Posts tagged with "Wood Burning"

Best Types of Outdoor Fire Pits For Patios & Backyards


ChimineaNothing makes a backyard or patio more welcoming than a warm, safe fire. Choosing the type of fire pit that will fit your space and meet your needs is no easy task. You have to consider how much space you will need to ensure safety, how many people will be enjoying the fire at one time, and which style will complement the landscaping and furniture of your outdoor space.

As experts on fireplaces and fireplace safety, we review the types of outdoor fire pits available and provide some helpful ideas to consider when making a selection. Other than digging a hole in the ground, there are two common ways to have a fire outdoors: outdoor fireplaces or freestanding fire pits. There are a many types freestanding fire pits or bowls which we will review below.

First, here are a few things you’ll want to consider when choosing the best type of fire pit for your space. Continue reading

Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Are you looking to install a fireplace in your home?  Better late than never! But the question isn’t if you should invest in one, it’s what kind is right for you?  Well, many fireplaces are powered by one of two types of energy: gas or wood.  These heating units vary slightly in features and benefits, so let’s get the inside scoop and figure out which is best for you. Continue reading

Fireplace vs Stove: The Wood Burning Showdown

Wood is good!  But when it comes to deciding between different wood-burning solutions for heating your home, some comparison shopping is in order.  Today we’ll look at the features of wood fireplaces and stoves, and see how each “stacks up.”  Get it?  Wood…stacks up.  Anyway, let’s compare some of the key features to look out for when deciding between a whole hearth unit and a stove.

Purchase Price

fireplace

Winner

The price tag.  It’s a necessary “evil,” if you will.  While the following additional factors may ultimately be more important to you in the long run, your wallet may dictate what you decide to buy now.  Home heating is a valuable commodity, and as such carries prices to match.  For heating on a budget, you might consider a wood-burning fireplace.  For a standard factory-built fireplace, look to spend an average of $3,000 – $5,000 in the DC area.  Note that replacing/updating an old unit costs less, as it involves only swapping the hardware, however fabricating a fireplace from scratch will involve heavy construction and weighing the costs of different materials (i.e. stone vs. brick).  Wood stoves, on the other hand, are pricier from the outset.  These run at an average of $2,500 – $4,000 PLUS the cost of installation and venting.  You’ll also have to think about whether or not a special ventilation system is necessary for your stove if the home doesn’t already have fireplace venting.  Stoves can either be vented through a wall or chimney and the method matters to your wallet!
Winner: Fireplace.

Efficiency

wood stove

Winner

Each unit uses wood as the fuel source, which is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive when bought, but there are major differences in the efficiency levels of fireplaces and stoves.  Wood fireplaces are best used to heat a single room because during combustion, a fireplace takes in air from inside your home and may bring it in from outside to send smoke and CO up the chimney.  This can bring a draft through the house, so you benefit from less of the fire’s heat.  A stove, on the other hand, is potentially 50% more energy efficient, according to the EPA, and uses 1/3 less wood for heat while providing more warmth than its fireplace counterpart.
Winner: Stove.

Greenness

wood stove

Winner

We absolutely cannot forget about the environment when weighing our options between a fireplace and a stove.  A major player here is carbon monoxide, which is toxic when inhaled.  Burning wood is considered to be environmentally-safe and carbon-neutral, as emissions amount to only 0.00612 pounds of CO per hour, but should still be monitored.  Carbon monoxide emissions vary between the two types of units, with a lower risk of in-house pollution from a stove, as combustion gases flow straight up and out of a stovepipe instead of into your home.  A fireplace, however, might back draft some hazardous gases into your home, with the rest escaping through the chimney.  In either case, however, a certain degree of CO makes its way into the atmosphere, affecting the surrounding area.  It’s a tight race in this case, however when considering the larger environment and your own home, we have a clear winner.
Winner: Stove.

Aesthetics

fireplace

Winner

As one blogger we encountered put it, a wood stove in the corner of a room sometimes just looks “sad.”  Wood stoves are often big, freestanding metal units that simply look awkward when not in use and do little to add beauty to a room.  A nice compromise is to opt for a wood stove insert, which would occupy the fireplace area, but you might still want to have a standard wood fireplace for added beauty.  A wood fireplace is very much a centerpiece to the room it occupies.  Dressed with an elegant mantle, rustic bricks and/or gorgeous tiling, it brings joy to a room.  You can add to it seasonally, with decorative accents placed atop the mantle and much more.  And when that fire’s lit—boy you’ll be in for a treat!  Between the low crackling of wood and the glow of the flames, a fireplace brings the ambiance!
Winner: Fireplace.

