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Oak Tree Firewood

By at February 13, 2014 | 8:33 pm | 0 Comment

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The oak tree genus is made up of hundreds of species and is found on every continent except Antarctica.  North America contains the largest number of oak species, with 90 species occurring in the United States alone.  Oak trees can live well over 200 years and provide hundreds of benefits for humans and wildlife.  Any of the oak species produce excellent firewood; Red and White Oaks are very popular in our area.  Oak is also a densely packed hardwood tree. This means that once it is split and seasoned, the wood burns for a long time in either a wood stove or a fireplace.  It also has the characteristic of producing large amounts of heat (BTUs) and creates a good coal bed.  Because it is tight-grained and hard it does pop, snap, and spark as it burns.  In fact, oak firewood will burn 3-5 times longer than pine firewood of the same size.  The downside to using oaks for firewood are that they tend to be a more expensive and like other hardwoods need 1-2 years for seasoning.

Oak-01

 

 

Oak Tree Identification:

Leaves:   Look for a lobe and sinus pattern on the oak leaves.  The lobes of the leaf are the fingers or extensions that come out from the stem.  Oak leaves may have pointed or rounded lobes, depending on the species of tree. Between each lobe is a sinus, which is an indentation in the leaf that accentuates the lobes.  Sinuses may be deep or shallow, and wide or narrow.  Many of the Oak species are marcescent, which means they don’t drop their dead leaves until the Spring.  This makes them easy to spot out in the winter season.

Oak leaves Oak_winter

Leaf Color:  Look at the deep green color of the leaves.  Most oak tree leaves sport a deep green hue during the summer months, but transform into red and brown colors for the fall.  The oak tree is one of the most colorful fall trees, which is another reason they are popular in many types of landscaping today.  Some oak leaves also emerge in a red or pink shade in early spring, but quickly change to their standard green color by summer.

Fall color, Oak leaves

Flower/Fruit/Nut:   In spring, a single oak tree produces both male flowers (in the form of catkins) and small female flowers.  The fruit is a nut called an acorn.  Each acorn typically contains one seed and takes 6–18 months to mature, depending on species.  Look for acorns on the tree or around the base of the tree.  Acorns may vary in size and color, but most are characterized by a bumpy top and smooth bottom.

Oak_acorn Oak_acorns2

Bark:  Look for hard, grey bark with deep grooves and ridges.  The color of the bark may fluctuate somewhat between oak species, but is is nearly always a shade of gray.  Oak trunks also tend to get massive, with some species boasting an overall girth of 30 feet or more.

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Oak_bark2Oak_wood

 

Oak_firewood

Size:  Look at the size of the tree.  Oak trees tend to grow fairly large and round, with some reaching heights of 100 feet or more.  The trees are very full, with many reaching widths similar to their heights.

Oak_white

 

Red Vs. White Oaks:  Red oaks have leaves with lobes which are divided at the tip with sharp points on either side, reddish wood, and usually round, flat-topped acorns; whereas white oaks have rounded lobes, white wood, and long, narrow acorns with round tops.

Red Oak Leaves/Acorns

Oak_rubra

White Oak Leaves/Acorns

oak_whiteoak

Other uses for Oak trees:

  • Furniture-making, flooring, timber-frame buildings, ship-building, and veneer production.
  • European and American Oaks are used to make barrels for wines, sherry, and certain spirits.
  • Oak wood chips are used for smoking fish, meat, and cheeses.
  • The bark of the Cork Oak tree(grown in the Mediterranean Sea Region) is used to produce wine stoppers.
  • Oak bark is rich in tannin and is used for tanning leather.
  • Acorns can be used for making flour and can be roasted to make acorn coffee.
  • As a landscaping tree they make great shade trees and many have great fall color.
  • Oak trees are keystone species (supporting large amounts of wildlife) and are important components of hardwood forests.

