Log on to fire safety with expert's tips

News-DemocratOctober 20, 2013 

Luke Reid knows not all firewood is created equal.

But it's hard for the average person to tell how to pick the best-burning and safest wood.

His business, Big Oak Tree Service in west Belleville, not only cuts and trims trees. Luke splits, seasons and delivers wood.

To get the most for your money, the 39-year-old, who has been in business a dozen years, said to consider four rules when buying: The type of wood, when it was cut, its moisture content and the amount you're getting for your money.

1. Choose hardwood. "Oak and walnut, trees with nuts, are the hardest and the best," Luke said. "Sometimes we mix a little cherry in there if we have it because it smells good." Avoid soft woods such as yellow poplar, red spruce and white pine.

Why is hardwood best? It burns longer and, therefore, it puts out more heat. Plus, it will mean fewer trips to the woodpile in January.

"You're looking for wood you'll get a lot of Btu's* out of," said Luke. He's talking about how much energy or heat you'll get out of the wood you burn.

Buying the wrong wood can result in not only less heat in the fireplace, but damage and even danger. Softer wood has resin in it, a sticky substance that, when burned, adheres to the lining of the fireplace and can cause chimney fires.

2. Buy wood that had been split and seasoned for at least six months. Signs that the wood has been sitting at least six months include loose bark or bark falling off the wood, darkened wood that has a weathered look and dry and cracked ends.

3. Buy wood that has less than 20 percent moisture in it. Recently cut green wood can be up to 45 percent water, says the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The longer wood sits, the drier it becomes. Luke uses a moisture reader to gauge when wood is ready to sell.

Dry wood will feel light, weighing less than green wood because a lot of the water has evaporated.

4. Get your money's worth. If wood is advertised as being sold as a half-cord, it should measure 4-by-4-by-8 feet and fit in the back of a pickup. It also should be cut into 16- to 18-inch lengths to fit standard fireplaces.

Big Oak Tree Service sells a half-cord of seasoned hardwood for $100, delivered and stacked.

Which brings us to how to store your wood correctly.

"Keep it away from the house and covered," said Luke, explaining that any wood pile can have bugs in it that you don't want creeping into your home. A tarp loosely covering the top will prevent wet wood, which can mean a sputtering, hissing wet fire. Piles of wet wood may rot before they can be used.

Contact Luke Reid at Big Oak Tree Service at 618-444-9623.

* Btu stands for British thermal unit: the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

TIPS FOR BETTER BURNING

Be careful not to overload the fireplace. Add one manufactured firelog at a time or no more than a couple of pieces of firewood.

A fireplace is not designed to function as an incinerator and should never be used to burn cardboard, glossy paper, garbage, painted wood, pressure-treated wood or diseased wood.

Build it right. Place seasoned firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.

Burn hot fires. Regularly remove ashes.

Close the damper when not in use to prevent heat loss.

Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36 inches away from the hearth.

Use a metal fire screen or glass doors in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in carpet or flooring.

Never leave a fire unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.

Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.

Sources: U.S. EPA, The Chimney Safety Institute of America

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