Safety

Wood-burning comes with some hazards.  For instance, we know that both units rely on wood for fuel, which itself can carry mildew or pests.  We also know that burning wood can result in creosote buildup inside a chimney, a possible house fire risk.  With diligence, though, these problems can be managed.  Additionally, many times wood-burning fireplaces are open, sometimes with a mesh curtain for minimal protection.  This means that sparks can fly out, resulting in the potential for burns on your hands/arms or for your property to catch fire.  Along those same lines, wood-burning stoves are enclosed, usually by a glass door.  Without sacrificing heat, that closed door will usually keep you, your family and your property safe, with sparks only being problematic when tending to the fire.  It is important to realize, though, that although stove flames are sequestered behind closed doors, the unit itself will become quite hot and should not be touched to avoid further burn risks.  The safety levels of each type of unit are pretty equal when all is considered.
Winner: It’s a tie!

There are lots of things to think about when it comes to choosing how to heat your home.  Sticker price, efficiency, greenness and other factors are just the tip of the iceberg in choosing between a wood fireplace and stove.  The two compare quite closely, but the choice really depends on which features you value more.  No matter which one wins in your book, fireplace or stove, High’s Chimney has you covered!  Call us to discuss your needs today!

Types of Fireplace Inserts

With the cool weather moving in, many of us are planning ways of keeping our homes warm and toasty in the coming months.  Fireplaces always seem to be a go-to heating option, given their calming ambience…but not everyone has that luxury.  What’s a homeowner to do, then?  Invest in a fireplace insert, of course!  Inserts are great to have because they fit snugly into an already existing firebox and experience less heat loss than traditional fireplace units.  Perhaps the best part is that there are types and styles to meet every home and homeowners’ needs.  Let’s find out more about the many fireplace insert options.

Main Types of Fireplace Inserts

gas fireplace insert

Photo by Katie Schumm

There is indeed an insert option for every taste and need.  These include gas inserts, wood-burning inserts and electric inserts.  All options are typically dressed with self-cleaning glass doors for both enhanced safety and appeal, but as you can tell by their names, what really distinguishes each type is the means to fuel or power each unit.  Gas units make use of various types of gases to light the flames, wood-burning units operate like real fireplaces and operate from wood power and electric inserts may require little more than the flip of a switch.  No matter which you choose, your fireplace insert promises better home heating than traditional units because each is fully insulated to result in increased temperatures, better combustion and improved heat efficiency.

Types of Gas Fireplace Inserts

A gas fireplace insert is one option for your home.  They are unique in that they run off of gas fuel, such as natural gas or propane.  These units usually hook up to your home’s gas lines or a propane tank outside and direct venting models take in and release air through the chimney.  Some are vent-less, and will monitor oxygen levels in the home instead of using the chimney.  The major benefits of the gas insert are enhanced efficiency and heating power—giving off between 25,000 and 40,000 BTUs at 76-83% heat efficiency.  Additionally, gas units afford users a traditional look with decorative ceramic logs.

The biggest risk with gas units, however, is carbon monoxide poisoning.  While gas units are largely safe, it is difficult to check for leaks in the gas line, so a carbon monoxide detector is an essential accessory.  Overall, gas inserts are good bets for those who operate appliances via gas, individuals looking for the best value (Gas units heat small spaces well, ultimately saving on gas bills), and those wanting ease and convenience of use (They burn cleanly, requiring little chimney maintenance and are lit by means of a pilot light and ignition button).

Types of Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts

custom fitted fireplace insert

Photo by Brenthasty

Wood-Burning fireplace inserts are some of the most complex of units available.  They’re unique in that they are fueled by wood or, alternatively, wood byproducts like manufactured logs made from sawdust.  These units are in the middle ground in terms of efficiency—running at about 50% due to potential heat loss during air circulation—and can burn very hot and long—upwards of 65,000 BTUs each hour, for 6+ hours.  Wood-burning units are ventilated via the home’s chimney and are therefore attached by a connector between the unit and chimney flue liner or by a connection which scales the entire height of the chimney.

The primary benefits of wood units are the rustic feel they create and the fact that they are “off-the-grid” and therefore work even in the absence of electrical power.  These units also have improved performance in recent years due to more stringent EPA guidelines, which have resulted in decreased smoke output and wood used.  We did say that wood-burning inserts are the most complex, however, and for good reason.  Wood inserts come with the inherent disadvantages of requiring increased maintenance, such as chimney inspections and removing soot and creosote from the units, and despite their lowered smoke emissions they still pose health risks to those who inhale the smoke and to the environment.  So when is a wood insert best?  Wood is likely a go-to option for individuals who heat their homes primarily by fire and do not want to/cannot rely on other methods of power such as gas and electricity, as wood is plentiful and reliable.  Even better, if your chimney is in good repair, you might as well make use of it!

