Tag Archives: Firewood

18 Need-to-Know Facts about storing firewood

firewood

There’s a lot to know in how to purchase, season and store firewood, not only to keep you safe but to save money. This is the third post in a series of three that will explain how to purchase, season and store your firewood.

1) Cut firewood to the proper size logs you will be using. A typical length of wood for most fireplaces and stoves is 16″.

2) Cut firewood at least 3″ shorter than the firebox width. It is better to have wood too short than too long.

3) Always split the wood before storing it to reduce the time to season the wood.

4) Split firewood in various sizes for a variety of uses–as kindling to start a fire or larger in diameter for maintaining the fire. Cut wood in a range between 3″ to 6″ in diameter.

5) If possible, split the wood into triangles. The wood stacks better and won’t roll off like they would with round logs.

6) Stack firewood away from the house to reduce the chance of insects, mice, rats and other critters from your home. Ideally, the wood stack should be at least thirty feet away from your home.

7) Do not expose firewood to the rain or snow or it will “re-hydrate” and will no longer be seasoned. When there’s the threat of rain or snow, cover the wood with a large tarp or plastic sheets or old steel roofing.

8) Firewood will not season if it is continuously and completely covered all the time. Adequate airflow is critical to allow wood to season. Wind and sun will help to season the wood. Put the wood stack in an area with the most amount of exposure to the wind and sun.

9) When the moisture leaves the wood, the firewood may shrink as much as 6%-8%.

10) Do not stack firewood taller than four feet high or the stack will become unstable. In addition, stacking wood exactly four feet high makes it easier to determine how many cords you have.

11) Stack firewood with the bark side up. In case of rain, the bark will help to drain off the water from the wood.

12) Arrange firewood so it is neatly stacked, parallel and aligned.

13) Do not stack firewood directly on the ground because the wood will absorb moisture from the ground covering, will create rot and/or mold, and will decrease airflow. Instead, raise the wood off the ground, as on pallets or railroad ties.

14) Place your wood stacks on relatively level ground if possible to reduce the chances of collapse. Support each side of the wood stack to avoid accidents from falling wood. If you don’t use a wood rack, you can support one side of the stack with a tree on one side and posts on the other side.

Tinder kindling firewood
Photo credit: outsidedads.com

15) Wood can be divided into three sizes for wood burning: Tinder (about the size of a pencil lead), kindling (no thicker than your thumb), and fuel, about as thick as your wrist. Stack your woodpile into all three of these sizes.

16) Tinder consists of the dead twigs from the lower branches of trees and shrubs. It should snap off easily when bent and should be no shorter than your outstretched hand and enough to fill a circle made with your hands for one night’s fire.

17) Look for kindling from branches that are dead or down. Kindling should be about as long as from your elbow to your fingertips fire and you should have enough for a generous armload for one-night’s fire.

18) Fuel should be about as long as your arm and you should have a stack about as high as your knee for one night’s fire.


BONUS TIP: A little-known but efficient way to burn a fire is called an “Upside Down Burn.” This may take a little more time to set up but will give you a longer burning and cleaner burning fire. This method places larger pieces at the bottom and smaller wood pieces on top, placing just kindling at the very top. Each layer of wood is smaller than the layer below it. An added benefit is that this fire burning method will also create less creosote buildup in your chimney. [Video credit to the Chimney Safety Institute of America]

14 Need-to-Know Facts about Seasoning Firewood

Firewood that has been seasonedHere are some interesting facts that will help you season your firewood for your fireplace or stove.  Seasoning your wood is critical not only for safer fires, but to reduce creosote buildup in your fireplace or stove flue pipe and to reduce pollutants into the atmosphere.  This is the second post in a series of three that will explain how to purchase, season and store your firewood.

1) Only burn seasoned firewood. Wood should be aged at least six to twelve months and sometimes longer, depending on the density of the wood, species of wood, and climate.  Soft woods only need six months whereas hard woods can sometimes take up to two years.

2) The moisture content of wood should be between 15%-20%, never to exceed 25%. Homeowners can purchase moisture meters from most hardware stores.

