Q: What is firewood?
A: The glib answer is any wood that you can use to fuel a fire (fuelwood), but there is an actual definition of firewood. According to the American Firewood Producers and Distributors Association, firewood is “any kindling, logs, chunkwood, boards, timbers or other wood of any tree species cut and split, or not split, into form and size appropriate for use as fuel”.
Q: What is seasoned firewood?
A: Living trees contain quite a bit of water, and when they’re cut down, the water is still there. Freshly cut wood is hard to light due to the moisture, produces a very smoky fire, and will leave creosote deposits in your chimney that are a fire hazard. Seasoned firewood has been has been cut and piled to allow it to air dry. This can take six months or two years, depending on the weather, how well ventilated the wood stack is, and how hard the wood is. Hard wood takes longer to dry than soft wood. As a general rule of thumb, anything freshly cut or dried for less than six months is considered “green wood”.
Q: How can I tell if wood is seasoned?
A: A simple and effective method of testing seasoning is by sight and by sound. You should be able to see cracking in the end grain, greying, and the bark pulling away a bit from the wood. And it should sound hollow when you bang two pieces of wood from the pile together. People who buy a lot of firewood might invest in a moisture tester to ensure the wood they’re buying has a moisture content of between 15 and 20 percent. Wood that is too dry will burn too hot and fast, and is best used just for kindling.
Q: Is seasoned firewood free of pests?
A: Seasoning or air drying removes moisture from wood, but it does not eliminate all forest pests that might want to hitchhike on your firewood. That’s why it’s always best to buy locally.
Q: Can I buy green wood and season it myself?
A: Of course. Green wood is simply wood that hasn’t yet been sitting long enough to reduce the moisture content to 15 – 20 percent. If you buy green wood in the form of logs, it’s a good idea to split and stack them to allow at least six months for the moisture to evaporate. Otherwise you’ll need to give the logs an extra year or two for seasoning. Logs that are not split and are still bark-covered taken even longer to dry, and there is a risk the wood will begin to rot before it’s dry enough to burn.
Q: How do you measure a cord of firewood?
A: A cord is the traditional way to sell a volume of firewood. With one full cord of split wood or roundwood being a neat stack eight feet long, four feet wide and four feet high (or it can be four feet wide and four feet long and eight feet high, but you wouldn’t want to stand beside it). A “face cord” is a stack of wood eight feet long and four feet high, but it may be only 16 or 18 inches wide. A more modern measure is to sell firewood by the cubic foot or cubic metre. In volume, a cord is about 128 cubic feet or 3.6 cubic metres of stacked wood. One cubic metre is about 35.3 cubic feet. For more details, see How to measure firewood.
Q: Can I use old wood scraps for firewood?
A: Firewood is split and dried trees. It is “organic” in the sense that it has not been treated with chemicals or otherwise processed other than air drying. As soon as wood is painted, stained, pressure treated, chopped up and glued back together as plywood or particle board, or otherwise altered, it’s not “organic” anymore. Burning painted or processed wood releases toxic chemicals, and we don’t want that. Kiln-dried wood (2x4s, pallets and other construction lumber) is not suitable for use in fireplaces and wood stoves, because it’s too dry, burns too hot, and can damage your appliance. However, leftover bits of untreated and unpainted lumber can be used as kindling, if you’re careful about it.
Q: My neighbour uses a squirt of charcoal lighter to get his wood stove burning. Is that allowed?
A: No! Emphatically, no! Never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal lighter or any other accelerant to start a fire in your stove or your fireplace. It’s too easy to lose control of the fire or to accidentally trail accelerant vapours away from the firebox and set your furniture or yourself on fire. Some people take the risk because they’ve never suffered more than singed eyebrows, but others have died. There are commercial fire-starter liquids that are specifically approved for fireplaces and wood stoves. Another quick-start commercial option is fatwood, made of the heart or core of pine trees. It contains more resin so it lights quickly and is very wind-resistant. A small piece of fatwood can be shaved into wood curls and used for kindling.
Q: Is it okay to use compressed logs in the fireplace?
A: Be careful about using logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert. They are specifically made for open hearth fireplaces, because the wax can damage high efficiency appliances. If you use manufactured logs, use ones that are 100 percent sawdust, as they do tend to burn cleaner than regular firewood, which might make them more suitable for use in urban areas.
Q: What’s the difference between hard wood and soft wood?
A: A good rule of thumb is that hard wood comes from trees that have leaves and soft wood comes from trees with needles. Hard woods are denser than soft woods and have a lower moisture content. However, softwood makes better kindling because it ignites faster. Properly seasoned hard woods burn hotter than soft woods, so you have the option of burning hard woods in the winter when you need the extra heat and soft woods in the spring and fall when don’t need such a hot fire.
