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Wood Stove 101: Using Seasoned Firewood

Moisture Meter Seasoned Firewood Wood burning stove

There are two main factors you must consider when choosing the right wood for your wood stove: firewood type and firewood moisture content. In this post, we’ll talk about the importance of using seasoned firewood or wood with low moisture content. To learn about choosing the right type of firewood for your wood burning stove, check out our how-to guide post Wood Stove 101: The Best (and Worst) Firewood Types.

How big of a difference does using seasoned firewood make? It’s the difference between a smokey fire that won’t heat your home and a beautiful and clean fire. We define seasoned firewood as any hardwood having less than a 20% moisture content. Ensuring that you use wood with an ideal firewood moisture content will dramatically increase the performance of your wood burning stove.

Why use seasoned firewood?

  1. Increased efficiency: By decreasing the firewood moisture content, you increase the efficiency of your wood burning stove. Removing water from wood during the burning process takes energy, energy that could otherwise be used to warm your home. Using non-seasoned wood with a moisture of 40% can hurt your overall efficiency by up to 50%.
  1. Easier startup: Due to the additional energy needed to burn wet firewood, it also takes longer to get a fire started. One of biggest complaints we hear regarding wood stoves is the effort needed during start-up.
  1. Cleaner burning: Not only does wet wood make start-up a pain, but it increases smoke and soot output as the wood begins to heat up. This early stage of combustion, referred to as gasifying, typically emits harmful pollutants into your local community and home. The wetter the wood, the more harmful the pollutants created. Seasoning wood decreases these harmful pollutants.
  1. A clearer glass door: All that smoke doesn’t do your door any favors either. The byproducts of an inefficient burn with non-seasoned wood often cling to front door glass only to be removed by scrubbing. We all enjoy the look of fire, so let’s keep it visible.
  1. Decreased creosote buildup:  Creosote is a top concern for wood stove users because it has the potential to cause chimney fires. Some creosote formation is inevitable, and regular chimney inspections and cleanings are a must. But burning wet wood dramatically increases the rate of creosote formation, and in turn increases the chances of a chimney fire. Using seasoned wood with the correct firewood moisture content helps to keep your home safe.

How Do I Know if I’m Using Seasoned Wood?

Seasoned firewood wood burning stove

Seasoned firewood will fade and color and begin to show cracks.

We highly recommend all wood burning stove operators use a moisture meter with their firewood. There are low cost moisture meters available that quickly read your firewood moisture content. Just split a piece of wood and use the moisture meter to make sure the wood is under 20% moisture before burning.

If you do not have a moisture meter handy, there are a few other ways to gauge if your firewood is seasoned. Seasoned firewood typically develops a faded color, usually gray or yellow, after losing moisture. Additionally, seasoned firewood is noticeably lighter than wet firewood because of the lack of water weight within. These methods of checking for seasoned wood are not fool proof, but they are good checks in a pinch.

How do I get seasoned firewood?

Whether you get your wood seasoned or green, proper storage is essential when seasoning wood to maintaining the right moisture content.

  1. Stack the wood off the ground. Use concrete pad or some other elevated structure to keep the wood away from the wet ground.
  2. Cover the top of the wood stack ONLY. Covering the wood stack will keep rain from penetrating. This can be accomplished by a secured tarp or a fixed means of protection such as a wood or metal overhang. Do not cover the sides of the stack as air movement through the wood is critical for drying out the wood.
  3. Separate different stacks. When stacking several cords of wood, it is important to not stack all cords against one another. Separation between the stacks will allow for increased air movement and faster drying.

If you’re seasoning wood, a good rule of thumb is to stage your wood and store it for at least one season before use. If you are lucky enough to have a trusted supplier that delivers truly seasoned wood year after year, give them a nice holiday present –  they are hard to find!

If you are reading this, you are part of a special community – we all love wood heat! Get the most out of the time and effort you put into your stove. Get clean and efficient heat, while making start-up a breeze.  Use dry seasoned wood checked by a moisture meter – it is the single best thing you can do to enjoy this lifestyle.

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 Ryan Fisher is the COO of MF Fire

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