3) Freshly-cut wood has a moisture content of about 50%.

4) Seasoned wood will create a clear hollow sound when knocking two pieces of wood together. Non-seasoned wood will create more of a dull thud sound.

5) Moisture in the wood is held in by the bark. Removing the bark before seasoning the wood will reduce the time to age it.

6) Aged wood will be lighter in weight than regular wood because there’s less moisture.

7) Seasoned firewood will change colors. Instead of a lighter color in new wood, the seasoned firewood will appear gray or dark brown.

8) You will notice the center of the wood will crack as it ages.

9) When burning wood that hasn’t been aged long enough, not as much heat will be produced because of the loss of heat due to evaporation of moisture.

10) Don’t trust a wood supplier to be honest with how long the firewood has been aged. Firewood that hasn’t been split and/or has been just thrown into a large woodpile will not be seasoned properly.

11) Experienced wood burners will purchase firewood at least six months ahead of the season to guarantee that the wood has been aged long enough. It’s always best to buy your wood in the off-season when it will be cheaper and firewood is more plentiful.

12) Burning firewood that isn’t aged long enough will be harder to start, will create a smokier fire, will produce less heat and will create a faster build-up of creosote in the chimney flue.

13) Anytime you burn wood, creosote is created.  We chimney sweeps divide creosote buildup into three categories–Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.  Stage 1 and Stage 2 creosotes are easily removable with a normal chimney sweeping whereas Stage 3 is far more difficult to remove. Stage 3 creosote is also known as “Glazed Creosote” because of its shiny appearance and it is highly flammable and more likely to cause a chimney fire.  Glazed creosote is much more expensive to get rid of from your chimney flue lining due to the difficulty of removal.  The chances of creating Stage 3 creosote is much higher when burning unseasoned wood.

14) Seasoned wood produces less smoke and increases efficiency; therefore less pollutants into the atmosphere.


Have your chimney inspected on an annual basis and sweep if needed before using your fireplace. The best way to find a qualified chimney sweep is to go through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

10 Need-to-Know Facts About Purchasing Firewood

Split firewoodHere are some interesting facts that will help you purchase firewood for your fireplace or stove. If you do it right, you will save money while keeping your family safe and toasty.  This is the first post in a series of three that will explain how to properly purchase, season, and store firewood.

1)  When you buy firewood at a gas station, supermarket, hardware store or big box store, you have no idea how long it’s been aged, if at all. These convenient bundles may be fine for a campfire or beach bonfire but not for your fireplace or stove. Plan ahead.

2)  Buying firewood by the bundle is the most expensive way to purchase fuel for your fireplace.

3)  The price for firewood varies dramatically from wood supplier to wood supplier and from region to region so shop around.

4) Common woods vary from region to region. As an example, here in Southern California, the most common woods are avocado, eucalyptus, pine and oak. Eucalyptus and avocado have a lot of oil in the wood so they create more creosote buildup in your fireplace or stove flue pipe. Pine, because it’s a soft wood, is great to start a fire. Once a fire is established, throw on the oak, a hard, dense wood that will give you a long-lasting, hot, clean-burning fire. Avocado, eucalyptus and pine will be less costly than oak but oak will give you a longer lasting, cleaner fire.

5) Pinyon pine, another type of wood found in the Southwest United States, as well as wood from fruit trees are also good quality firewood found here in Southern California.

6) Some chimney professionals will tell you to never burn eucalyptus or avocado woods. Both avocado and eucalyptus, because of the high oil content, can produce more creosote buildup than other woods, even if the woods are aged long enough. This creosote buildup makes it even more critical to have your chimney inspected on an annual basis as specified by the National Fire Protection Guidelines.

7) Use a reputable wood supplier. Not only will they be more honest about how long the wood has been aged but also more honest about the quantity of the firewood you purchased. If you suspect that you have been shorted by your local wood supplier, contact your weights and measures office before you use the wood.

8) Never buy or burn firewood that has been treated with stain or paint. This includes construction scraps which is treated wood. The chemicals can be toxic when burned.

