Tips on gathering, drying and storing firewood

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips for getting the most of your firewood this heating season.

Whenever the subject of firewood comes up in conversation, it’s not unusual for people to have differences of opinion as to what wood burns best for heating purposes. Whatever your own personal favorite may be, here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension that will help you get the best results from your firewood gathering and burning efforts this heating season.

Plan ahead for gathering your firewood supply
As with most ventures, it pays to plan ahead if you plan on heating your home with wood fuel. Decisions must be made as to where to get your firewood, whether any permits are needed, whether the wood needs to be cut to size or split and whether it needs to be seasoned. Generally speaking, many people get started too late in the year when it comes to getting their firewood supply in for the winter.

Obtaining your firewood supply for the season
If you do not own your own woodlot, it is possible in some areas of Michigan to obtain a firewood cutting permit to cut fuelwood off of state-owned lands. For current information on firewood cutting permits contact your local Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) field office or visit the MDNR “Firewood/Fuelwood” webpage.

Be sure your firewood is well-seasoned
Almost all wood needs to be dry to burn properly and maximize heat values. Green, unseasoned wood does not provide the same energy value as properly seasoned wood because some of the wood’s useful energy is wasted in evaporating moisture during the burning process. In addition, burning large amounts of green wood can be hazardous because it can contribute to the build-up of creosote if chimney stack temperatures are not hot enough and allows creosote to condense. Ideally, homeowners should cut and stack green wood in the spring prior to the next heating season to be sure firewood will burn well.

Stack your firewood carefully to increase the seasoning process
If you are trying to season green wood, bear in mind that the stacking method you use to store your wood will affect how fast the wood dries out. Criss-crossed, open-spaced stacks of firewood will no doubt, season quicker than green firewood that is dead-piled close together. The size of the individual pieces will also influence how fast wood will dry.

Store your firewood to protect it from the weather
Wood, by nature is “hygroscopic” – which means it can absorb and retain moisture as easily as it can dry out through seasoning. Therefore, for best protection from the elements, stacks of firewood should be stored slightly off the ground and the top of the stacks should be covered with plastic or other weatherproof material.

Strive to keep a variety of wood species and sizes in supply
While everyone has heard stories about “go-for” wood and Yule logs, each may have their place when it comes to burning wood. A wood stove or fireplace full of gigantic Yule logs won’t burn very efficiently without a good bed of coals. Thus, the kindling value of such woods as pine, birch or other less-dense woods cannot be denied. Small pieces of your favorite dense hardwood are also helpful in developing a good bed of coals more rapidly.

Whether you burn firewood as a primary source of heat or for the pleasure of it, following the above tips will help you enjoy the experience and avoid some of the pitfalls associated with heating with wood. More information is available on-line from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension about safe and efficient wood burning . Cornell University also has an excellent website on “Heating with Wood as an Alternative Fuel."

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