As the nighttime temperatures start to drop below freezing we tend to think more and more about staying warm inside our homes. For most people that means turning on the furnace, baseboards, or other forms of indoor heating. I, however, start to look forward to the opportunity to light a fire in my woodstove. Most months in Wenatchee and the surrounding areas are either too warm, too dry, or some combination of both to need or safely burn a fire. But from November through March, I feel perfectly comfortable burning a fire if I think it’s cold enough outside.
|A nice, warm campfire. A similarly sized fire inside a|
fireplace would burn well and provide plenty of heat.
Notice the space between the logs allowing for
good air flow.
Now, what do you need to know about burning in your home? Let’s take a look at some of the ins and outs of efficiently and properly using fire.
The most important part of burning is having fuel. And not just any fuel will do. For the most part you should only be burning wood in a fireplace or woodstove. And that wood should come from a tree. Wood that has been painted, treated, or otherwise chemically altered is not fit for burning. Not only could some of those compounds cause the fire to flame up, but there’s a good chance they’re filled with harmful chemicals. Burning such wood is harmful to both your own health and that of the environment. It’s best to stick to wood that’s been cut for the strict intention of burning.What’s the best type of wood to burn? Dry wood. If your wood is still green or left out in the rain it’s not going to burn well at all. Good firewood should dry at least a year in order to ensure that most of the water has evaporated out. The lower the water content the better your wood will burn. Split your firewood first to ensure it has the largest surface area available to dry with, and don’t stack it too tight. Make sure it stays covered as well.
A fireplace is usually open to the room. Doors or screens
are usually put in front to block things falling in or out.
What’s the best way to get firewood? That’s up to you. Buying firewood can be quite expensive. A cord of firewood cut, dried, and delivered to your home could easily cost a few hundred dollars. (A cord of wood is a pile measuring 4’x4’x8’. Depending on how much you burn this could last a few weeks or a few months.) Cutting your own is an option, and the basic permit isn’t very expensive, but the amount of work might outweigh the low cost of the permit. To cut your own firewood requires chainsaws, axes, and splitting mauls. Not to mention the ability to haul the cut firewood out of the mountains and back to your home.
A woodstove is enclosed. The door seals, and air enters
through vents. Wood stoves can often heat better
because of the larger surface area open to the room.
Another important facet of wood burning is the environmental factor. Burning wood does decrease the amount of electricity you might need for heating your home, but in our area the electricity comes from dams, so you’re replacing a non-air polluting power source with an air polluting heat source. This air pollution includes a lot of fine particulate matter that may be harmful to anyone that breathes large amounts of it. Wood burning can contribute to poor air quality during certain winter conditions. Winter often creates conditions where the air tends to settle in valley areas. The smoke from fireplaces doesn't have a chance or the ability to escape the valleys. We’re left with unhealthy air to breathe. Pay attention to any burn bans that might be in effect. If burning is banned it’s not done to spite you. It’s done because the air quality is poor and doesn't need any more added pollutants.
So, if you’re like me and planning on burning in your home, do it the right way. Make sure your wood is properly prepared. Don’t burn unsafe materials. Watch your fire and make sure it’s burning efficiently. And don’t forget everyone else in your area. Fires are great for heat and entertainment, but keep in mind that other people and the environment might be affected in ways you don't notice.
Stay tuned for next week's article.
Stay tuned for next week's article.