Q: How much seasoned firewood do I need to buy each year?
A: If you plan to heat your home exclusively with firewood in a high-efficiency system, you’ll probably need two cords or more per year. An inefficient system may use as much as eight cords a year. (It definitely makes a lot of sense economically to switch to a high-efficiency unit.) If you’re using the fireplace or wood stove just to take the chill off the air in the spring and fall evenings, you’ll need a lot less. There is so much variability in how people use firewood that there is no simple rule for how much to buy.
Q: Where can I buy firewood?
A: Fuelwood can be purchased all over Manitoba from gas stations to campground stores, or directly from timber harvesters and firewood businesses. It can also be purchased in many forms from bundles to truck loads. Manitoba Conservation does not regulate all aspects of this market therefore it is important that as the buyer you are as informed about your purchase of timber as possible. Ensure you receive a receipt, invoice or bill of lading upon purchase and keep with you when transporting the fuelwood.
Q: Do firewood vendors need to be licenced?
A: Private Land holders do not require a Timber Dealers Licence to sell fuelwood from their own property. It is in their best interest though to provide receipts and maintain records. Small commercial operations that have obtained proper authority to harvest from Crown Land of annual volumes of less than 300 cubic metres do not require a Timber Dealer Licence, but again, it is in their best interest to have a Timber Dealer Licence so that purchasers will know that it is coming from a reliable source. Operators that focus on the resale of fuelwood are required to have a Timber Dealers Licence.
Q: Can I cut my own firewood?
A: You can certainly harvest firewood on your own land, but you can also cut timber for firewood on Crown land in Manitoba. For that, you need a Person Use Timber Permit from Manitoba Conservation. Complete and retain your authorized Personal Use Timber Permit, as this document acts as your load slip while transporting fuelwood.
Q: What are wood pellets?
A: Wood pellets are a fuel made from wood material that has been hammered into a kind of dough that is then squeezed at high pressure through an extruder—like making pasta but much more complicated. The high pressure heats the wood, which turns the lignin (a natural polymer that gives the tree cells their “woodiness”) into a glue that holds the pellets together when they cool. The pellets come in different sizes for different kinds of pellet stoves. Pellets are usually sold in 40-lb bags. But, be aware that the Canadian pellet industry is largely unregulated, and some manufacturers may add other glues or resins to their product. There are significant differences in quality and moisture content, both of which will affect your burn efficiency. The US is developing a standard for pellets, and that may influence pellet production and labelling in Canada.
Creosote and chimney fires
Q: What is creosote?
A: Creosote is a tar-like substance produced by incomplete combustion of wood. Creosote will condense on the interior surfaces of stovepipe and chimney flues where it will trap carbon from smoke, which then dries and bakes inside the pipes. This flaky stuff is very flammable. That’s why it’s a good idea to build hot fires with good dry wood, which helps prevent creosote condensation and carbon emissions.
Q: What causes a chimney fire?
A: A chimney will catch on fire when the creosote and carbon deposits inside the chimney ignite. A hotter than normal fire can ignite the creosote, something as simple as burning bits of cardboard or branches from a Christmas tree, or even just using your stove or fireplace longer and hotter than you normally do. If your chimney catches fire, close off the air supply at the stove if you can, make sure your family is safe and call the fire department.
Q: Can I start a chimney fire to burn off the creosote before it builds up too much?
A: Some people do start chimney fires deliberately by building hot fires or by tossing in compounds designed to remove soot and creosote by controlled burns, but it is a risky way to keep a chimney clean. Any chimney fire could build into a house fire, and the high temperatures could damage or corrode the chimney. It’s one thing to clean out stovepipes with a chimney fire, and another to make sure your house is still standing after the chimney fire burns out. The safest and most effective way to clean your chimney is by using chimney brushes, or hiring a professional chimney sweep.
Q: How effective are chemical cleaners for getting rid of creosote?
A: Chemical cleaners won’t help much if you’ve already got a build-up of creosote. They’re really only effective at preventing a build-up in the first place. If your chimney is new or has just been cleaned, you can slow the creosote build-up with chemicals such as sodium chloride (ordinary table salt) or copper sulphate. Salt added to a hot fire will mix with water from the burn to make a weak acid that dissolves small amounts of creosote, but salt is also corrosive to metal pipes over the long term. Cleaners that contain copper sulphate will coat any soot in the chimney and act as a catalyst to allow the soot to burn away at lower than normal temperatures. Such chemical cleaners are commercially available. Note that the use of chemical cleaners could cause long-term damage to your wood-burning appliance.
