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Burn wood properly and safely
Nov 25, 2005

 Many problems associated with burning wood in a fireplace, wood stove or wood furnace is caused by burning  “green” or wet wood.  

Also, installing a wood furnace or stove that is too big for the area you are heating can cause problems.

Green wood is wood that has not been fully seasoned or seasoned improperly.  Normally, wood that has dried over the summer would be properly seasoned when split and stored in an open area where the wind could get at it.  If wood is stored against a building, especially on the north side or under large shade trees it may not properly dry in one summer.

Large sticks of poplar, ash or oak should be split. However, smaller sticks under four inches in diameter will usually dry when stored properly.

Birch has to be split, even the smallest stick, for it to dry properly. Usually it’s difficult to split a small stick of birch, but the bark can be broken by using an axe at a 45-degree angle and cutting the bark two or three times. 

If birch is not split, it simply “sours” and will rot because the birch bark is waterproof and acts as a vapour barrier.   Canoes were made out of birch for that very reason.  

Don’t buy birch, even if it’s two years old, if it has not been split.

Burning green wood causes creosote to form in the chimney. When a lot of creosote is formed, it can actually run down the chimney and may leak out at an elbow or where the chimney is attached to the stove. A large wood-burning furnace can produce a couple of gallons of creosote per day.

Another problem associated with wood-burning stoves or furnaces is the fact that many homeowners buy too big an appliance and then have to damper the unit down as the room becomes too hot.

When a stove or furnace is dampened down too much, the flue gasses cool off before they exit the top of the chimney and deposit creosote on to the chimney.  Even properly seasoned wood can produce creosote if the fire does not burn hot enough.  

It is important to let the fire burn hot enough even if a window has to be opened, although this measure seems contradictive.

It is better to buy a smaller stove and burn it hotter than to buy one that is too big.

If you now have a stove or furnace and have had problems resembling those described in this article, make sure that you clean the chimney properly before burning the unit hotter.

Wood that is wet from rain or snow usually does not present many problems as the moisture is usually on the surface and it evaporates quickly when added to the fire. One should not use wet wood to start a fire for obvious reasons.

Dry pieces of construction scraps and “garbage wood” you may have around the home should not be used as the sole source of fuel for your wood-burning unit. This type of material should be used to start a fire only, as even when dampened down they still burn quick and hot. This is especially true in a factory-built fireplace.

Wood that is stored outside may contain a few insects or their eggs that were meant to hatch next spring. They may decide to hatch after the wood has been brought into the warmth of the house.  That is why it’s best to leave the wood outside and bring in a little at a time. If you experience problems with bugs or flies from wood stored inside, spray the wood with an insecticide that is approved for indoor use or is environmentally friendly and always following the instructions provided.

A fireplace burning on a cold winter’s night can add a cozy glow to any home as well as help to reduce your winter energy costs.

Burn the proper wood, burn it properly and burn it safely.