Wood Burning Primer

For many of us, the approach of winter evokes the image of pleasant evenings in front of a crackling fire. Toss on a few logs and sit back and enjoy the glow. Wood burning stoves and fireplaces have also become a popular alternative home heating source. There are indications that the average user makes a fire more than once a week and burns from 1/2 to 1-1/2 cords of wood per heating season. In this wood burning primer we will show you ways to improve your fireplace or stove usage and better enjoy the benefits they bring.


The price of wood varies, based on availability and what people will pay. Check your local newspaper and ask friends who use wood. It is sold by the cord, face cord, or half cord. Hardness, or density usually determines the price. Cord...4'x4'x8'(of stacked wood) Face cord..4'x8'x lgth. of the pieces Half cord..4'x2'x8"'The bed of a standard sized pickup truck will hold 1/3 to 1/2 cord. Measure stacked wood before paying. Many sellers deliver and stack wood; you can cut costs by picking it up yourself.


The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management allow fuel cutting in designated areas - with proper permits! Permit fees range in price from $5 to $10 a cord and specify the species of wood that can be taken, and if the wood is dead and down, dead and standing, green and down, or green and standing, When cutting you own, take an adequate vehicle for the terrain to be covered and the load to be hauled. It is recommended that you bring the following equipment with you:
- Chain saw with spark arrestor, and tools to maintain it.
- Hatchet or ax
- wedge
- small sledge hammer
- shovel
- ear plugs, gloves, and protective eye wear.


Stack wood loosely in a covered area, facing south if possible with good exposure to the sun. Because of possible insect infestations we suggest you locate the pile away from the house. Burn properly season wood; not freshly cut green wood. Wood can season fairly quickly if it"s split. In the dry New Mexico climate Freshly cut and split wood should be allowed to dry for the 2-3 months before using. Unsplit wood with the bark left on could take 6 months to season.


The burning of wood contributes to air pollution -inside our homes and out. Breathing pollutants may aggravate respiratory infections, contribute to asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema and possible cancer. Proper woodburning techniques are essential in reducing the wintertime air pollution. In the winter, inversions trap cold air and pollutants beneath warm air. Over one half of the winter brown cloud is caused by woodburning. Some simple practices can help you do your part in keeping pollution from woodburning to a minimum. The best part is that it can also save you money and provide more warmth for you effort. Here are some guidelines:

1. Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
2. Never burn trash or garbage in a fireplace-many plastics and treated papers emit toxic fumes when burned.
3. Never burn coal in a woodburning fireplace-coal emits oxides of nitrogen and sulfur along with carbon monoxide and often burns too hot for the fireboxes in woodburning stoves or fireplaces.
4. In fireplaces, make small hot fires-combustion if more complete, pollution is less.
5. In woodburning stoves, use internal baffles, catalytic converters, and adequate air supply to promote the burning of vaporized unused fuels.
6. Do not use lighter fluids or other flammable liquids to start fires!
7. Start fires with strips of newspaper and kindling placed loosely on top. As the wood begins to burn, add larger pieces until the fire is stable. Too much fuel will cause the fire to smolder and smoke.
8. Remove ashes frequently, leaving a light "bed" to catch the coals. Too many ashes obstruct the flow of oxygen and smother the fire. (use a metal bucket to remove the hot ashes and store them until cooled).


Fireplaces are at best, an inefficient way to heat your home. A standard metal fire box fireplace with no energy saving retrofits may allow more heat to escape from your home than it puts in. If you don"t douse the fire and close the flue when you are done using the fireplace, heated air will simply float up the chimney. The addition of glass doors can reduce this by 10-15% but remember this does not increase the amount of heat going into the room. It merely reduces the amount of heated air that leaves the room. Here are some additional tips.

For a woodburning stove: start by selecting a stove that is properly sized for the area you want to heat. Select a stove with a secondary combustion chamber and /or a catalytic converter. A catalytic converter is the most effective "add on" available, and can increase efficiency by 20-30%. The also reduce pollution.

For a fireplace: Use Convection Tube grates, instead of standard wrought iron grates, to promote air circulation; a blower fan will force air through the grill and further increase heat delivery to the room. A heatilator (heat circulating fireplace) can increase the efficiency of the fireplace by 10-20%. Use of blower fans can increase the efficiency by another 10-20%.

When building a fire stack 2 large logs on the bottom with a smaller one in the center on top (to create a triangle shape). This creates a natural draft to more efficiently burn the wood.


Wood is a volatile heat source and can be very dangerous if not used safely. Here are some safety tips:

1. Wood stoves should be sited well away from flammable objects, insulated walls, and flooring and out of regular traffic patterns.
2. Stove pipes should be installed in accordance with fire codes.
3. Chimney and stove pipes should be cleaned regularly. The Creosote that builds up is highly flammable and can cause a major fire in your home. Cleaning them is a dirty job and we recommend you call a professional.
4. Before you burn, check the flue for obstructions and make sure the damper is open.
5. Never leave fires unattended unless you can close glass (or other appropriate) doors over the firebox opening.
6. Always keep a fire screen in place to prevent sparks from landing on the hearth or in the room.
7. Dispose of ashes in a covered metal container outside of the house.
8. Install smoke alarms and fire extinguishers near the fireplace or stove.
9. If a fire starts in the chimney, call the Fire Department, extinguish the fire in the fireplace or stove, close off all air vents to smother the fire, and wet down the roof.

We want to thank the U.S. Department of Energy and the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department for the information in this article.

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