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Woodstove and Fireplace Safety Tips

By at December 2, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

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Chimney Safety:

  • Have your chimney, pipes, and/or wood stove inspected and cleaned by a chimney specialist annually.  I recommend doing this well before the heating season in case repairs are needed.  A chimney specialist will also have more availability and they sometimes offer off-season discounts!
  • Inspect your pipe or chimney monthly for damage and obstructions (like squirrel or bird nests).
  • Creosote (which is a byproduct of burning wood) regularly builds up in chimneys and pipes.  They should be cleaned out frequently to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.  More than ¼ inch of creosote is considered dangerous and should be cleaned out before your next burn.
  • Also watch for soot buildup in the chimney of your wood-burning fireplace. Soot is softer than creosote, flammable and should be cleaned out of the chimney regularly.
  • Never burn trash, paper, or green wood as these materials cause heavy creosote buildup and some burns are hard to control. Burn seasoned hardwoods!
  • Install a spark shield/arrestor or wire basket on top of your chimney or vent pipe.
  • A chimney/vent pipe should be at least 3 feet higher than the roof peak or any tall, nearby objects.
  • Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues, or vents.
  • Keep roof clear of leaves, pine needles, and other debris.

chimney sweeper

Indoor Safety

  • Never start a fire with gasoline or other flammable liquids- they can explode or flare up!
  • Look into buying a special chimney fire extinguisher and keep one on hand for every fireplace or stove.
  • You should also have a standard ABC extinguisher.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas.  Test smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. There are also long-life smoke alarms on the market.
  • Allow ashes to completely cool before disposing of them.  Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep this container at least 10 feet from your house or other structures.  It’s okay to douse and saturate ashes with water.
  • Never leave your fire unattended. Extinguish fires before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Practice a home escape plan with your family.
  • Keep any flammables at least 3 feet away
  • Supervise children whenever a fire is burning.

fire extinguisher

smoke detector

Specifics for Woodstoves:

  • If you have a wood stove make sure it is in good working order.  Check the iron and steel components for cracks or degradation (caused by heat) and replace those that have gone bad.  Close a dollar bill in the door at various spots around the door’s frame.  If you can easily pull it out then the gaskets are worn and need to be replaced.
  • If you have a catalytic wood stove then it’s important to remove and check the catalytic element.  A light gray or tan color is good but a dark black color can mean it’s no longer working properly.  Also vacuum or lightly brush off any ash that has accumulated.
  • Stovepipe can deteriorate over time, so you should check the soundness of your pipe on a regular basis.  You can do this by squeezing the pipe (which should not be crushable).  If you can crush the walls then creosote has eaten away too much of the metal pipe and this will need to be replaced.
  • Check for creosote accumulation every 2 weeks.  This is done by peering into the system with a flashlight and by tapping on the pipe sections with a metal object.  Once you are accustomed to the sound a clean pipe makes, you should then be able to distinguish the dull thud of a dirty one.
  • Keep air inlets on your woodstove open for complete combustion and less creosote accumulation.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves (like brick or stone).
  • Artificial logs (made of wax and sawdust) should never be used in wood stoves.

This is what creosote looks like…

creosote

Specifics for Fireplaces:

  • Clear the area around your hearth of debris, decorations, and flammable materials.
  • Use a heavy mesh screen when your fire is burning and your glass doors are open.  This will help to catch rolling logs and will catch flying sparks.
  • Having your glass doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air for complete combustion (which helps to minimize creosote build-up in your chimney).
  • Hearth rugs protect your floor from flying sparks!

fireplace mesh screen

 

 

 

 

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Fireplace Efficiency and Inserts

By at November 11, 2013 | 12:00 am | 0 Comment

There is nothing like the crackle of a fire in the hearth and a blazing fireplace to create a sense of warmth and comfort.  And I know most of you agree because The National Association of Home Builders ranks fireplaces among the top 3 features desired by new home-buyers. However, there’s a major downside to the traditional wood-burning fireplace which is Heat Loss.  Fireplaces are, by nature, not very efficient- they pull warm air out of the room and into the fire.  A lot of that energy (heat) is lost up the chimney and through the material that surrounds it.  When temperatures drop below freezing, a fireplace exhausts more energy than it creates.  The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association rates older fireplaces’ efficiency at only 5-10%– that means up to 95% of heat energy literally goes up in smoke!

fireplace

Heated room air is drafted up the chimney as well, so your main heating system actually works harder to keep the house warm.   And as a result, expect other rooms to be cooler due to escaping warm air.  I recommend avoiding using a traditional wood-burning fireplace as your primary source of heat.  A traditional type of fireplace can still be used for occasional enjoyment- like on special occasions and holidays.  Another option is to modify your traditional wood-burning fireplace and  increase its efficiency!  Many inventions have been made to maximize fireplace efficiency; including the use of a fireback, damper, glass/mesh door, fireplace grate radiator/ heater, and fireplace insert.

Firebacks have been used, in various forms, for hundreds of years.  They are made of heavy steel or cast iron and are positioned against the back wall of a fireplace.  In addition to protecting masonry of the back wall of the fireplace, a fireback heats up and radiates the heat of the fire forward into the room (instead of all the heat going up the chimney).  Firebacks can be decorative as well as functional.  Estimated cost: $75 to $350.

fireback

Having a good fireplace Grate can increase the efficiency of a fireplace AND make fires easier to start and tend.  They keep logs from rolling during burning, enhance your fireplace’s efficiency by allowing air to flow beneath your logs, and facilitate clean up by creating a central ash pile.  There are some new grate designs out there on the market that are specially engineered to make the wood fire radiate better into the room.  Estimated cost $25 to $200 depending on size and quality.

A Damper is the iron or steel trap door at the lower end of the chimney that remains closed when the fire place is not in use (preventing warm air from escaping up the flue and out the chimney).  To start a fire, you must have the damper in the full-open position. Some dampers are adjustable and after the fire has started, it is best to close the damper as far as possible without causing smoke to back up into the room.  Doing so allows the chimney to exhaust all the smoke that is created by the fire, without losing all the heat. Prefab fireplaces have built-in dampers which are often only open-close. These should not be modified or replaced as they are safety tested only in the stock configuration. Masonry fireplace dampers often have problems such as loose fit and missing handles. Most dampers fit snugly when they’re new, but can frequently warp within a year or two, producing a loose fit and allowing air to leak past them. One of the most pervasive causes of a stuck damper is rust, which can make operation difficult and the damper often sticks in one position.  Rust can be removed with a flashlight, a wire brush, and some elbow grease.

Glass Doors reduce the loss of room air up the chimney and still allow you to view the fire. The drawback is that the glass can also reduce the heat that reaches the room by half (even a mesh screen reduces radiant heat by 30 percent). The result is a small gain in efficiency- only to about 20 percent.  Fireplace doors are almost never tight enough to prevent cold air from back-drafts when the fireplace is not being used but they are better than not having doors. Beware that some glass doors need to be open during operation- the glass may shatter with high heat.  Always look into manufacturer recommendations. Estimated cost: $200 to over $1,000.

Fireplace Grate Heater/Radiator have been called many things: heatilator, hearth heater, fireplace blower, fireplace grate heater, Fireplace Furnace, tubular grate heater, etc.  Basically, a fireplace blower grate consists of an air inlet, metal pipelines or air tubes, and an air outlet. The inlet draws in cold air from the room. This air then passes through a series of tubes or chambers that pass through your fireplace. The air inside these tubes is heated by fire and is then expelled through the air outlet to heat the room.  A heat grate/heat ex-changer is a waste of money unless in is paired with a set of glass doors. The doors minimize the amount of excess combustion air consumed by the fireplace. An open fireplace (no glass doors) with a heat exchanger still has the problems of an open fireplace noted above.  Many are tempted to use these because they cost less than an insert but they are not nearly as efficient/reliable as an insert. Estimated cost: $410 to $615.


fireplace radiator, fireplace heat exchanger

And I saved the best for last… Fireplace Inserts!

