Fireplace Safety and Firewood Q&A

Maybe the fireplace has already been used this season or you are about to. The First thing typically to do if you have not had your fireplace chimney cleaned in the last couple of years is to get this done. This is should go to the top of your projects list before you start up the fireplace or wood burner. Creosote buildup can catch fire and chimney fires are common during the winter.

Question: The fireplace or woodburner is not burning well even though I have seasoned wood, whats wrong? Your fireplace, just like any gas fired appliance in your home requires a source of outside air to burn properly. In homes that are well insulated, a supply of fresh air will need to be supplied by leaving a window open slightly. If combustion air is not supplied, the fireplace or wood burner will pull air back into the home through the dryer vent for example, pulling in lint along the way, creating a potential fire hazard the next time the dryer is used.

Question: I am not getting the same kind of heat from the wood I did last year, what is going on? The expression "you get out of it what you put into it 'is true when it comes to how much heat you get out of a log and how much smoke it produces. Typically the harder the wood, the more heat energy (BTUs) you get. Some of the better woods to burn are oak, hard maple, ash and any of the nut trees. Softer wood that you should try to avoid include soft maple, linden, willow and cottonwood. Hard woods light and burn better and create less smoke. You will like experience less sparking from hardwoods too. The better woods are also heavier for the same size and percent moisture as softer woods, which will give you another clue as you shop for firewood.

Question: I saved my ash tree wood when it was taken down. When can I burn it? Be sure it is completely seasoned before you burn it. Firewood should generally be seasoned or dried down for at least nine months or more before being burnt and should have a moisture content of approximately twenty percent. Burning woods with a high moisture value means more smoke, less heat and adding creosote to the chimney flue.

Question: Firewood prices are all over the place, how do I know I am getting a good price? Prices for firewood vary quite a bit, depending on the species mix. Remember the better heat values come from the better woods, so lower cost firewood may actually be more expensive to use to get the equivalent BTU's. Another bit of confusion is how the wood is sold. While the definition of a full cord of wood is quite clear, the depth of a face cord will vary as does the price. A face cord that has pieces sixteen inches long can also be sold in smaller quantities called a rick, stove cord or fireplace cord. So shop and compare and ask a lot of questions. There may be a delivery charge and or a stacking fee that will influence your buying decision.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.