A burning question for many homeowners with fireplaces is which types of wood are okay to burn and which are not. There is no simple answer to this question, as the options available to you are quite numerous. Nevertheless, we’re here to help you make a more informed decision when the time comes. There are two basic types of firewood available to homeowners: softwood and hardwood.
Softwood: Get your fire started quicker
Softwoods—pines, spruces and firs—start burning easily. Typically, these woods have less potential BTU [British Thermal Unit] energy than their hardwood counterparts. Softwoods also produce a much more significant amount of smoke. The one true advantage softwood has is that it lights very quickly because it’s less dense; this quality makes it an excellent choice for kindling for any fire; using it for anything beyond that is like sending your money straight up the chimney.
Hardwood: Keep your fire burning longer
Hardwoods—oaks, maples and cedars—on the other hand, don’t start burning quite as easily but burn for a long time, which makes them ideal for prolonged burns. Per square inch, when compared to softwoods, they have much more BTU potential than other types of wood and, therefore, burn hotter and more steadily for extended periods.
The ideal fire is a marriage of two woods
The easiest and best fire is built by using a mixture of both softwoods and hardwoods. A bed of ashes underneath the grate produces steady heat and aids in igniting new fuel as it‘s added. This will ensure that the fire will continue burning as long as small amounts of wood are added at regular intervals. As a matter of fact, more efficient wood burning results from burning small loads of wood with sufficient air than from burning large loads of wood with minimal air.
Seasoned wood makes for a better, more efficient fire
It’s also important to season your firewood, whether it’s hard or soft, as all of it contains moisture. Seasoning takes place when the moisture content in the wood reaches equilibrium with that of the surrounding air. A common method of seasoning wood is simply stacking it outdoors in a spot that allows for good air circulation and is dry, sunny and open for approximately six months out of the year. Seasoning in this manner will produce wood that is dry enough to support efficient combustion and has a higher heating value than unseasoned wood.
For the most part, it is far more important that your firewood is dry and seasoned; the particular type of wood you’re burning is a secondary concern. Having both soft and hardwood on hand is a good idea. You can use the softer woods for kindling and for fires during cooler months when only a small amount of heat output is desired and save the harder woods for the coldest months. Keeping these things in mind will make you a much happier homeowner and will make the cold months of the year much more enjoyable for you and your family.