The Ultimate Guide to Firewood & What You Can & Can’t Burn in Your Fireplace

Hello, wood burners! Welcome to your ultimate guide on firewood and what you can + can’t burn in your fireplace. We’re going to cover everything from wood types and the moisture content of properly seasoned wood to creosote logs, wood storage, and safe burn practices.

Let’s get started!

What Kind of Wood Should You Burn in Your Fireplace?

A lot of people have questions about what type of wood they should burn in their fireplaces. Are hardwoods the ONLY woods to use, or can you also burn softwoods in your fireplace? How do you know when to burn one over the other?

Don’t worry – we’ll get to all these questions and more, but first let’s start with the ideal moisture content of firewood. When choosing wood to burn in your fireplace, the most important thing is that your firewood is well-seasoned and dry.

All firewood contains water, but the water must be gone before the wood will burn. This is why firewood should have a moisture content of between 15 and 25%.

Wet or green wood that’s been freshly chopped is going to have a higher moisture content (around 40-50%), which means it won’t produce good, hot fires. Burning green wood leads to cooler flue gases, greater smoke production, and more creosote, none of which we want.

So, how can you tell if your firewood is properly seasoned?

Here are a few tips:

    1. Do a visual inspection. Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with visible cracks and splits. Green wood tends to look much fresher on the ends.
    2. Weigh your options. Well-seasoned firewood is relatively light. Green wood is very heavy.
    3. Have a listen. Well-seasoned firewood typically makes a clear ‘clunk’ sound when you beat two pieces together. Green wood, on the other hand, tends to make a dull ‘thud’ sound when struck.

Of course, you can still be fooled, especially if you’re new to the wood-burning scene. So, the best way to tell if wood is properly seasoned and ready for use is to buy a moisture meter, which you can purchase online or at a big box store.

Once you have the moisture meter, split the wood down the middle and check the moisture content at the split. If the reading is above 25%, the wood will need to be seasoned before it can be used in your fireplace. If it’s between 15-25%, you’ve got good firewood that’s ready for use!

Note: If the ‘seasoned wood’ you bought turned out to be green and you elected to try to burn it anyway, be sure to have your chimney checked more often than usual. Creosote will most likely build up faster than it would if you were burning seasoned wood.

How Firewood Is Sold

If you’re buying firewood for the first time or you’re new to wood burning, you may not know what to look for or how much you need. We’re here to help. Here are the basics of buying firewood…

Firewood is generally sold by volume, with the most common measure being the cord. Other terms often used are face cord, rick, or truckload.

  • A standard cord of firewood is 128 cubic feet of wood, generally measured as a pile 8-feet long by 4-feet tall by 4-feet deep.
  • A face cord is also 8-feet long by 4-feet tall, but it is only as deep as the wood is cut. So, a face cord of 16” wood is only 1/3 of a cord. A face cord of 24” wood yields ½ a cord.
  • A rick is simply a pile of wood.
  • A truckload of firewood can vary tremendously for obvious reasons. (Who’s truck are we talkin’ about?)

It’s important to get all the details from the wood seller before agreeing on a price, because there’s plenty of room for misunderstanding.

Here’s a pro tip: Have your wood storage area set up in standard 4 x 8-foot increments, pay the wood seller the few extra dollars typically charged to stack the wood, and warn your seller up front that you will cheerfully pay only when the wood actually measures up to an agreed upon amount.

And remember, although firewood is usually sold by volume, heat production is dependent on weight. Pound for pound, all wood has approximately the same BTU content, but a cord of seasoned hardwood weighs about twice as much as the same volume of softwood. Consequently, the hardwood contains almost twice as much potential heat. So, if the wood you are buying is not all hardwood, consider offering a little less money when you purchase.

Hardwoods VS. Softwoods: What You Need to Know

There’s a rumor floating around out there that you shouldn’t burn softwoods in your fireplace, but that’s not true. It’s absolutely OK to burn softwood in your fireplace – but you should know what the difference is between softwood and hardwood, and when one is better than another.

