Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Open Mike

Make wise firewood choices this season

December 19, 2007

I hope everyone is doing well after our first major bout with Mother Nature this winter. During my time without electricity last week, I started thinking about the necessity of a good fireplace and a supply of high quality firewood to go with it. Luckily a lot of people in this area have the luxury of a fireplace or wood burning stove to use during power outages, or just to cut heating costs. I hope this article helps everyone with the knowledge and details of firewood use in those fireplaces and wood stoves.

There are several items to keep in mind when thinking about buying or cutting firewood, even if you're not going to use it until next year. The main point to remember is that we need to burn "seasoned" wood for maximum heat efficiency. Most people consider wood that is seasoned to have aged for six to nine months, which is the minimum amount of time wood should be seasoned. Depending on the species of tree, it's best to let wood dry even longer.

Try to store firewood inside a building, but if that isn't possible, covering it with a tarp will suffice. Try to keep the stack of wood 3 or 4 inches off the ground to keep the wood at its highest quality. You can use bricks, concrete blocks, old boards, or scrap metal to ensure that the wood stays off the ground. Also, make sure your wood stacks are at least 3 feet from exterior walls of your house because firewood can contain, or at least attract bothersome insects such as termites. An old stack of firewood next to a house will promote rotting of the house's siding and framework too, even if insects are not a problem.

Firewood is usually bought and sold in units known as "cords" and "ricks". A "cord" of wood is 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, 8 feet long and is about 128 cubic feet. A "rick" of wood is 4 feet tall and 8 feet long, and the width is just the length that the wood is cut to (which is normally around 16 inches). If the wood is cut 16 inches long, a rick contains about 1/3 of the wood a cord contains, so keep this in mind if you're buying firewood.

The tree species used for heating is also important. Going from best to worst on the heat-output scale are the following tree species: Osage orange, black locust, hickory, pecan, oak, honey locust, mulberry, sugar maple, green ash, black walnut, hackberry, sycamore, silver maple, cottonwood and willow. Evergreen trees in general are not recommended for use as a primary heating source because the pitch (sap) vaporizes as they burn. The pitch rises with the smoke, but sticks to the chimney walls as it cools on the way up, and leads to a buildup of potentially flammable material on the inside of your chimney. Small amounts of pine or cedar can be used periodically, possibly as an aid in starting your fire, but the main source of wood should be hardwood trees. If you do use evergreen trees as a wood source, be sure to have your chimney's interior checked and/or cleaned frequently to reduce pitch buildup.

If you have any questions about tree trimming or firewood, feel free to contact me at the Leavenworth County Extension Office on Hughes and Eisenhower roads in Leavenworth, or call (913) 250-2300. I can also be reached via email at "mepler@ksu.edu".

- Epler is the agriculture agent for Leavenworth County Extension Agent.

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