9) To save money, buy unseasoned wood. An added benefit is that you’ll know for sure how long the firewood has been aged since you’ll be aging the wood yourself.

10) Buy firewood from local sources! Bringing wood from one region to another increases chances of transporting insects from their origin. Invasive species of insects can devastate the local forests where there are no natural predators or defenses to stop them. In some states, regulations and quarantines have been instituted to restrict the movement of firewood.


Be sure to have your chimney inspected before using your fireplace. It is critical to have your chimney inspected on an annual basis as specified by the National Fire Protection Guidelines which say, “Chimneys should be inspected on an annual basis and swept if necessary.” To find a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, make sure to go through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

50 Tips For Enjoying Your Fireplace

There’s nothing better than a warm fireplace on a cold evening. If you haven’t got one yet you are most definitely missing out!  Here are 50 quick and simple tips that will help you safely enjoy that cozy fire even more.

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIPS

1. For an open fireplace, the glass doors must be in a fully open position. Once the fire has died out, close the glass doors before you go to bed at night.

2. Always make sure that the fire screen in front of the fireplace is closed when the fireplace is in use. Even when the fireplace is not in use, keep the fire screen closed to discourage pets from going into the firebox. (Cats have been known to use the fireplace as a litter box.)

3. Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, especially when children and pets are present.

Carbon monoxide detector4. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially close to the fireplace as well as near bedrooms and in the kitchen. Make sure to test them at least twice a year.

5. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, homes should have a minimum of two 5 lb ABC fire extinguishers. There should be one fire extinguisher per floor of a house and the fire extinguishers should be visible and accessible. A fire extinguisher should be close at hand when the fireplace is in use.

6. Never use kerosene, lighter fluid or gasoline to start your fire.

7. Keep combustible materials (like knickknacks, newspapers, firewood and Christmas trees) away from the firebox opening. This includes items hung from the mantel, like Christmas stockings and garland.

8. Inspect your landscaping near the chimney. Trees and vines should be kept a minimum of 10 feet away from the top of the chimney.

FIREWOOD AND ARTIFICIAL FIRE LOGS (SUCH AS DURAFLAME)

9. Be sure your firewood is aged and kept dry from the rain or snow.

Pile of firewood10. Hardwoods should be aged a minimum of one year while softwoods should be aged a minimum of six months. The moisture in firewood should be between 15%-20%. Aged and dried wood will provide you with more efficient fires, fewer smoking problems, and less flammable creosote build-up in the chimney.

11. Do not burn construction scraps or wood that have been chemically treated, such as plywood, paneling or particleboard. In addition, don’t burn paper with colored ink, cardboard, Christmas wrapping paper, plastics, fabrics made from synthetic materials, or junk mail. The chemicals can be toxic when burned.

12. To easily start a fire, use fat wood or fire starters if you don’t have a log lighter.

13. Buy your wood in the spring or summer to allow it to dry out before the burning season.

14. A cord of wood is 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet. A rick of wood is one third the volume of a cord of wood. A truck-load of wood would be dependent on the size of the truck bed and is not an easy way to determine how much wood you’re actually buying. A truck-load could mean anything from a short-bed pick-up truck holding 1/5 cord to a pulpwood truck that can hold four cords.

15. A cord of wood is a legal unit of measure. If you buy a cord of wood, have the wood cut to burning length, split and stacked and not just dumped in your driveway. Although you may pay more, you will know for certain that you weren’t cheated and that the wood will be aged in time for the burning season.

16. Stack wood on top of a pallet instead of directly on the ground to avoid pests and mold in your firewood.

Duraflame log and firestarter17. If you’re burning artificial fire logs (like Duraflame), do not place wood on top or below the artificial fire log.

18. Never poke or break open an artificial fire log while it’s burning.

19. Only burn one artificial fire log at a time.

20. Do not cook food over artificial fire logs because of the chemicals in this product.

21. Never burn artificial fire logs in free-standing stoves or stove inserts.

SMOKING PROBLEMS

22. During cold weather, always prime your flue before lighting your fire to prevent smoking problems, especially if you commonly have a smoking problem at the beginning of a fire.