Most Fireplace Inserts are designed to increase a fireplace’s efficiency. An insert is basically a fireproof box that’s surrounded by steel or cast iron and fronted by insulated glass, creating a closed combustion system. The steel or cast iron box helps to trap the heat. They use a heat exchange chamber with channels to allow room air to pass through and absorb heat. Some inserts have a blower that pushes the hot air back into the room through front vents.  Fireplace inserts usually require a full stainless steel flue liner, rather than simply connecting to an existing flue. The insert eliminates the excess combustion air, burns less wood more efficiently, and usually has a fan to blow hot air out of its vents. To make your fireplace truly efficient, you’ll want to install an insert approved by The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  An insert should also be installed by a factory-trained professional in order to ensure proper venting and best efficiency results. When properly installed, fireplace inserts can be a much more efficient supplemental zone heater than a traditional fireplace. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a fireplace insert can make your fireplace up to 5x more efficient. The downside is the cost of an insert which can set you back about $2,000 to $4,000 (with installation) and also depends on the state of your existing chimney and the model you select.

But believe me- this investment pays for itself by improving efficiency and saving you money on heating bills.  Inserts can be powered by electricity, gas, propane, wood, pellets or coal.  However, since this is a website dedicated to firewood I will focus only on wood-burning inserts.

Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts

The main benefit of a wood fireplace insert is that it gives you the beauty of an open fireplace with the performance of a state-of-the-art wood stove. The efficiency rating for wood fireplace inserts generally runs around 50% which is less than gas inserts but MUCH better than traditional fireplaces (which have 5-10% efficiency rating). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies all wood fireplace inserts to ensure that they burn wood efficiently, safely and with less smoke.  When sized and installed properly, an EPA-certified wood fireplace insert will also reduce wood consumption and reduce maintenance of the insert and the chimney. The fireboxes of a wood insert run from 1.6 cubic feet (running hot, this size will kick out about 65,000 BTUs an hour) to 3.1 cubic feet (85,000 BTUs per hour). When loaded up with wood they can burn as long as 6-8 hours. The National Fire Protection Association requires a stainless-steel connector between the insert and the chimney’s flue liner, or a connector that runs all the way up the chimney (this setup is easier to clean). In many cases, some internal realignment of the chimney is necessary.

fireplace insert

Here are some safety and maintenance tips to get the best out of a wood fireplace insert:

  • If you smell smoke, your insert is not working right and could be dangerous.
  • Have your insert, chimney and vents professionally cleaned and inspected annually.
  • If using manufactured logs, use ones made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
  • Remove ashes regularly, placing them in a covered metal container. Store this on a cement or brick slab, away from wood.
  • Burn only dry wood that’s been seasoned, sitting dry for at least six months.
  • Install a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector in the general vicinity of the fireplace.

 

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Where To Buy Firewood

By at November 10, 2013 | 5:36 pm | 0 Comment

BUY LOCALLY

It is very important to buy your firewood from a local source.  This not only supports your local economy but also prevents the spread of invasive insects and diseases.  You may have heard of the “Buy it where you Burn it campaign” which focuses on the dangers of transporting firewood across ecosystems. Firewood can be a vehicle for invasive species to cross state borders and even continents. Insects and disease can lie dormant in or on firewood for up to two years!  Also pay attention to state and county firewood regulations- some states don’t allow you to bring firewood across their borders and many counties restrict firewood movement out of the area. For more information on this check out this website http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/

The first thing you should do is make sure that your firewood seller is both cutting and selling local firewood. It is hard to imagine, but some firewood sellers (especially large stores or grocery stores) are bringing in firewood from really long distances- even other countries! Ideally, your firewood should be from only a few miles away, or at least in the same county. More broadly, if your firewood dealer is getting wood from up to 50 miles away, that is still considered “OK.”  Always ask your firewood supplier where their wood is coming from.