Types of Electric Fireplace Inserts

electric fireplaceElectric fireplace inserts are a pretty good deal…all you do is plug it in and flip a switch!  The unique part about electric units is that they are entirely powered by electricity, via 110-volt outlets and don’t require chimney ventilation.  They come in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, too, and produce just the right amount of heat for comfort—around 4,000-5,000 BTUs.  A nice benefit is that electric units may be used with the heat on to provide warmth, or alternatively as a decorative piece with the heat off and the glow of the flames flickering on artificial logs.  Additionally, these inserts are flexible—they may be used as an alternative to the wood-burning fireplace they reside in or easily removed to light a traditional fire (so long as the fireplace functions correctly).

The downside, of course, is that when the electricity goes out in inclement weather, so does your fire.  Luckily, these units may be backed up with a battery or generator, so don’t panic!  And these units are especially good for those who live in older homes, as operating the traditional fireplace is often out of the question because the unit and/or chimney are in disrepair and electric inserts provide a sound alternative.

Gas?  Wood?  Electric?  There are so many types of fireplace inserts and each is unique and advantageous in its own way.  So how do you choose?  Compare, compare, compare and choose one based on the most important features!  Safety and efficiency are key, but so is appearance.  There’s a fireplace insert to meet everyone’s needs…which one wins in your book?

Wood Stoves vs Pellet Stoves

As fall approaches, we begin to say goodbye to scorching days and nights and prepare to say hello to the colder ones.  As that transition gets underway, we become more concerned with heating and begin to evaluate our options for the cool months ahead.  There’s always the option of more expensive home heating via gas, but what about a good old fire?  Any home can be equipped with a stove.  But which type should you choose?  Here the decision comes down to wood vs. pellet stoves, and each has its own ups and downs.  Let’s take a look.

Wood Stove Pellet Stove
Price
Cost of Fuel
Power
Green?
Safety
Performance
Maintenance
Aesthetics

*Checkmark Indicates Advantage

Stove Pricing

Wood Stove

Wood Stove.

You want a new stove, so the first consideration will likely be price. There’s a lot to love about wood and pellet stoves, but the price tag will undoubtedly stand out.

Wood Stove Pricing
Price: $3,000 – $5,000, installation included

Wood stoves average around $3,000 – $4,200 when you factor in the cost of bringing in a pro installer.  For a premium model with all the bells and whistles, you may be looking at about $5,000.  If your home has a chimney and a preexisting fireplace unit, installation may be simplified and you may be able to save money and opt for a fireplace insert, which sits directly inside the fireplace’s firebox. If not, you’re looking at lofty fees to fashion a ventilation system.

Pellet Stove Pricing
Price: $3,500 to $4,000, installation included

On the other hand, pellet stoves come in anywhere from $1,700 – $3,000 prior to installation fees, and could total $3,500 – $4,000 when all is said and done.  That’s already lower than the higher price points of wood stoves, plus pellet stoves are able to be ventilated through a small hole in the wall, making them able to be installed anywhere in the room and saving on chimney costs.

Winner: With cost and installation flexibility, the better bet has to be a pellet stove.

Fuel Cost

wood pellets

Wood Pellets

The primary difference between pellet and wood stoves is their fuel source.

Wood Stove Opporating Cost
Fuel Source: Wood, ~6.5 tons per season
Cost: ~$190 per ton, ~$1,235 per season

Wood stoves operate much like fireplaces in that they burn logs.  This is generally convenient and cost-effective, as firewood can at times be harvested and seasoned on your own property (free wood!) or bought by the cord from stores for low sums.

Pellet Stove Operating Cost
Fuel Source: Pellets, ~7.5 tons per season
Cost: ~$190 per ton, ~$1,425 per season

Pellet stoves utilize wood pellets for fuel, composed of sawdust or small wood chips.  These chips are added to a reservoir to be burned.  Pellets are harder to come by as they are specially manufactured (not available in your own backyard) and not everyone sells them.  This fuel must be purchased from other areas in the US, making them somewhat less common, though plenty of regions carry them.  Using pellets means planning to buy and ship the item to use. Pellets are slightly higher in price per year, though they burn longer than wood.

