTSIDE and AWAY (at least 20 feet) from your house due to fire risks and the critters (such as insects and rodents) that take up residence inside your firewood stacks.  Here are some of my preferred ways to store firewood; both outside and inside the home.

 Firewood Sheds

Consider creating a wood shed, with a raised floor, sloped roof for runoff, and open/slatted sides. Open sides or slatted sides provide air circulation which is especially important if your wood still needs to season.  As for shed size, I would recommend making it large enough to hold a few cords of wood.  While a wood shed is the most effective storage option it is also the most expensive (building materials, labor).  Certainly, building one yourself will save money since you will only have to buy the building materials. There are many DIY woodshed guides that can be found online.  However, if you are like me (and not all that handy with carpentry tools) then you will have to either buy one prefab or hire a carpenter to create one on your property.  Either way a wood shed is an investment but if properly built it will last for decades.  Below are a couple photos of a woodshed that has all the qualities you should look for. It is lifted off the ground,  has slatted sides, protection from rain/snow, and holds a large quantity of firewood.

Firewood shed, woodshed


firewood shed, woodshed

Firewood Racks

I am also a fan of firewood racks.  I find that the building designs for these are less intimidating for a person with basic carpentry skills.  A rack lifts your firewood off the ground and keeps your wood in a secure and tidy form.  A rack is both functional and affordable but a rack does lack a roof.  A properly designed storage rack should keep the wood off the ground and be sturdy, allowing you to safely stack the wood onto the rack.  If you have a few basic tools and a couple of treated 2×4’s, you can build your own firewood rack for about $20 or less.  A similar metal rack purchased from a local retailer can cost $50 or more.

firewood rack

Secondary Storage

I highly recommend creating a smaller storage area near or inside your house.  How much you store will depend on your needs, space, and personal preference.  I like to keep half a week’s worth of wood in my garage.  I use a wheelbarrow to move my firewood from its long-term storage area to my garage.  The firewood is left in the wheelbarrow until it’s used up and saves time since I don’t have to re-stack it.  However I have seen more aesthetically pleasing options; like smaller wooden or the wrought-iron rack shown below.  I like that this rack also has a spot for kindling!

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firewood rack, firewood storage

Inside Storage

It is convenient to keep a day or two’s worth of firewood and kindling near your fire source.  I  have a decorative copper tub (that used to be my grandparents) by my wood stove.  I like a container for this because it keeps wood debris from getting on my floors and it is attractive to look at.  However, please be aware that any wood you store inside should be kept far enough away from your heat source in order to prevent unwanted combustion.  Same goes for fire-starting supplies; like newspapers and kindling.  Unless the manufacturer specifies otherwise, all heating surfaces of a wood stove should be at least 36 inches (3 feet) from any combustible material.

Firewood Storage

Firewood Carriers

You also have a few options on how to transport your firewood from outside to inside your home.  The main benefit of firewood carriers is ease of transport and less accidental spillage of wood debris inside your home (whoever cleans your house will be thankful!) .  I prefer something with handles and that is lightweight yet sturdy enough to handle its frequent trips laden with firewood.  I recommend purchasing a canvas carrying bag with enclosed ends and sides.   I bought my father a canvas carrying bag eight years ago and there are still no signs of wear on it!


In the end, you should choose a firewood storage solution that is based on your needs and abilities.  You should weigh the cost of the labor and building materials  vs. just doing what’s good enough to season/store your firewood.  No matter what- make sure  your firewood is lifted off the ground, gets good air circulation/sun exposure, and is located in an area that is convenient for you!



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Seasoning Firewood

By at October 21, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

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What Makes Firewood Seasoned?

Seasoned wood simply refers to wood that has been cut and left to dry for AT LEAST 6 months.  The duration of seasoning depends of the type of wood and what time of the year the tree was felled.  Deciduous trees that are felled in the winter will season faster because the sap of the tree has moved into its roots (resulting in lower moisture content).  In general, pine and other softwoods need around 6 to 12 months to season, while hardwoods require 1 to 2 years.  Dry, seasoned wood will burn hotter and more efficiently than moist, “green” wood.  We all want to get the maximum amount of heat from our firewood, right?

wood flames

The Science Behind It.

