By Julie Curnow

Getting the Most out of Your Wood Fire: Part 1

Did you know there are simple things you can do to make your wood fire burn longer, cleaner, healthier, more environmentally friendly and cost you less to run? Here are some tips to show you how.

It’s All About the Wood

Tip 1. Choose the Right Firewood

Don’t use treated wood

Treated wood is used in home building to preserve the wood. Treated wood contains harmful toxins and chemicals. Don’t risk your health by putting treated, varnished or painted wood on your fire.

Hardwood burns longer than softwood.

  • Most fires on the market are designed for hardwood which means it is the most effective wood to use. Obviously if you have access to free softwood then you may want to use that in your fire. If you choose this type it is best to mix it with hardwood to ensure your fire burns effectively.
  • It is worth noting that although most fires are designed for hardwood, there are specialist fires designed to use softwood and wooden pallets. Softwood can also be good for establishing a fire because it burns hot and fast.
  • The most common hardwood used for fires in Western Australia is jarrah.
  • Pine is a common softwood which is not suited for fires except in very limited quantities.

Size does matter

  • When starting a fire you need small pieces of wood that burn quickly to help build up the heat. Once the fire is established you can use larger pieces of wood to increase the burn time and reduce how often you have to re-stock your fire.
  • It is also important that you don’t overfill the fire because it needs air (oxygen) to produce heat. If there is too much wood and not enough air the wood will smoke rather than burn. If this happens you will need to open the vent (if using a slow combustion wood heater) to increase the air intake. Don’t remove wood from a smouldering fire because this is a fire risk.

Tip 2. Store Your Wood Properly

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Wood must be dry

  • Damp wood will smoke more and produce less heat.
  • Wood that has had at least 12 months to dry is ideal because newly harvested wood is full of moisture.
  • Sometimes, when purchasing wood you buy it by weight. Make sure you buy dried wood with low moisture content so you don’t end up paying for excess weight in water.
  • To keep your wood dry you should store it in a shed or cover it to protect it from rain, dew and other sources of moisture.
  • Air flow helps to dry your wood, so ensure air freely circulates around your wood pile. If you can, raise it off the ground (for example on pallets), stacked in a criss cross fashion and don’t have your wood hard up against the walls of your shed.
  • If you have the space, buy your wood during summer so it can continue to dry out in the lead up to winter.
  • Some firewood suppliers provide specials if you buy your wood early. Furthermore, it can be harder to source wood during the busy winter months and you are more likely to end up with younger wood with a higher moisture content.
  • Store wood of different sizes in different piles so it is easy to access the wood size you want for building up and maintaining your fire.

Why these tips work

  • When wood is heated to a high enough temperature it breaks down into a complex mixture of gases. These gases burn in the presence of oxygen to give off heat. If there is not enough oxygen, or not enough heat, the gases will only partially burn and the smoke (unburnt gases) will go up the chimney into the air outside.

    Embers

  • Smoke is wasted heat that costs money. If the gases from the fire go up the chimney instead of being burnt, there is less heat available to heat your house.

  • The hot embers of a wood fire are the last stage of the burning process before the fire goes out. They are made up of carbon, commonly referred to as ‘charcoal’, and almost half the heat that comes from a wood heater comes from these hot embers. The embers burn very cleanly and make hardly any smoke.

So the trick to a good fire is reducing smoke and increasing heat. Stay tuned for part 2 which will show you how to burn your firewood efficiently.

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