In either case, according to the Department of Energy, you should expect to pay about $190 for a cord of wood or ton of pellets (at 6.5 cords or 7.5 tons of pellets per season, factoring in that a ton equals 1.5 cords).

Winner: Given both the abundance of and cost per season for natural wood, wood is a winner over pellets, as it’s both affordable and accessible.

Powering Your Stove

Pellet Stove Hopper

A motorized hopper on a pellet stove.

Another aspect that distinguishes wood and pellet stoves is power.

Wood Stove Power
Power Needed: None

Wood stoves work essentially like fireplaces—add wood, light it, stoke as needed, etc.  They operate completely free of power such as electricity, making them usable anytime as long as timber is available.

Pellet Stove Power
Power Needed: 100 kilowatt-hours per month, ~$9 per month

Pellet stoves rely on power no matter what.  Electricity is a cornerstone in their operation, so when the power goes out, so does your fire. The electricity powers a motorized hopper that feeds the pellets into the stove.  It is possible, however, to run your stove on a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) backup battery or generator during power outages.

Winner: Wood. Got dry wood and a match?  You’ll have fire.  Pellet stoves require extra resources and expenses.  With the electricity used for such a unit, you may be left in the cold during a power outage, all the while paying for 100 kilowatt-hours each month (about $9).

Environmentally Friendly

Pellet and wood stoves vary in their degrees of “greenness.”

Wood Stove  Production
Smoke Production: 2 to 7.5 grams per hour
CO2 Production: 0.0612 pounds per kilowatt-hour

EPA-certified wood-burning stoves are tightly regulated, releasing between 2 – 7.5 grams of smoke into the air every hour— an improvement over those of the olden days that emitted 40+ grams. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, wood releases 0.00612 pounds per kilowatt-hour of CO2.

Pellet Stove Production
Smoke Production: <1 gram per hour
CO2 Production: 0.035 pounds per kilowatt-hour

Pellet stoves, however, emit almost no smoke—less than 1 gram per hour. With such a small footprint left behind, the EPA doesn’t monitor them. Additionally, as pellets are essentially wood waste, using them is a form of recycling, keeping wood particles out of landfills. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, pellets release 0.035 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

Winner:  Pellets stoves. While both wood and pellet stoves have come a long way toward cleaner operation, pellet stoves have minimal smoke and CO2 impacts and also promote recycling. Both fuels are “carbon-neutral” and are not considerable hazards.

Stove Safety

wood stove fire

A fire burns hot in this wood stove.

“Playing with fire” is risky business all around and one must take necessary safety precautions when tending to a fire. Everything from using appropriate kindling to wearing gloves may be essential. Beyond this, however, are the safety factors of the stoves themselves.

Wood Stove Safety

Wood stoves give off flame sparks, which may lead to burns, and these units could accumulate creosote deposits resulting in dangerous house fires down the road. Additionally, firewood has the potential to bring mold or pests into the home from outside.

Pellet Stove Safety

Pellet stoves burn cleaner and safer, without the risk of harming you or your home. The contained flames keep your family safe from flying embers and sparks, however the pellet stove will become hot to the touch. All members of your household should be made aware that the stove will become very hot, and efforts should be made to keep pets away from the device.

Winner: Wood Stoves. In terms of immediate safety, wood stoves get a big thumbs-down here, leaving pellet stoves to take center stage. Sparks, creosote buildup and house fires from wood stoves are great risks associated with wood stoves. Pellet stoves contain flames and prevent users from getting unexpected burns from flying burning debris.

Maximum Performance

pellet-stove

An efficient pellet stove.

Your stove is there to keep you warm, so which type does that better? This all depends on the units of heat measure, or BTUs and how effectively they’re used between the fuel sources and getting heat to your space. Each stove uses great amounts of BTUs to burn logs or pellets throughout the season. However, not all of this energy is converted into usable heat.

Wood Stove Production

Firewood is used by the cord (stacked wood equaling 4 feet high x 8 feet long x 4 feet deep). According to the Department of Agriculture, every cord utilizes 15.3 million BTUs. In heating your home, you benefit from 10.7 million BTUs out of that total, enjoying a stove efficiency level of 70%.

Pellet Stove Production

On the other hand, pellets come in 40-lb bags and the stoves have a BTU output of 13.6 million per ton of pellets. From this, you soak up 11.3 million BTUs of heat. The result is greatly improved efficiency over wood stoves, coming in at about 83%.

Winner: Pellet stoves.

Stove Maintenance

chimney sweep

A chimney sweep.

