Choosing the Best Firewood for Your Wood-Burning Fireplace
You’ve got the fireplace, you’ve got the know-how—so what sort of fuel do you use? While all dry wood can burn, some types of firewood are safer and more efficient for heating your home in winter than others. Along with the type of wood you choose, firewood size and storage also matter.
For suggestions on where to buy firewood, ask for local recommendations from friends, family, and your local fireplace experts. Buying local firewood is just one of the ways you can reduce your environmental footprint and burn fires responsibly when using a wood-burning fireplace.
For advice on choosing the best firewood for your fireplace or wood stove, read on.
The Importance of Buying Good Firewood
Quality firewood must be dry so it burns cleanly, efficiently, and safely. Wet firewood, especially if it’s not the right tree species, or if it’s too large for your fireplace, will be a hassle to burn. Cured and dried firewood decreases the amount of creosote that builds up in your chimney and fireplace.
Wet firewood, meanwhile, is far more polluting, and leaves creosote everywhere, blackening the fireplace and any glass doors, and even causing potential blockages in your chimney if it isn’t cleaned out.
Creosote buildup is a major fire safety hazard since it puts homes at risk of chimney fires. You’ll have to clean your fireplace regularly to avoid this hazard, especially if you don’t use the right wood in your fireplace.
To ensure you buy quality firewood that is safe and efficient to burn, look for firewood that is:
- Seasoned (dry)
- Split small enough for your fireplace or wood stove
- Consistent in length
- Sourced from a reliable, recommended supplier
- From an efficient-burning tree species
What Are The Best Tree Species For Firewood?
Tree species are classified as either hardwood or softwood. Hardwood tree species are broad-leafed, deciduous trees, while softwood species are coniferous trees with needle-like leaves.
Hardwoods and softwoods differ in density and moisture content, which affects how well firewood burns. Dense hardwood species, such as maple and oak, have a higher energy content, burn hotter and slower, and release more heat, so they produce long-lasting fires and coal beds.
Softwoods are less dense than hardwoods, so they burn faster with fires that don’t last long. While softwoods are suitable for firewood in spring and fall, hardwoods are the best for burning in the winter months.
Here are a few common hardwood and softwood tree species:
- Rock Elm
- Sugar Maple
- Yellow Birch
- Red Elm
- Red Maple
- Douglas Fir
- White Birch
- Red Alder
We’ve also broken down common species of tree based on heat value. Higher heat values mean a tree’s wood is ideal for use as firewood.
High Heat Value*
- American beech
- Red oak
- Shagbark hickory
- Sugar maple
- White ash
- White oak
- Yellow birch
*1 cord is equal to 200-250 gallons of fuel
Medium Heat Value*
- American elm
- Black cherry
- Douglas fir
- Red maple
- Silver maple
- White birch
*1 cord is equal to 150-200 gallons of fuel oil
Low Heat Value*
- Lodgepole pine
- Red alder
- Sitka spruce
- Western red cedar
- White pine
*1 cord is equal to 100-150 gallons of fuel
Note that pine is a very resinous softwood, so if you can, avoid burning pine in your fireplace.
What’s the Best Size for Firewood?
Firewood should be small enough to fit in your fireplace and be easy to handle.
Opt for shorter pieces of firewood that you can easily stoke in your fireplace or wood stove. If the pieces are too long, you’ll have trouble moving them around.
The ideal length for firewood is at least 3 inches shorter than the size of your firebox for ease of handling and stoking. Good quality firewood will also be consistent in length—lengths shouldn’t vary by more than 2 inches.
In general, the best length for firewood is 14 to 18 inches.
Don’t Ignore Diameter
Ideally, your firewood supply will be split into different widths or diameters for effective fire building. Thicker pieces will burn longer while smaller pieces will ignite faster. Smaller pieces are also better for burning in mild temperatures. A combination of large and small pieces will keep a fire burning for longer in the cold winter season.
Firewood should be split in a variety of sizes, from 3 inches to 6 inches in diameter or across the largest cross-section.
Drying and Seasoning Firewood
Firewood needs to be dried (seasoned) for optimal burning. To season firewood, you need to stack it in a way that promotes drying and prevents mould growth.
Since softwood—e.g. pine, spruce, aspen, and poplar—is less dense, it can be ready for burning in the fall if cut, split, and stacked well in early spring. But large pieces and dense hardwoods like oak and maple will need a full year to dry and be ready for burning.
Here are some signs that your firewood is dry enough to burn:
- Checks or cracks in the end grain
- Colour darkens to grey or yellow
- A hollow or clinking sound when banging two pieces together
- Lighter in weight
- When split, the newly exposed surface feels dry, not damp
- The wood ignites and burns easily
Firewood Storage Tips
To stack and store firewood properly so it dries well, follow these tips:
- Do not stack firewood directly on the ground—instead, stack it off the ground on pallets, poles, or lumber rails
- Avoid over-crowding the firewood, and don’t stack it too close together
- Do not stack firewood in a closed, unvented storage area
- Stack the firewood in separate rows in an open location with plenty of air ventilation and exposure to the sun
- Cover the top of the wood pile to shelter it from rain, but do not cover the sides
Winter Firewood Storage
Once your firewood has dried over the summer, it’s time to move it to winter storage in the fall. The winter storage area should be completely dry and sheltered from rain and snow. And for your convenience, this storage area should be close to your home but not inside your home.
While it’s okay to store a small amount of firewood in your home so it warms up before burning, storing your entire firewood supply inside your home carries the risk of mold growth. Mold will reduce the quality of your wood and your indoor air.
Whether you use your fireplace as a primary or supplemental heating source in your home, it’s important to use the right firewood for a safe, clean, and efficient burn. With the right seasoned-firewood supply, you can enjoy hot, roaring fires in your wood-burning fireplace or wood stove all winter long.