Archive | March 31, 2014

Thoughts on Firewood at the End of March

Winter WoodpileOur stores of firewood are dwindling.  We burn about six cords of hardwood every winter to heat our home.  The wood is usually cut two years earlier to allow for good drying.  The temperatures have been colder than usual this winter, and maybe we didn’t put up as much firewood as usual.

We have gone through all the supply stacked for this winter and are into the wood for next winter. There is still a good month of heating ahead.  Next winter’s wood is not fully dry.  The logs hiss as the excess moisture is steamed from the wood.  The fire created from incompletely seasoned wood is not as hot and does not burn as well.  Still, better than being cold.

Depending almost entirely on wood for heat helps develop a keen interest in various tree species and the combustion qualities of the wood. We normally use predominantly white ash, which burns hot even when it is green and freshly cut.  For this reason white ash is the caviar of firewood.  It will hiss, but the fire will get hot.

Unfortunately, next year’s firewood is composed largely of maple and cherry.  Over a year ago we cut a huge old sugar maple at the edge of the hay field that was dying.  There were several small pin cherry trees nearby.  Pin cherries grow like weeds around here.  We cut any near the fields so they don’t spread into the hay and grazing land.  The wood is a pretty reddish color and it burns well when dry.  But, neither maple nor cherry combust well green and it takes a full two summers to season such wood.  Luckily, there is some paper birch mixed in.  Paper birch dries quickly and burns hot and fast.  We’ve been adding a little birch in the stove with the wet wood to raise the temperature of the fire.

Here in Maine, with out abundance of trees, half of households supplement with firewood and 14% use wood as the primary heating fuel.  Due to the high cost of heating oil, more homes are switching to wood heat.  Our house has a supplemental electric heating system that is too expensive to use except on the coldest nights or when we leave the house for long periods in winter.  Our wood stove is a high efficiency, low emission model with a catalytic combuster.  The combuster superheats and burns noxious gases mixed with particulates in the smoke before they can go up the chimney.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is developing new rules requiring that all residential wood burners sold in the US meet certain air quality standards.  This will be good for the environment and those of us who breathe air outdoors, but would add as much as 25% to the cost of wood burning heaters and heating systems.

Since a new wood stove already costs over $1000, adding to the expense will only encourage more homeowners to buy older, polluting secondhand stoves.  As part of the rule change, the government should set up a fund to provide grants and low interest loans to people purchasing new wood burners.  That would be an intelligent use of taxpayer funds, so it’s unlikely to occur.

Here is a link to a story about the proposed changes to rules regarding wood heaters: