Saturday, February 4, 2012


I love winter. It allows me to sit in front of a fireplace and smell the sweet aroma of burning fruitwood. Wood that doesn't burn well may smoke, smell offensive or smolder and destroy an otherwise pleasurable experience.

Most bad fires are caused by wood that's not seasoned (aged) properly. Without proper aging, even the best hardwoods will not burn.

For wood to be seasoned, it must be cut into logs, split and stacked for six months to a year in an area that has good air circulation. If you still intend to buy firewood this season, find a reliable dealer by trying a small amount of wood before purchasing a large quantity.

Firewood can be well seasoned and still not burn because it’s wet. Wood that is moist from snow or rain will typically dry overnight and easily light the next day. Bring enough indoors for several fires to a heated part of the house a day or two before you plan to use it. Don't keep it inside longer than a week to ten days or the life cycles of insects that might live inside the dead wood will begin, and the creatures may emerge. These insects aren't a danger to structures or people, but are a nuisance.

The standard measure of firewood is a cord -- a stack of logs four feet high by four feet wide by eight feet long (128 cubic'). Cost varies widely. Stack away from your house in a place where there is good air circulation. The optimum location, once seasoned, is in a shed. If located outside, keep elevated off ground. Don't cover with tarps that hold moisture. Expose wood to the elements and promote air circulation to help it resist rot, stay dry and be ready to use.

Varieties of wood available in the mid-Atlantic region are mostly oak mixed with maple, hickory, ash, locust, walnut and cherry.

Conifers or softwoods, such as pines, firs, spruces and hemlocks, if available, burn quickly, pop and throw more sparks than hardwoods.

Some wood is not as desirable. Tulip poplar or catalpa smolder and are so light that they break apart when split. Mulberry is difficult to season and burn, and somewhat malodorous when it does.

Specialty woods can be found and are worth searching for. Apple, cherry, peach and plum add fragrance to the air and make excellent firewood. Harder to find, you might have to call an orchard to locate cut trees and remove the wood yourself.

To ensure you don’t import diseases or insects, purchase only locally harvested firewood. Moving wood from one part of the country to another can create pest infestations from other areas. See the following web site

Don't burn lumber found at construction sites or leftover from home renovations. Plywood has glue in it and creates unhealthy smoke that coats the inside of chimneys with goo. Painted lumber also can have dangerous chemicals and shouldn’t be burned. Pressure treated lumber is infused with various chemicals. As a rule, do not burn anything in your hearth but unpainted, untreated, and unglued wood.

Artificial logs are available for no maintenance fires made with environmentally friendly materials. Try Java-Log Firelogs®, Ultraflame™ Firelogs and other products from, Enviro-Log, and Duraflame, Other products are available online.

• Burn a few sheets of newspaper in hearth before starting a fire to ensure damper in chimney is open.
• Close damper when fireplace isn’t in use.
• Have an annual inspection, inside and out.
• Always use a screen.
• Always dismantle fires before leaving the house or going to bed. Cover coals with ashes, stand smoldering logs against the back wall of the fireplace, and leave damper fully open. There are always hot coals in the ashes after a fire.
© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
© 2012 Sandra Leavitt Lerner - Emerald Ash Borer traps are seen in many trees along roadways. This insect can be transported in firewood.