Got firewood? Know how to use it? This article is the first in a 3-part series on how to Burn it Smart, brought to you by the Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable. The second article in this series will discuss new woodstove technology and the final article will outline proper fire-burning techniques.
Did you know that residential wood burning is a major contributor to poor air quality in Quesnel? Most of us blame industry and automobiles for “bad air”. The fact is wood smoke from residential burning is another contributor to particulate matter in the air we breathe.
Particulate matter (also known as pollution, PM10, or PM2.5) are tiny particles 200 times smaller than raindrops. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. This is why it is important to season (dry) and burn firewood in the most efficient way that minimizes the health risks.
The three necessary ingredients for efficient and environmentally friendly wood heating are: 1) well-seasoned firewood, 2) a certified woodstove that is properly installed, and 3) good fire-burning techniques. This article will explain the importance of burning properly seasoned firewood to minimize particulate matter in the air.
Remember, wood dries slowly. Use the following tips to ensure your firewood is well seasoned:
- Firewood should be cut in the spring and piled outside so that the wind and sun can season it properly.
- If you cut and stack your firewood in the woodshed before it is seasoned, you risk it rotting and not drying properly.
- Well seasoned firewood should have a moisture content between 15 and 20%. It takes 6 months or more for newly processed wood to dry to that level. The efficiency losses resulting from burning wet wood can be as much as 30%. Also, too dry of fire wood does not give maximum efficiency.
- Drying firewood properly prevents a lot of wasted wood and results in wood that burns much more cleanly, producing less smoke and producing more heat.
- Seasoning of firewood begins when the seal is broken by splitting the wood. When purchasing seasoned firewood, ask “When was it split?” The answer should be at least 6 months ago.
How can you tell if wood is properly seasoned? For a high tech option, you can purchase a hand-held moisture reader. The Nature Education Resource Centre here in Quesnel has one of these units if you would like to see how it works. For more low tech options, you can use the indicators listed below. But use as many indicators as possible to judge the dryness of firewood.
Indicators to test the dryness of wood include:
Two dry pieces banged together will sound hollow. If wet, the sound will be solid and dull.
- Wood tends to darken from white or cream colour to grey or yellow as it dries.
- Look for checks or cracks in the end grain. Be sure to combine this indicator with others as some wet wood has checks and some dry wood has no checks.
- Dry wood weights much less than wet wood.
- Split a piece of wood. If the exposed surface feels wet, the wood is too wet to burn.
- When in doubt, light it up. Firewood that isn’t dry is slow to ignite.
If we all commit to using properly seasoned firewood to minimize particulate matter in the air we breathe, wood heat can be a clean and renewable energy that’s more accessible than solar or wind. For more information or to inquire about the woodstove exchange program, please contact or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-992-5833.