The nights, and even the days, are getting distinctly nippy, and even if you have a gas furnace, it’s cozy to have a fire going as the nights get chillier.
Luckily firewood is in great abundance locally. However, with the number of people selling firewood out of the back of their truck–literally– you can also get stuck with a bad batch if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
What to Look For in Firewood
You want two things in firewood, especially firewood you will be burning indoors: it must be seasoned (dry), and it must be hardwood.
The wood must be dry because when wood is freshly cut, it is up to 50% water by weight. Water, of course, does not burn, but must be heated up until it steams off to allow the wood itself to burn. Not only does this waste a tremendous amount of energy producing little heat, but it is very hard to do. Fires made with green firewood quickly smother themselves.
Additionally, because green firewood cannot burn very hot (having wasted so much energy steaming off the moisture) it causes a harmful chemical side-effect called creosote. Creosote is condensed volatile chemicals which are not fully burned off in a cooler fire. It forms in the inside of chimneys and stoves, and causes a fire hazard due to its flammability.
Creosote is also the reason for the second stipulation in firewood: Hardwood. Hardwood is wood from a deciduous tree; oak, elm, walnut, etc. Pine, on the other hand, is softwood, and softwood does not burn as hot as hardwood does, again, contributing to the formation of creosote.
How to Ensure Your Firewood is Seasoned
Unless you have amply storage space for wood, you will likely want to purchase only seasoned wood in order to be able to burn it this winter. If you do have ample storage space, though, it is often cheaper to buy green wood and dry it yourself.
Seasoned wood is not always easy to tell from green wood, but there are a few tell-tale signs. The first is weathering. At least some of the pieces will be a faded grey with the bark falling off.
There will also be deep cracks in the wood, called checking. Checking happens as the water evaporates off. Finally, when you clap two pieces of dried wood together, you should hear a hollow tchok, not a thud.
With this quick primer, your firewood buying should be simple and headache-free this winter.