Buying good firewood

Buy locally. Burn locally. Burn safely.

Just about any kind of wood will give you a good fire—if it is properly seasoned.

Wood is quite wet when a tree is first cut, and it takes at least six months for the wood, split and stacked, to dry to 15-20 percent moisture. Wood that hasn’t been properly seasoned or is wet from rain or snow will not burn cleanly, and that invites dangerous creosote build-up in the chimney and smoky fires that waste energy (smoke is just improperly burned wood) and contribute to air pollution.

Firewood sales in Manitoba are largely unregulated, so it is up to the buyer to ask the seller if the wood has been properly seasoned. There is a rule of thumb for testing yourself if wood is reasonably dry. Take two pieces of firewood and bang them together. If it sounds like a thud, the wood is probably still too wet. If it sounds hollow, the wood is likely dry enough. Or you could invest in a moisture tester to remove all doubt.

Split firewood needs to be neatly stacked to “breathe”, with the top covered to shed rain and snow. You want to get it dry enough, and keep it dry enough, for a clean burn. A rule of thumb for how tightly to stack your wood: “leave space enough for a mouse to get through, but not the cat chasing it.”

If you are buying pre-packaged split wood at a gas station, convenience store or chain hardware store, it’s likely to be seasoned. But is it local? Ask the seller.

Buy locally. Manitoba continues to battle Dutch elm disease. The emerald ash borer beetle has wiped out millions of ash trees in Quebec and Ontario, and it is now in Minnesota. The mountain pine beetle, which has devastated forests in British Columbia, has been moving east from through northern Alberta and is now into northern Saskatchewan. There are no reported sightings of either pests in Manitoba so far, but they are advancing from the east, south and west. The most common way pests and diseases are spread is by people transporting their firewood from one place to another. If you buy wood that is cut and processed locally, you dramatically reduce the risk that you’ll be the one who inadvertently brings damaging diseases and pests into Manitoba’s rural and urban forests.

Transport tip: If you’re on your way home or to the cottage with a just-purchased load of split firewood or logs, keep the receipt for your firewood on hand. Natural Resources and Conservation officers may question you about where the wood came from, and they have the authority to confiscate it if they suspect it is infected or from outside Manitoba. It is illegal to transport firewood into or out of Manitoba across the US border.

Tips for firewood preparation and use

1.    Very hard woods (oak, maple, ash) are not good fuel for the mild weather in spring and fall because their high density makes controlling heat output more difficult.

2.    Soft woods (poplar, aspen, willow, spruce and pine) are better when heat demand is low because they light easily, burn quickly and don’t leave a long-lasting charcoal bed.

3.    Firewood should be cut and split in early spring to be ready for burning that fall. Large pieces of hard wood may take more than the summer months to season, and you should add more time if it’s been a particularly wet summer.

4.    Piece length should be at least 3″ shorter than the firebox.

5.    Shorter pieces are easier to handle and make fire maintenance easier; 14″ to 16″ is a good length.

6.    Split logs to a variety of sizes, from 3″ to 6″ at the largest cross-section. Most commercial firewood is not split small enough for convenient fire management.

7.    The larger the stove or furnace, the larger the pieces you can use, but don’t go larger than 8″ diameter.

8.    Tree tops and wind falls can be used for firewood, down to less than 2″ diameter.

9.    Never leave firewood in a pile on the ground for more than a couple of days. Wet wood on the ground quickly attracts bugs and mould.

10.   Wood should be stacked in an open area exposed to sun and wind for the summer. Green wood (unseasoned wood) will not season properly in a wood shed or in deep shade.

11.   Stack wood on rails or pallets to keep it off the ground.

12.   The triangular shape of split pieces wedge together as they are stacked and help to make the pile stable.

13.   The more quickly the surface of the pieces dries, the less chance there is of moulding and bug infestation.

14.   Cover just the tops of firewood stacks to shed the rain and snow.

15.   Avoid stacking more than four feet high because tall piles become unstable.

16.   Shorter firewood pieces (12″ – 14″) make for narrow, tippy stacks; use sticks propped against each side of the piles so wind doesn’t blow them over.

17.   When seasoned, usually by late September, the wood can be moved to winter bulk storage where it should be fully sheltered from rain and snow.

18.   The ideal winter storage is close to, but not inside, the house.

19.   Avoid storing large amounts of wood in the house because mould spores and moisture can affect indoor air quality, a potential problem for people with asthma and other lung diseases.

20.   In the winter, bring in wood to warm up before burning, but only one or two weeks’ supply at a time.

Source: Wood Heat Org.