Freshly chopped firewood has up to 50% water content and won’t burn in your fireplace.  First, you must let the firewood season (dry), which allows the moisture to escape.  When the wood gets down below 20% water content, it’s ready to burn.
Standing-dead, storm-downed, and felled trees DON’T season at the same rate as wood that’s been split and stacked.  Any surface water will evaporate quickly but the moisture content within the wood is unable to escape.  This is why it is important to cut your firewood to length and stack the wood so it can begin the drying process via sun exposure and air circulation.

cutting down tree, green firewood

chopping firewood

What Happens If I Burn “Green” Firewood?

Several bad results can occur from burning wood that is not fully dried to below 25 percent moisture content (Such wood is referred to as “Green” wood).  Green firewood burns less efficiently because a good amount of heat/energy goes toward evaporating moisture trapped within the wood.  Lb. for lb. green wood has less wood fibers to burn than seasoned wood (less actual wood to burn!). The presence of all that moisture tends to keep “putting out” the fire resulting in a poor burn. Burning green wood creates extra smoke which can get into your home (especially with chimneys that have draft issues), heavier creosote buildup in your chimney (which can lead to a chimney fire), and the unnecessary pollution of our environment.

chimney smoke


How Do I Know If Firewood Is Seasoned?

If you really want…you can buy a special instrument that tests the moisture content of wood (usually known as a “wood moisture test meter”).

However- I recommend that you try this simple test:

  1.  Pick two pieces of wood that you think is dry and knock the two pieces together.  If you hear more of a “ring” rather than a “thud”, then it’s probably dry.
  2.  Check for radial cracks and darker color at the ends of the wood, which indicate dryness.
  3.  Burn a piece on a roaring fire base. If three of the sides begin to burn within 15 minutes then your wood is dry.
  4.  A seasoned fire log will be lighter in weight than a “green” piece of the same size and species.

seasoned firewood

Side Note:  When firewood  is well seasoned, expect to pay more.  Cutting trees down, transporting, splitting, and seasoning wood is a risky, labor-intensive pursuit.  The more times a firewood supplier has to handle  and the longer firewood is stored (for seasoning), the more you will be charged.  And rightly so.

How Do I Season My Firewood?

1. It’s best to get the pieces down to no more than 6-8 inches in diameter. 18 inches long is the most common size, although 16 inches is the correct length for a smaller stove.  Make sure you tell your wood supplier what length works for your stove or fireplace.

2. Allow your wood to season for the proper amount of time.  This will take 6 months to over a year depending on your wood type (explained at beginning of article).  I like to split and stack my wood before the start of summer because the hot, drier weather expedites the drying process.

3. Stack the wood so it isn’t sitting directly on the ground or right up against a wall.  I use wood pallets but you can also cut two saplings to use as a base to keep the firewood from contact with the ground.  Alternatively a wood rack or wood shed are good ways to lift your wood while keeping things tidy.

4. Allow space between the stack and a wall to allow air to move.  This can be achieved with your stacking method or an open-sided wood shed.  Air circulation is an essential part of the seasoning process, to ensure that the wood dries.

5. Cover your firewood during periods of wet weather but keep it exposed during dry spells as this will help your wood season faster.


Firewood Stacking




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Choosing The Right Woodstove

By at October 14, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

wood stove


Cast Iron or Welded Steal

Woodstoves are available in two different material options; Cast Iron or Welded Steel.  Truthfully, they are both the same when it comes to heating performance.  The main distinguishing factors are aesthetics and price.  Cast iron stoves are more pleasing to the eye; with graceful curves and artistic relief patterns.  However, you will pay a premium price for a cast iron stove and they do require more upkeep than welded steel stoves.  Cast iron stoves need to be rebuilt every few years to seal the joints between panels.  This prevents harmful air leakage which would allow your fire to burn out of control.  Welded steel stoves are plainer, but cost less.  Any well-built wood burning stove is an investment so it is important that you are happy with the choice you make.