23. Airtight homes are more prone to smoking problems. This is especially true in newer homes or homes that have been retrofitted with new windows. If this is the case, crack open a window close to the fireplace.

24. Avoid having the heater/furnace or air conditioning on at the same time as the fireplace especially if the air intake register for the furnace is close to or in the same room as the fireplace. During a fire, you may lose the draw on the fireplace because the furnace can pull smoke and gases down the chimney and back into the living area.

25. Always use a fire grate in the fireplace. This allows airflow under the fire to help in the combustion process and will give you a better fire.

26. Place your firewood on the fire grate close to the back wall to prevent smoking problems.

DAMPER

27. Always check to make sure your damper is fully open before you light the fire.

28. Do you always forget which way your damper is open? Put a note on the underside of your mantel that says which way the damper is open. If you don’t remember which way the damper opens, you’ll remember where to look to find out!

29. Close your damper when you’re not using your fireplace so you won’t lose heat during the winter and air conditioning during the summer. An open damper is like having an open window.

30. If your existing damper is broken or non-existent, and if you burn wood, consider installing a top sealing damper to prevent heat loss from the home.

31. If you have gas logs in an open fireplace, the damper must be locked in a fully open position.

CLEANING OUT THE FIREPLACE

32. You don’t have to clean out the fireplace after every use. In fact, a healthy bed of ashes below the grate can actually be beneficial. Once the ashes reach the bottom of the grate, the ashes should be spread out or removed since it’s important to have good airflow from under the grate.

33. Wait at least 72 hours after your last fire before cleaning out the ashes in your firebox.

34. When you’re cleaning out the ash and debris from the fireplace, spread slightly damp, used coffee grounds over the ashes before you clean it out. It’ll prevent the ash from becoming airborne and make it easier to clean out.

35. Wear a mask while cleaning out the firebox to avoid breathing fly-away soot and ash.

36. Don’t use your home vacuum cleaner to vacuum the ashes from your fireplace. You stand the chance of ruining your vacuum cleaner. Also, household vacuum cleaners and shop vacs don’t have good enough filters so you run the risk of “dusting” your living room.  Instead, use a small whisk broom and dustpan to remove the ashes from the fireplace.

37. Place ashes in a metal can with a lid. Make sure the can is not placed on a wood deck or patio afterward.

38. If you have artificial gas logs, it’s common to have a light sooting on the logs where the flames lick up over the logs. This is not a safety issue and is totally natural. Simply use a soft bristle brush (like a paintbrush) to dust off the soot. Never wash or scrub the artificial gas logs or you will remove the paint from the logs.

39. Don’t throw away used ashes. They have many beneficial uses, such as: providing necessary nutrients to gardens, composting, insect deterrents (snails and slugs), de-skunking a pet, shining your silver, controlling pond algae, melting ice, and even making soap.

CHIMNEY CAPS

black chimney cap40. A chimney cap serves three main purposes: 1) will prevent embers from landing on your roof, your neighbor’s roof, your solar panels, your car and your landscaping ; 2) will prevent birds and other critters from entering your home through the chimney; and 3) can prevent water intrusion into your chimney which will deteriorate your chimney prematurely and will also extend the life of your damper.

41. If your home is located off of a canyon or hillside, your chimney may be more prone to smoking problems. A specially-designed windcap can minimize smoking problems in this case.

OTHER IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO KNOW

42. Pre-fab fireplaces, typically in condos and homes built after the 1980s, are intended more for ambiance and romance than for heat. In this type of fireplace, you should not have a fire any larger than what you would get if you are burning one artificial fire log, like Duraflame. Having large or overly hot fires in pre-fab fireplaces may cause damage to the fragile refractory panels inside the firebox and those panels are expensive to replace.

43. Consider a heat shield or fireback to protect the backwall of your fireplace. It will extend the life of the firebox.

44. Odor problems, or as I like to say “stinky chimneys,” can be caused by smoking problems, animals in the chimney, a dirty chimney, the type of fuel you’re burning (especially wood that is wet or not aged), the pressurization in your home, or rainwater in your chimney.

