Heating with Firewood

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
With the continuing losses mounting in our forest canopy due to the drought, firewood is readily available in our area. With that in mind, here are a few things to think about if you are considering heating your home or shop with firewood.

Planning and organizing a firewood supply will save you time and headaches during the burning season. A firewood stack located too far from the house will draw angered comments inversely proportional to the outside temperature. A firewood stack located too close to the house will cut down on circulation and increase mess and insect problems. Firewood stacked close to the house will also present a fire hazard, especially in rural areas where wildfire is a threat.

Stacked firewood should be raised off the ground slightly to increase air circulation. Stacking wood under a shelter will reduce drying time by keeping outside moisture off the stack. Shelters made of plastic sheeting located in sunny places can be used to speed up the drying process by increasing the temperature within the shelter.

A simple method to determine if your firewood is dry is to strike two pieces of wood together. A sharp cracking sound usually indicates that the wood is fairly dry. A dull thud, however, means that the moisture content is still quite high. You can also get an indication of drying by observing the cracks in the ends of the larger firewood pieces; in general, larger cracks indicate drier wood.

The harvesting, hauling and preparation of firewood generally takes 4 to 10 hours of work per standard cord for the fire. Allowing your firewood to air dry for an appropriate amount of time prior to burning will reduce the total volume of firewood you will need; hence, the total amount of time you will spend collecting, hauling and preparing will also be reduced. For more detailed information, see
OSU fact sheet 9440, “Firewood: How to obtain, measure, season, and burn.”

Another important factor in the economical feasibility of burning firewood compared to electricity or natural gas is the efficiency of the system used in burning wood. An open fireplace, for example, often removes more heat from a house than it puts back because a fire will create an open draft that will suck the heat out of an area. An efficient air-tight wood stove, on the other hand, can achieve an efficiency of up to 70 percent fuel input to actual heat output. The efficiency of a stove is affected by the design and location of the system, as well as by indoor and outdoor temperatures and individual use patterns. Burning wood in an air-tight stove allows the operator to control the rate at which the wood will burn. Often, one stoking of an efficient stove will last all night and continue to provide warmth the next morning.

Burning wood as a heating source can be quite satisfying. Its use, however, can also be dangerous. The obvious problems with operating hot stoves aside, burning wood causes creosote to form in stovepipes and exhaust systems. Creosote fires can be extremely dangerous and usually lead to major house fires. Precautions can be taken to reduce your risk to creosote fires. Have your stovepipe and stove exhaust system inspected regularly. Checking for creosote buildup and regular cleaning will reduce your risk of catastrophe.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies

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