Catalytic or Non-Catalytic

Wood stoves can operate with catalytic or non-catalytic combustion.  Catalytic combustion stoves have a catalyst-coated ceramic honeycomb.  Smoky exhaust gas/particles pass through this honeycomb where they ignite and burn.  The advantage is that catalytic stoves produce a long, even heat output.  However, the operator must know how to use a lever-operated bypass damper when igniting and reloading.  With proper care the ceramic honeycomb must be replaced every 6 seasons or so.


As the name implies, a non-catalytic wood stoves do not use a catalyst. Instead, internal characteristics create a good environment for combustion.  These include firebox insulation, a large enough baffle to divert gas flow, and pre-heated combustion air that is introduced through small holes in the upper part of the firebox.  The baffle and some other internal parts may need replacement as they deteriorate.  This is unavoidable due to the high heat needed for efficient combustion.

Generally, Catalytic wood stoves are more efficient and eco-friendly.  So, if you are shopping for a new stove, and wood heating is your primary heat source, spend a few dollars more to get a Catalytic wood stove.  If you are looking for supplementary heating and ambiance, don’t waste your money, just get a non-catalytic wood stove.

My wood stove is a non-catalytic stove, built in 1983.  It came with the house.  I don’t like replacing things that work.  It’s a waste.  So, as soon as this one reaches its end of life, I’m going to get a catalytic based wood stove.  Here is a picture of my stove in my living room.

wood stove

Carl, my dad, recently replaced his with a catalytic based stove.  Here is a picture of his wood stove in his living room.

wood stove


Wood stoves are also classified by orientation:  east-west or north-south.  Simply put, an east-west stove is wider than it is deep while a north-wet stove is deeper than it is wide.  The take home point is that a north-south stove can hold more wood because you don’t have to worry about the logs falling forward on the glass-front viewing panel.   However, many prefer the look of a stove that is oriented east-to-west; which can also hold a larger glass-front viewing panel.

The pictures above of my wood stove and my dad’s are both east-west orientation.  My recommendation is to go with an east-west orientation unless you are putting the stove outside the house; like in your chicken coop to keep your hens warm.  (I don’t do that) All kidding aside, it’s a matter of preference!

This is Important! U.S. Environmental Protection Agency!

No matter which stove you choose, always go with an appliance that has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  These stoves feature improved safety and efficiency with almost no smoke, minimal ash, and they require less firewood.  Complete combustion helps prevent the buildup of flammable creosote deposits in your chimney!  Older stoves release 15 to 30 grams of smoke/hour while EPA certified stoves produce between 2-7 grams of smoke/hour.  It is a win-win situation: less emissions and safer operation.  Be sure to look for the EPA certification label on the back of the stove.  All EPA stoves can deliver over 60 percent efficiency.  Overall efficiency higher than 80 percent is not desirable because a low exhaust temperature means a weak draft and risk of water vapor condensation which can damage your chimney.



A few more things

Now that you have some background information about wood stoves let’s talk about purchasing a new wood stove. There are several reliable sources of information that will assist you in deciding which wood stove is most appropriate for you and your home.  I recommend looking at the manufacture’s literature for performance specifications.  But be aware that none of the really useful information shown on stove brochures are standardized or regulated.  As a result, information like efficiency, heat output, heating capacity, and burn time may be inflated by the manufacturer.

Secondly, listen to the advice you receive from a knowledgeable/experienced local wood stove dealer.  It is a good rule of thumb to only trust the advice of someone that heats their own home with wood.  I also prefer to shop at a local stove shop rather than a large box store.  A local dealer, like any other dealer, wants your money but he/she also wants to you to be happy with a new stove.  Local businesses depend on word of mouth to generate business!  They are also more apt to work with you if you are unhappy with your purchase.

When visiting local retailers I suggest you bring along a copy of your home’s floor plan.  This will assist you in finding a wood stove that is the appropriate size for the space you wish to heat.  Many homeowners make the mistake of buying a wood stove that is too large for their needs.  As a result, the fires they burn are often reduced to a low smolder to avoid overheating, which wastes fuel, creates air pollution, and results in chimney creosote buildup.  A good rule of thumb is that a stove rated at 60,000 BTU can heat a 2,000 square foot home, while a 42,000 BTU stove can heat a 1,300 square foot home.  Of course, the effectiveness of your stove will also depend on the layout of your house (ex. many small rooms vs. open floor plan).