45. Reconsider mounting a TV above your fireplace. Heat and dust particulates aren’t good for electronics and doing this may void the TV manufacturer’s warranty.

46. If you’re buying a new home, have your chimney inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep during the inspection period. If you have just bought a home, have the chimney inspected before using it for the first time. You never know what or how much the previous owner burned.

47. If you have a masonry chimney and you live in a region with a lot of rain or snow, consider weather sealing the masonry to prevent spalling and deterioration of the bricks and to avoid expensive masonry repairs later on.

48. Only use a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to inspect or sweep your chimney. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the website for the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

49. According to the National Fire Protection Association, chimneys should be inspected on an annual basis and swept if necessary.

50. To save money, do this important maintenance in the spring and summer when the rates are the lowest and when the schedule is less impacted.


Fireplaces are the best part of winter. Following these simple hints will give you the most enjoyment from a cozy fire.

Smoke coming from fireplace

Ten Fireplace Smoking Problems and Solutions

Smoke coming from fireplaceAs a professional chimney sweep, the most common phone call I get is about fireplace smoking problems.  Sometimes the smoke can fill the room; other times you may not even realize you have a smoking problem because the smoke is so subtle.  If it smells like a campfire in your living room the day after having had a fire in your fireplace, the likelihood is that you had a smoking problem that was so minor, you didn’t even realize it. Here are solutions to the top ten most common smoking problems.

Dirty Chimney

During usage of the fireplace, the smoke goes up the flue (the passageway or pipe). The smoke coats the flue with a by-product called creosote. With usage, the creosote buildup becomes thicker as the flue becomes smaller. This coating is not only dangerous because it’s highly flammable, but will create a smoking problem that will get progressively worse as the creosote builds up and the flue becomes narrower. The Chimney Institute of America (CSIA) states that if the build-up of creosote is any more than 1/8″ in the flue, the chimney must be swept.

SOLUTION: Have the chimney swept by a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org.

Obstructions inside the Chimney and/or Plugged-up Chimney Cap

Birds inside a chimneyThe chimney should be checked for any obstructions inside the flue pipe, such as bird nests, tree branches, leaves, beehives, or even the missing volleyball. (Yes, we really do find balls in chimneys!) Also, with usage, the chimney cap will get plugged up, especially if you burn wet wood or lots of paper.

SOLUTION: Have the chimney swept by a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org

Closed Damper

Before lighting a fire, always make sure that the damper is open. Don’t laugh–a closed damper happens more often than you think!  If you’re not sure if the damper is open or closed, shine a flashlight inside the fireplace, up the flue. If the damper isn’t fully open, do not even attempt to light the fire.

SOLUTION: Always check the damper each time before starting a fire. As chimneys get older, sometimes the damper will become difficult to operate or may even seize. If the damper does not FULLY open, have it looked at by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.

Fuel–Firewood or Prefabricated Logs (like Duraflame)

Firewood that has not been aged long enough will have a higher moisture content which will not only create a smokier fire but will create more creosote buildup Pile of firewoodinside the flue pipe. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, ideally, the moisture content of firewood should be between 15% and 25%. A good rule of thumb is to have firewood aged between six months and a year. Firewood should be split to dry out faster. Dried wood that is wet from rain and snow will re-hydrate so be sure to cover up the firewood pile during wet weather. In addition, improper usage of the prefabricated logs (such as Duraflame or Pine Mountain) can create a smoking problem.

SOLUTION: Make sure that firewood is aged at least six months and keep the wood dry during the winter.

Cold Weather

When it’s cold outside, there’s also cold air inside the flue pipe and that cold air is very heavy, dense air, especially if it’s raining outside. That cold air acts like a plug. If Priming the flueyou light a fire, the smoke can’t rise but instead will come into the room where you’re sitting. That cold air in the flue will eventually warm up on its own during a fire, but not before smoke comes into the living area.