But first, what are some common softwoods and hardwoods?

  • Softwoods: Pine, cedar, redwood, spruce, douglas fir
  • Hardwoods: Walnut, maple, mahogany, oak, teak, beech, hickory, cherry, ash

In general, softwoods are lighter, which means they’ll be easier to light and get going, but you’ll get less heat per volume than you would with hardwood. Hardwoods are heavier and denser, so it’ll be harder to get the fire going – but once you do, you’ll have a hot, roaring fire.

While you can use both types of wood in your fireplace, use softwoods and hardwoods wisely. For example, if you have access to a variety of species, save the denser fuel (like your hardwoods) for the colder months of the year when you need a lot of heat, and use lighter fuel (like your softwoods) as kindling or to build a fire in the spring and fall when you don’t need as much heat.

And remember, if you’re burning less dense woods like elm, while they make fine firewood – you’ll have to make a few extra trips to the woodpile.

Can Wood Be Too Old to Burn?

Firewood that’s properly stored should be good for use for about 3-4 years. After that, you’ll want to invest in some new wood, as old wood will not burn well for you.

How Do You Season Firewood?

If you chop wood yourself or buy firewood before it’s been properly seasoned, you’ll have to do the seasoning yourself. What’s the secret to seasoning firewood?

  • Cut your firewood to shorter lengths.
  • Cut firewood 6 months before you plan to use it. (This gives water time to evaporate.)
  • Split the wood to expose more surface area to the sun and wind.
  • Properly store your firewood while it seasons (6 months to a year).

A good way to make sure you always have dry, seasoned firewood is to buy or chop your firewood in the spring and store it properly until you’re ready to use it that fall or winter.  With proper storage, even the greenest of firewood can be good to go within 6-12 months. And that wood can last 3-4 years.

Another trick is to mark and weigh your firewood when you stack it. Periodically, re-weigh your firewood. Once it’s lost about 2/3 of its weight, you can be relatively confident it’s seasoned and ready for use.

How Should Firewood Be Stored?

Even well-seasoned firewood can be ruined if it’s not stored correctly. Firewood that’s exposed to constant rain or covered in snow will absorb large amounts of water, making it unfit to burn and causing it to rot before it can used.

So, how do you prevent your firewood from reabsorbing water and rotting? And what’s the best way to store firewood if you’re seasoning

  • Store wood off the ground, if possible.
  • Protect wood from excess moisture and weather by covering it with a tarp or other protective covering.

The ideal wood storage situation is a woodshed with a roof and open or loose sides. This will protect the wood against rain and snow, while also allowing for plenty of air circulation to promote drying.

The next best thing?

Keep your wood in a pile in a sunny location. Cover the wood on rainy or snowy days and remove the covering during fair weather to allow air movement and avoid trapping ground moisture.

And remember, your woodpile is termite heaven, so don’t store and season wood close to your home. Instead, only keep about a week’s supply worth of wood near your house for convenience.

What Not to Burn in Your Fireplace

Seasoned firewood is really the only thing you should burn in your fireplace. But let’s talk about what definitely DOES NOT belong in your fireplace:

  • Never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. The fuel load of any kind of evergreen makes it akin to burning oil or gasoline in your fireplace. It’s a recipe for disaster.
  • Never burn wrapping paper, cardboard, pizza boxes, or other trash in your fireplace. These materials create too much heat, and it’s very easy to have a chimney fire that way. Plus, wrapping paper and cardboard – especially if it’s colored – will have multiple chemicals in it, which will be released into the air as they’re burned with the paper. And lastly, these materials could float up through your chimney and land on your roof or in the yard, causing a fire outside.
  • Never burn paper in your fireplace. While you can use a bit of tightly rolled newspaper to warm your flue or as kindling to get your fire going, for the most part, paper and newspaper should be avoided. Not only are the chemicals on paper toxic, but paper is light and can be carried up through the chimney, just like wrapping paper.
  • Never burn construction scraps of treated or painted wood in your fireplace, especially treated wood from decks or landscaping ties – this includes 2x4s, plywood, and particle board. The chemicals used can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other very toxic compounds into your home. Note: Even if you find 2x4s that aren’t treated, avoid using them as firewood – they burn incredibly hot, which can be dangerous and damaging.
  • Never burn plastic or Styrofoam in your fireplace. Plastic and Styrofoam are loaded with toxic chemicals, which can be released during a fire. These materials will release black smoke as well, which can stain your home.
  • Never use accelerants like gasoline, kerosene, or products with petroleum in them. These products create an uncontrollable burn, which is dangerous and damaging to the chimney and fireplace.

What Kind of Wood Should NOT Be Burned in Your Fireplace?

We also need to touch on one other important fact: Not every type of wood makes good firewood. What kind of wood SHOULD NOT be burned in the fireplace?

  • Don’t burn driftwood in your fireplace. Driftwood is loaded with salt, and the chlorine in salt mixes with wood compounds during burning to release a toxic chemical, one that’s been linked to cancer.
  • Don’t burn treated, painted, or sealed wood in your fireplace. Treated/painted/sealed wood will release chemicals during burning, many of which are cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Don’t burn green/wet wood in your fireplace. As we talked about earlier, green wood contains a lot of moisture, which will lead to cooler fires, cooler flues, more smoke, and more creosote. Burning this type of wood is a waste, but if you do it anyway, be sure to have your chimney inspected and cleaned more than just once a year.

Your Other Questions, Answered

Are Creosote Logs Safe to Use in Your Fireplace?

Creosote logs or chimney sweeping logs won’t do any harm to your fireplace, but they won’t remove creosote from your system either. While creosote may flake off or become easier to brush off when you burn these logs, you’ll still need to schedule a sweeping to get the creosote out of the chimney and fireplace. Learn more about chimney sweeping logs right here.

Is It OK to Burn Artificial Logs in Your Fireplace?

Many people have questions about burning artificial logs. They’re convenient, and when you want a quick fire without the muss and fuss of natural firewood, they’re fine to use. But there are some things to remember when burning artificial logs:

  1. Only burn one artificial log at a time.
  2. Only use artificial logs in an open fireplace.
  3. Be careful about poking and moving them around once they’re burning, as they can break up and the fire can get a bit out of control.
  4. Carefully read the directions on the package before using the log.

Are Duraflame Logs Bad for Your Chimney?

Duraflame logs are not bad for your chimney – in fact, they’re CSIA Accepted Products. They’re fine to use in your fireplace, as long as you’re using the right type of log (the type made for indoor fireplace use) and following the manufacturer’s instructions.

You can find out more about the different types of Duraflame logs and when/how/where they should be used on the Duraflame website.

We also hear a lot of questions like:

  • Do Duraflame logs smoke?
  • Are Duraflame logs bad for your health?
  • Are Duraflame logs toxic to dogs?
  • Can you use Duraflame logs in a fire pit?
  • Can you put out a Duraflame log and reuse it?

They do a great job of answering these questions and more on their FAQs page – check it out here.

Note: Duraflame logs should NOT be used in woodstoves.

Now, Go Enjoy Your Fireplace!

Now you know what firewood to use in your fireplace, what doesn’t belong in your fireplace, and how to properly season and store your wood. If you’ve already scheduled your annual inspection and been given the go-ahead, it’s time to enjoy the warmth and comfort your fireplace can provide.

Enjoy! And as always, if you have any other questions about firewood or what you can or can’t burn in your fireplace, please reach out to us at 317-837-5362 or office@csia.org. We’re happy to help.

 

On our Homeowner Resources page, you can find the Clothes Dryer Safety Tips to help you avoid potential unwanted home fires. Check it out!

 

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