Buy local

For example, when transporting untreated firewood within Connecticut, you must keep a signed copy of this completed document with you. This Self-Issued Certificate is for cut and split firewood or wood intended to be cut and split and used as fuel for heating purposes.”  Here is a link to the certificate-  http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/forestry/eab/firewoodtransportationselfcertifcation.pdf

Now I will focus on where to actually find a supplier for local firewood.  You have a few options to consider- like word-of mouth, newspapers/fliers, and the internet. 

WORD-OF-MOUTH

Word-of-mouth is great if you trust the person you are asking!  If you have someone like a friend, a neighbor, or family member that lives nearby and recommends a supplier then this is a good option for you.

word-of-mouth

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS/FLIERS

I have found that the process of filtering through local newspapers and fliers can be time consuming.  There are no customer reviews so it’s difficult to know if the supplier is reliable and what the quality of wood is like.  This is how I used to search for firewood before I started using the internet.

Newspapers

INTERNET

The internet can also be tricky if you don’t know where or what to search for.  For example, Craigslist has its pros and cons- for the pros you are able to search by area and it’s a free source of advertising and information.  However, there are no customer reviews, the information is unverifiable, and anyone can advertise (including fraudulent ones).  You may find a great source of firewood but you also might find a bad one- it’s hit or miss.

Internet

This is why we designed this website (www.acordofwood.net) which aids you in finding local, reliable, and reputable sources of firewood.  We have made it possible to search for firewood based on the proximity to your location.  We also offer a feedback section where you can rate your firewood supplier and firewood you receive.  And the best part of our website is that it’s free!  We do not charge suppliers for their listings and therefore are completely unbiased.  We depend on customer reviews to help filter out and promote suppliers.  In addition, we provide educational content in our blog section with topics that will interest the novice to the expert.  If our website is not showing anything close to you then email us and we will find someone.  [email protected].

And remember the only way we can improve this site is through your feedback and comments.  Please leave any thoughts you have in the space below and we will do our best to accommodate. 

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Firewood Storage: Holder, Rack, Shed

By at October 28, 2013 | 12:00 am | 1 Comments

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!

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 | 1 Comments

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

woodstove

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.

catalytic

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

Orientation

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.

EPA

 

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 | 1 Comments

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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A Cord Of Wood: Stacking Firewood

By at September 30, 2013 | 12:00 am | 1 Comments

Firewood Stacking

What is a Cord of Wood?

A cord of wood should occupy a volume of 128 cubic feet.  This corresponds to a stacked woodpile measuring 4 feet high by 8 feet long by 4 feet deep.  Your pile can also be any other arrangement that yields the same volume.  The firewood should be straight stacked (as seen below) in order to get the most accurate measurement.

cord of wood

Your wood has been delivered- now what?

Typically, firewood is delivered by truck load and dumped in a predetermined location on your property.  Obviously, it’s smart to have it dumped close to where you plan to stack it.  Yes, sorry, firewood does need to be stacked.  In fact, stacking is so important that you do it ASAP.  If your wood is left in a large heap it will absorb ground moisture, attract insects, and start to rot.  Stacking firewood helps accelerate the drying process which is essential for efficient wood burning.

Plan ahead of time where you want to stack your firewood.   You want the location to be convenient but not too close to your house because rodents and bugs like to take up residence in and around the stacks.  Always store your wood outdoors- having large quantities of wood in your house, garage, or basement is bad news.  Heat will trigger insects and fungi activity.  For convenience purposes you can have a smaller pile in/near your house; which is periodically replenished from your main woodpile.

firewood

 Seasoned Wood

You should always ask your wood suppliers if their firewood is seasoned.  Once cut; wood can take anywhere from six months to a year to properly season (seasoned wood has a moisture content less than 20%). However, you don’t have to purchase seasoned wood if you get it early enough in the year.  If you’re purchasing firewood in the spring then this means your stacked wood will still have another 6-8 months to season/dry.  This green wood is typically less expensive than seasoned wood. However, if you’re a little late to the game make sure you only buy seasoned firewood!

Who is going to Stack my wood?

