There’s nothing like a crackling fire to take the chill out of cold winter days and nights. The sights, sounds and smells all contribute to that wonderful feeling of warmth, well-being and contentment. This is, indeed, the ideal to which most suburbanites aspire as they picture themselves basking in the fireglow.
Yet, rather than lounging in an easy chair, many would-be baskers find themselves poking, fanning and throwing the unread newspaper, one painful page at a time, into the would-be fire. Before you blame your old scout master, turn the fireplace into a built-in bookcase or, worse still, sentence your family to a lifetime of artificial supermarket logs, listen up. Chances are, it’s not you, or the flue, but rather the wood that is not performing.
What Burns Best – The best burning wood is seasoned hardwood, led by ash and followed by oak and hardwood maples. Seasoned means the tree has been cut and allowed to dry for a least one year, although it need not be split. The only exception to the seasoning rule is ash, which can usually be used the same season. Avoid pines and cedar which burn hot and can cause a build-up inside the fireplace. While birchwood, with its attractive white bark, is the prettiest wood, it is not among the best burning and could cause the frustration described above. The best smelling is oak; the worst, ailanthus, nicknamed the “tree of heaven.”
Where to Get Good Wood – The best place to get wood is from your own property. When your arborist comes to prune or take down a tree, ask him to cut it into 24-inch logs for firewood. If you have a small fireplace, you may need 16-inch lengths. Splitting wood is a great stress reliever. The easiest wood to split is ash and the most difficult is elm. The best method is to use a maul and wedge. For safety’s sake, work on a chopping block. A slice from a big tree works well. If you must purchase firewood, be prepared to pay a premium and protect yourself against getting inferior wood. What you’re paying for is labor and delivery. Stacking a cord, which measures four feet high, four feet deep and eight feet long, is tedious and time-consuming. Be sure you’re getting a full cord and not a face cord which is half a cord, measuring four feet by two feet by eight feet. And by all means, ask about the type of wood (insist on all hardwood) and how long it has seasoned.
Where to Store Wood – Keep split firewood in a dry place that gets proper ventilation and preferably, some sun. While it is not a good idea to have a wood pile too close to the house, it’s safe and very convenient to keep an immediate supply in an iron ring on the patio, porch or even beside the fireplace. If the wood is well-seasoned, you can cover the pile with plastic but be aware that a plastic cover will slow down the seasoning process. It is also a good idea to keep the wood on two treated two-by-fours so that it is not in direct contact with soil.
Some Final Facts – To keep your fireplace performing at its peak, have your chimney swept once a year. This is also an important precaution against chimney fires. Professional chimney sweeps advertise in the telephone directory. When you make a fire, slightly open a window to help create a better draft.
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