SOLUTION: During cold weather, always “prime the flue” before starting your fire. To do this, place the wood on the fire grate as far back as possible in the firebox. Open the damper. Roll up a piece of newspaper like a “wand.” Light the end of the wand and hold it up near the open damper for a minute or two to warm up the air in the flue. When the flue is primed, you should see the smoke from the wand being drawn up the flue. At that point in time, light the fire.

Central Heating System or Furnace

If you have the furnace turned on at the same time as having a fire in the fireplace, you may experience a smoking problem. This is especially true when the furnace’s Cold air register for furnaceair intake (cold air register) is close to or in the same room as the fireplace. Other systems like kitchen hoods, bathroom exhaust fans and dryer vents can also contribute to this problem. This is especially true if you have made your house more airtight with new vinyl windows and doors as well as tight weatherstripping.

SOLUTION: Do not have the furnace on at the same time as the fireplace.

New Windows and Doors and Tight Weatherstripping

New windows and doors make for a “tight” house which may create a Fireplace next to windowsmoking problem when the fireplace is in use. A fire requires oxygen and in a tight house, there’s a limited amount of make-up air.

SOLUTION: Cracking open a window or sliding door close to the fireplace will give the fire the oxygen that it needs for the combustion process, and will also help the smoke vent up the chimney.

Canyons and Hillsides

A house located near Wind cap on top of a chimneya canyon or a hillside will be more prone to gusting winds that can create downdrafts. Also, homes located close to the ocean will be prone to the prevailing winds.

SOLUTION: A specially-designed wind cap can sometimes minimize the downdrafts. Note that these wind caps cannot be installed on prefabricated fireplace systems.

Chimney Improperly Built

A masonry chimney is built to a certain formula, having to do with the height and width of the firebox opening, the height of the chimney and the diameter of the flue pipe (among other factors). If any of these factors are not correct, the fireplace may be prone to smoking problems. Also double-sided, L-shape or see-through fireplaces are always more prone to smoking problems.

In addition, if a chimney does not have an adequate height above the roof line, the system may be prone to smoking problems. We call these systems “short stacks.” The chimney should be at least three feet above the roof line, and at3-2-10 Rule least two feet taller than anything horizontally within ten feet. This includes houses located too close together, two-story additions (when the chimney is on the first story), or trees. In building terms, this is called the 3-2-10 rule.

SOLUTION: For a one-sided fireplace opening, sometimes installing a smoke guard will resolve the problem. A smoke guard is a piece of metal that extends the full smoke guard on fireplacewidth at the top of the firebox opening and lowers the firebox opening by 4″, 6″ or 8″, to encourage the smoke from the fireplace to go up the flue instead of in the room.  For multi-sided fireplaces, closing one side of the glass doors may reduce smoking. (Note: Never close both sets of glass doors on a two-sided fireplace at the same time during a fire.)  As a last resort, sometimes the only solution is to have a chimney mason raise the height of the chimney.

Wind

Two systems in one chimney structure can create smoking problems if the two flues are at the same height at the top of the chimney stack, side by side. As one fireplace is used, the smoke goes up and as it exits the top, the wind can drive the smoke down the other flue pipe, like a siphon effect.

SOLUTION: Slightly raise one of the two flues so that they aren’t at the same height at the top of the chimney.

What NOT to do if you have a smoking problem…

Time and time again, homeowners install artificial gas logs to solve a fireplace smoking problem.  This is NOT a viable solution and can actually create a more dangerous situation!

If your fireplace has a smoking problem when you’re burning wood, it’s going to have a smoking problem when you’re burning artificial gas logs, only the gases are colorless and odorless so you won’t be aware there’s a smoking problem.  It’s better to figure out why the fireplace is smoking before installing gas logs.

In Summary…

This is not a complete list of causes for smoking problems but certainly the most common. Using the process of elimination, trying different solutions one at a time, will narrow down the cause so you can enjoy your fireplace to the fullest. Future blog posts will go into further detail on each of these smoking problems.  Keep in mind, the best place to start is to have a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep out to evaluate your system, sweep if necessary and give you advice on how to resolve any smoking problem that you may be having.