Q: How often should I have my chimney cleaned?
A: Most authorities recommend getting your chimney cleaned once a year, but it depends on how often you use your stove or fireplace, and how you use them. If you’re using improperly seasoned or damp wood, and your stovepipes are cooler because the chimney is outside the house, you’ll need to get your chimney cleaned more often.
Q: Do I have to hire a professional to clean my chimney, or can I do it myself?
A: In Dickensian England, little boys earned their bread crusts by wedging themselves up cold chimneys to clean them out by hand. Little boys don’t like that kind of work anymore, but you can hire professional chimney sweeps to, literally, sweep the soot and creosote out of your chimney. Or you can do it yourself with a proper chimney brush, if you know what you’re doing. Considering the risk of falling off the roof, damaging the chimney lining or masonry, and making an awful sooty mess, people are well advised to call in the professionals. Besides, a good chimney sweep who is WETT certified can act as an inspector for your installation.
Q: What does WETT certification mean?
A: Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc. (WETT) is a non-profit, national training and education organization for those who offer installation and maintenance services of wood-burning systems to the public and conduct inspections of wood-burning systems. The program covers the code compliance of fuelwood appliances. People who are WETT certified have been properly trained to inspect and install wood-burning appliances and chimneys. In many cases, your insurance company may require that you have an installation or inspection completed by a WETT certified technician. Ask if your chimney sweep is WETT certified.
Q: I’m a dab hand with a welder. Can I construct my own wood stove?
A: Being a dab hand with a welder is a most useful skill, but what do you know about the physics and technology of wood stoves? There was a time when anyone with a welder and some handed-down knowledge could build their own stoves, but the technology was crude. One of the reasons that good, efficient wood stoves cost what they do is because it took a lot of trial and error and financial investment to develop a really good combustion system. Home-made stoves may mean you’ll have trouble getting insurance coverage, and they may be a fire hazard. Stoves that are EPA and CSA approved have been properly tested to burn safely when properly used, and are likely to be far more efficient than a home-built one.
Q. How does a pellet stove work?
A. A pellet stove for inside the house can look a lot like a regular wood stove, except that it has a hopper at the back that holds fuel pellets. The pellets are augered into the burner at the front of the stove to produce a small, hot fire. Because the fire is small and the fuel is metered into the combustion area, the fire can be started and stopped quickly. The steady feed of pellets eliminates the need to keep adding logs to a fire, and there’s no wood to chop or stack, and some people like that convenience. However, a pellet stove requires significantly more maintenance than a wood stove, and it won’t be much use in a power outage, as it requires electricity to operate. Pellet fuel in Manitoba is generally more expensive than firewood.
Q. What is the benefit of an outdoor wood furnace?
A. The biggest benefit of an outdoor furnace is that it keeps all problems associated with indoor wood burning (smoke, ashes, soot buildup) and indoor wood storage (bugs, mould, mice) outside your house. Taking the fire outside removes the dangers of chimney fires in the house, carbon monoxide poisoning or oxygen depletion. An outdoor furnace presents its own set of problems, since the heat still has to get into the home.
Recreational use of firewood
Q: Can I bring firewood with me to a provincial campground?
A: If firewood is not provided at the provincial park campground, local vendors do supply firewood. Buy it locally, burn it locally.
Q: Can I get firewood at a provincial campground?
A: Some campgrounds continue to provide firewood. Check with the campground if this service is offered or where firewood is available locally.
Q: Can I bring my leftover firewood home from my cottage, which is just across the border in Ontario?
A: No, you cannot transport firewood from one province to another. You may think your firewood is “clean”, but who wants to be responsible for inadvertently bringing invasive pests into Manitoba.
Q: What do I do with my leftover firewood?
A: When travelling into Manitoba, dispose of firewood at orange drop-off bins that are located near the Saskatchewan border on the Trans Canada Highway (at Kirkella) and Yellowhead Highway (at Russell) and near the Ontario border on the Trans Canada Highway (at Whiteshell Provincial Park). When leaving Manitoba, show our neighbouring provinces the courtesy of leaving Manitoba firewood in Manitoba.
Q: My neighbour’s patio fireplace is so smoky we have to close our windows. Is it even legal to have a fireplace outside?
A: Open air fires are allowed in many areas, but there are rules and regulations to follow, especially if you live in an urban area. Some fire pits, chimineas and other outdoor wood-burning appliances require permits, under some circumstances. A smoky fire is also an indication your neighbour is not familiar with how to build a good, clean fire that is nearly smokeless. They may be burning unseasoned wood, damp wood or garbage.