I also like to think of wood stoves in terms of small, medium, and large.  Small stoves are suitable for heating a family room or a seasonal cottage.  A small stove can also be used as a secondary heat source. Perfect for “zone heating” a specific area of your home like a family room or living room.  This can reduce fuel consumption, conserve energy and save you money while maintaining comfort.  Medium stoves are suitable for heating small houses,  medium-sized energy-efficient houses, and cottages used in winter. Large stoves are suitable for larger, open plan houses or older, leakier houses in colder climate zones.

Some other features you may want to consider when purchasing a wood stove include whether the stove has an ash pan, a cooking surface, if it can be operated open with a screen and if it has a glass viewing panel.  Other aesthetic considerations include whether it has plated doors and trim, pedestal legs and all the various color options.  While none of this affects heating performance it can still influence your enjoyment of the stove.

Sitting by my wood stove is something I look forward to on a cold winter’s night! I hope you end up loving your wood stove as much as I love mine.  My pets can’t get enough of it!  My dog, Ben, and my two cats, Fig and Mango, are almost always napping by our stove.  Here are a couple of pictures.


Mango Fig Wood Stove Mango Fig  Ben Wood Stove IMG_2698 IMG_1947


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Best Wood For Firewood: Hardwood or Softwood

By at October 7, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

Burning Wood

Best Wood For Firewood:  Hardwood or Softwood

I get a lot of questions about the best type of wood to burn.  There are many studies that have been done to determine the answer to this question.  So I did a little research and basically averaged out all the ratings and metrics that have been created, to make it easier for you to decide.  Of course, I will point out the types of woods I like to burn here in New England, and as always, I ask the advice of my dad, Carl, who is a wanna-be mountain man and has been burning wood for heat for as long as I can remember!

Burning Wood

You may be surprised to learn that all wood, regardless of species, is about the same.  The difference in species is mainly in their density.  Because of this not all firewood is created equally for burning.  Also, there are some other characteristics that influence firewood choice – like spark output, smoke output, burn-ability, and split-ability.  Thankfully there are many wood types that are perfectly suited for fireplace or wood stove burning, and it really comes down to your own preference. (Take a look at the graphs below this post and decide for yourself)

Generally speaking, hardwoods make better firewood than softwoods. Hardwoods have the highest BTU ( British Thermal Units).  So what does this mean?  Hardwoods deliver a great amount of steady heat and are long-burning.  Different types of wood will be available in different parts of the country, so find the best wood accessible to you.  My personal favorites here New England include Oak, Ash, Beech, Hard Maple, Dogwood, Hickory, Cherry, and Apple.  Apple has an amazing Fragrant, but obviously, you would be lucky to come across a much of it, unless you live close to Apple farms.

However, don’t totally discount softwoods.  They serve as fire starters since they ignite and burn quickly; leaving a bed embers for the hardwoods. Softwoods are also useful to burn in the Spring and Fall when you don’t want as much heat output in your home.  New England softwoods include those like Pine, White Spruce, Cedars, and Douglas Fir.  I like to use Pine for my kindling.  It contains natural sap that makes it a great fire starter.  Much better than any non-environmentally friendly chemicals and starters out there!  Pine also grows in abundance.

I find that a mixture of softwoods and hardwoods will create the easiest and best fire.  After you have your fire started with kindling, start adding in your hardwoods- small amounts at regular intervals.  Efficient combustion results from burning small loads of woods with sufficient air space.  I also like to throw a few pieces of aromatic pieces (like cedar, fir, apple) in with my other firewood.

It is important to ask your supplier what types of wood they have and where their source comes from.  Makes sure the supply doesn’t include endangered species and that it is not transported past state lines.  No matter the type of wood chosen remember to only burn seasoned wood.  Keep in mind that you get what you pay for-and that hardwoods are generally more expensive than softwoods.

Would love to hear about your favorite species.

Best overall Rankings

Best Firewood


Best Heat output (BTUs/ A Cord Of Wood)

Best Firewood

Highest Dry Weight / A Cord Of Wood – Indicative of Density and Heat Output

Firewood Weight


Best Fragrance

Best Fragrance

Splitability (is that a word?) – If You Split Your Own Wood

Firewood Splitability

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