Heating with wood provides an off-the-grid solution to staying warm during even the worst ice storms. A wood fire can provide zone heating, backup heat, or a main source of heat. Wood, sustainably harvested and properly dried, is a green way to heat. Wood also can be an athletic choice for heating when you count the splitting, stacking, and carrying. If you cut your own trees, add a fourth workout.
Getting started with firewood can seem bewildering if you've grown up with central heating. But with a few pointers, you should be on your way to warming your toes by the fire.
What to burn
Some 60% of wood is water when the tree first comes down, but different tree species have different moisture contents. Generally, wood from deciduous trees, or hardwoods, is what you want. Some of the best species of hard firewood are black locust, hickory, and oak, but these woods are also in demand for furniture-making. Maple, beech, and birch are sold more frequently as firewood, but species availability varies by region. Avoid burning softwood, or wood from coniferous trees like fir, pine, and cedar, which have high-moisture contents and give off more chimney-fouling creosote.
No matter what wood you choose, make sure it's dry before you burn it.
Wood sells green (wet) or dry. You can buy it cut to fit your woodstove or, if you're feeling ambitious, tree-length to cut for yourself. Cut-to-fit wood comes split or round. Firewood is sold by the cord or fraction of a cord. A cord is a stack that is 4 feet × 4 feet × 8 feet. Because wood is irregular, it's impossible to stack it perfectly, and that's why a cord is an approximate measurement.
Firewood prices vary year to year, depending on demand, oil prices, and type of wood. Generally, dry firewood can provide some cost savings over other heating options.
Wood can often be delivered by the dealer. For an extra fee, the dealer can stack it for you. Make sure to obtain a signed receipt of what's being delivered, in case you discover a problem in volume or dryness later.
Look for dry wood to be gray with bark that peels at the ends. When you bang two pieces of dry wood together, you should hear a hollow sound. Small cracks at the ends of the wood aren't always a good indicator of dryness.
Split unsplit wood as soon as possible. An automatic splitter is an option if you don't want to use an ax. Rent a splitter for a couple of days and save yourself backbreaking labor.
Ideally, you want to buy firewood nine months to a year in advance. In warm months, stack the wood in a dry and sunny spot. Keep the wood off the ground by putting it on top of pallets or poles. Leave enough space between stacks for air to flow. You can cover the top of the wood with a plastic tarp, but don't cover the sides. Before the snow falls, collect a good supply of kindling. Make sure your chimney is clean before the fire season, too.
To start your fire, crinkle up newspapers and place them and kindling around four sticks of dry wood. Light a match and put your feet up. You've earned the heat.
Buy or cut firewood nine months in advance of when you will burn it. Stack in a dry and sunny spot. You can cover the top -- but not the sides -- of the stack.
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