November 2021: Burning Dry Firewood Saves Money and Improves Air Quality

Date: November 12, 2021

There are those wood stove owners who succumb to the colder temperatures of fall by burning wood right away, and then there are those who wear it like a badge of honor if they can go late into the season before starting that first fire – perhaps believing they can hold winter at bay just a little longer. Regardless of which camp of wood stove owner you fall in, it is time to make sure you have enough dry firewood or wood pellets ready to go for this winter.

Evaluating the moisture content of cord firewood can be tricky. Wood can be purchased when it is “green,” “seasoned,” “dried,” or “kiln dried,” but these are relative terms and wood is only ready to be burned when its moisture content is 20% or less. Wet wood is a waste. Burning wet wood produces less heat because energy goes into boiling off residual water so that the wood can ignite. Not only that, but the process releases pollution into the air and creosote in your chimney, which can lead to a fire hazard. Burning dry wood produces more heat, saves you money and improves air quality.

When talking with firewood suppliers, always be sure to ask how they define the terms they are using to describe their products. Here are a couple of general guidelines to keep in mind when talking to a firewood supplier:

  • Green wood is fresh cut and should not be used for fuel until it has had time to dry properly. This is the least expensive to purchase and will require 6-12 months to dry properly depending on species and conditions.
  • Dry wood refers to air-dried wood that should be an immediately burnable product at the time of delivery. Dry wood should never be stored uncovered as it will reabsorb rain and snow.
  • Kiln dried wood has been dried through the introduction of heat in a deliberately controlled environment – a process that drastically shortens the drying time. As with dry wood, kiln dried firewood should be an immediately burnable product at time of delivery. This has the highest cost to purchase, but is of a very high quality that many people prefer. Because it takes energy to dry the wood, it is slightly less climate-friendly than air-dried wood!
  • Seasoned wood is the least well defined of any of the terms associated with firewood. “Seasoning” is synonymous with “drying” but the key to the wood’s actual moisture content is how long and under what conditions the wood has been “seasoned.” When purchasing “seasoned” wood, always be sure to ask your dealer how long the wood has been split, as opposed to just felled, and if it was stacked under cover to facilitate drying. You should assume that seasoned wood is not ready to burn without further drying.

If you are not planning to buy dry wood, the best strategy is to plan at least 6-12 months ahead and allow plenty of time for your wood to dry under cover and with ample airflow around it. Order wood during the winter or early spring for the following year, then stack and cover it to dry during the spring and summer for burning the following fall. This is the most reliable and economical way to ensure your supply of properly dried firewood.

If you are interested in burning less wood altogether, consider replacing your old wood-burning stove with a newer, cleaner burning model. New stoves burn less wood to produce the same amount of heat. Wood pellet stoves are also very efficient, typically needing just about 40 pounds of pellets per day during a winter day. Learn more on our Home Wood-Burning Appliances webpage.

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