You have a few choices- Pay someone, do it yourself, or ask your kids to stack your firewood (good luck with the last).  Be wary of firewood dealers that offer free stacking.  This is often a way for them to rip you off by using a stacking pattern that leaves large amounts of airspace and less actual firewood in your stack.  If it comes to this you could insist that they only use a straight stacking method (shown in the photo below).

Firewood Stacking

Preventing Ground Moisture/Wood Rot

Elevate your woodpile on some kind of sturdy base.  I use a base of wood pallets to elevate our cords of wood.  You can look for any local business that receives merchandise shipments on pallets and ask if they are giving away or selling pallets at reasonable price. We got ours from a local garden and animal feed store for $2.00 apiece.  You can also make your own base with lumber or cinder blocks.  Just make sure you use a base that is a few inches off the ground and that can support the weight of a cord of wood.

Pallet

Sun and Airflow

Stack your firewood outside and if possible choose a sunny location.  Both air and sun help to season your firewood. The more surface area that is exposed to air, the more rapid the drying process will be.  The stacking pattern you choose can also increase the amount of ventilation your woodpile is exposed to.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that the space between each log should be “large enough for a mouse to run through, but tight enough to prevent a cat from chasing it.”  You can also position your woodpile in a way that the cut ends face the direction of prevailing wind/air movement.  I took this photograph of my father’s stacking – on pallets and in the sun.

Stacked Firewood

Protection

Cover the top of your woodpile with a tarp, plastic, or some other protective material if you live in a damp/humid climate (like here in New England).  Since the tarp can trap moisture it is best to keep it from directly touching the firewood.  Rocks, bricks, or anything sturdy can be used to prop the protective material up off the wood.  Ventilation holes can also be made to promote evaporation. Also make sure the protective top is secured so it doesn’t fly away in high winds.  If you are trying to accelerate the drying/seasoning process I recommend that you remove the protective cover on sunny days.  Once your firewood is seasoned feel free to cover the entire woodpile- we do this to prevent snow from accumulating on our firewood.

Covered Firewood

Crisscross Pattern

There are different ways to stack your firewood.  However I am going to talk about my preferred method- in a crisscross pattern. Similar to a log cabin, each row is perpendicular to the row beneath it.  It is important to find similarly sized pieces to ensure stability and may have to play around with some of the wood to find the best fit.  You will get better at stacking with practice- like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.

Firewood Stacking

You can crisscross the entire stack of just crisscross the ends of the woodpile with straight stacking in the middle. Either way will ensure that your ends are sturdy and strong.  There’s nothing worse than a stack that continues to fall down.  At my house, we prefer to use the crisscross pattern throughout our entire stack for extra airflow and stability. We split our own wood so are not as concerned with measuring the actual cords delivered.

Below are a couple photos of how our stacked wood ends up looking.  The crisscross method can be used in free-standing form or reinforced with posts that have been driven into the ground at the ends of the pile. Both work great and we have both in our yard.  It really depends on how much extra lumber we have laying around that year.

Firewood Stacking

firewood stacking

Framed Woodpile

My father, Carl, built his own firewood rack/shed which has its own wooden roof and sides.  This keeps the elements off the firewood and also creates a sturdy framework.  The firewood inside this frame can simply be straight stacked without worry of toppling over.   He has his woodpiles within 10 feet of his garage for easy access on cold winter days.

firewood

 Other Wood stacking tips

It is recommended that split logs are stacked with their bark side up in order to help shed any rain that gets on the woodpile; mimicking what happens in nature.

Don’t stack your piles too wide but also don’t stack them too narrow.  A narrow pile will have less stability while a pile too wide with have less air circulation.

We like to stick with the traditional cord measurement and have our woodpiles stacked at 4 feet in height.  This makes it easier to measure cord dimensions (4x8x4) and you will have good stability at this height.  Anything higher may fall over due to uneven stacking and high winds.

firewood

Happy Stacking!  Woof! Woof!

 

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Heating With Wood

By at September 21, 2013 | 3:27 pm | 0 Comment

Farmers Market

There are many benefits to heating your home with wood.

1.  Buying wood from local sources strengthens your local economy.  

Wood that is cut and used locally means money does not leave the community. This is extremely beneficial to rural and small town economies where wood heating is most prevalent.  This puts money into the local economy while keeping it out of the pockets of multinational corporations.  There is no million dollar wood fuel utility or multinational corporation involved in the wood heating business.  It is small local businesses that benefit from heating with wood!  This includes your local stove and fireplace shop, local chimney sweeper or the farmers, landscapers, and truckers who process and sell firewood.

Farmers Market

2.  Heating your home with wood provides you with a sense of security and independence.

Wood heating is as much of a lifestyle choice as it is a heating fuel option.  Burning wood require participation and effort but in exchange offers commensurate rewards.  It provides security during power failures.  Conventional heating systems are useless when a storm interrupts your electrical supply but a wood stove or fireplace keeps you warm, cozy, and safe.  Wood burning takes effort- similar to tending a garden, cooking a home meal, or performing your own home renovations- But you are always rewarded.  Just think about having the ability to provide for your family directly instead of depending on large energy utility suppliers!

fire cooking

3.  The act of building and sustaining fire is embedded in our ancient roots.

For all of human history we have built fire for survival: for warmth, food preparation, and companionship.  Burning wood brings you closer to nature and the environment.  A real wood fire is a focal point and gathering place for family, friends, and conversation.  The radiant heat from a wood burning fire heats you like the rays of the sun.  It is one of life’s small pleasures, especially on a cold winter’s night!  A real wood fire satisfies like no imitation can.

Ancient Fire Cooking

4.  Burning wood can save you money.

Wood fuel is cheaper than heating with oil, coal, or electricity. Despite all the hype you may hear about other heating options, it turns out that burning wood in a stove or fireplace is good for the local economy and good to your wallet.   A household paying $200 for a cord of seasoned hardwood with a modern, energy efficient stove can get more than 2x the equivalent oil heating value at $4.00 per gallon.  Buy your wood unseasoned a year ahead of winter and you can save 3x.

 

Money

While gas and heating oil prices have risen substantially in recent years, the price of wood has remained steady. Households can reduce their annual bills by a third by installing a stove. In the past, most buyers were those replacing an open fire with a much more fuel-efficient wood burner. The most efficient models achieve 80% efficiency – compared to an open fire at 32%, and a room open gas effect fire at 20% to 55% efficiency.

5.  Wood can be a renewable and abundant energy resource.

Sound woodlot management yields firewood that is a byproduct of thinning out non-lumber grade trees.  Sustainable woodlot management includes planting a new tree for every tree that is cut down. Renewable means that you don’t deplete the earth’s natural resources.  Here in New England we have an abundance of trees!  This makes firewood accessible, affordable, and a renewable energy resource.

tree ax

6.  Wood burning yields a zero-net carbon contribution.

Wood is created from energy produced by the sun and this energy is stored within the tree as it grows.  When you burn wood you are actually releasing this stored energy. Trees go through a natural cycle of growth and decay.  Whether they are burned or are slowly oxidized as they rot on the forest floor, there is a balance between the carbon stored in the tree as it grows and what is released once they die.

Wood burning, unlike fossil fuels (oil, coal), is a zero-net carbon contributor.  In other words, using wood as a fuel source does NOT contribute to the Greenhouse Effect.  Wood recycles carbon dioxide found in our atmosphere through the cyclical process of absorption, release, and re-absorption.  Oil and coal, are fossil fuels that reintroduce long buried carbon into the atmosphere- This is a one way trip.  Wood burning releases only a small amount of acid-causing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

New advanced technology wood stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces are certified low emission by the US Environmental Protection Agency.  They can burn with no visible smoke and create 90%  less pollution than those used 30 years ago.

CarbonNeutral

Tell us what you think!  Comment below on benefits important to you, and important stuff I  may have missed.

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