Some maintenance is required no matter what type of stove you opt for. Cleanings, component checks and more all must factor in.

Wood Stove Maintenance

Wood stoves are maintained like chimneys, requiring that a certified chimney sweep be brought in annually to do an inspection of the system, including the flue and other components, and need to have residue and soot cleaned out periodically. A major maintenance consideration for wood stoves is inspecting the catalytic combustor, and that must be done 3 times per season alone.

Pellet Stove Maintenance

Pellet stoves, however, are simple to maintain, so long as you follow manufacturer recommendations. It may be as simple as checking the working order of motors and fans or removing excess debris. Maintaining a pellet stove is a straightforward and potentially less-costly process. You can do much of the checks yourself by following guidelines and don’t need to pay for as many inspections. However, if your pellet stove needs serviced, finding repairmen with the necessary skills can be difficult and repairing one of the three motors or electronic circuit board can become costly.

Winner: Pellet stoves win here, too.

Aesthetics

wood stove

A log burning in a wood stove.

Ok, admit it. After all of this talk about wood and pellet stoves, you’re wondering, which is prettier? Well, each option comes in a variety of shapes and models designed to fit well with your home décor, many fit into preexisting fireplaces and still others are freestanding models that may be moved if necessary. Both wood-burning and pellet stoves are made to be attractive whilst being functional. Therefore, the deciding factor here has to be the burn itself.

Wood Stove Aesthetics

When you look into a wood burning unit, you see orange flames licking at dried, aged logs. Still more, you take in the smoky aroma of the burning timber.

Pellet Stove Aesthetics

Pellet stoves have the same bright flames, however, that “wow” factor may be diminished for some, as the logs you’d expect to see are replaced by minuscule fragments.

Winner. Aesthetically-speaking, then, wood’s got it won. In the war of wood vs. pellet stoves, you may still wonder which stove is the better option.  Strictly speaking, pellet stoves may be a better investment due to such factors as maintenance, efficiency, safety and more.  But ultimately, the decision lies with you.  What things are most important?  If it’s the crackle of logs burning, wood may be good too!  YOU decide!

In the war of wood vs. pellet stoves, you may still wonder which stove is the better option.  Strictly speaking, pellet stoves may be a better investment due to such factors as maintenance, efficiency, safety and more. But ultimately, the decision lies with you.  What things are most important?  If it’s the crackle of logs burning, wood may be good too!  YOU decide!

Environmental Comparison of Wood-Burning Stoves

Heating with Wood and the Environment – part 4: How Different Types of Wood Burning Appliances Affect the Environment

woodstove

Earlier on in our series, “Heating with Wood and the Environment”, we discussed the pollutants and other environmental concerns in burning wood. We also discussed how what you burn and how you operate a fire can really reduce negative environmental impacts. In this article, we shall discuss how different types of wood burning appliances will affect your contribution to pollution rates.

Different types of wood burning appliances have different capabilities when it comes to how efficiently they maintain a flame and how complete the combustion is. Higher efficiency appliances require less wood is to provide heat and therefore produce less pollution, such as fine particulate matter. The main classes of indoor wood-burning appliances are listed below:

  • Wood pellet stoves are generally the most environmentally friendly and efficient wood-burning appliance. Wood pellet stoves burns small pellets derived from dried wood and other biomass waste. The wood pellets are fed into the main burn area via a small electrical device.
  • EPA-certified Wood stoves or fireplace inserts represent the next most efficient class. A wood stove generally consists of a solid metal closed fire chamber and has adjustable air control. A wood burning fireplace insert is basically a wood stove inserted into the fireplace, as opposed to a freestanding wood stove.
  • Masonry Heaters are appliances which retain heat through a large masonry mass and a maze of heat exchange channels.
  • Basic chimney and fireplace

However, note that the specific design and construction of an appliance has just has much impact on efficiency as the type of appliance.

The efficiency of wood stoves and inserts varies tremendously from model to model. One factor is whether or not the wood stove uses a catalytic converter; catalytic woodstoves are typically less polluting. Also, the difference in pollution between an EPA-certified woodstove and a non-EPA stove is tremendous. Even among EPA certified models, there are very large differences.  The environmental-friendliness of a wood stove is usually measured by two metrics: GMs/hr, or grams of particulate matter emitted per hour, and efficiency rating. For example the Regency Classic™ F1100 Wood Stove has a GMs/hr of 3.0 and is 77.7% efficient at optimal operation.

Thinking about replacing an old wood stove or fireplace insert? There may be government incentives for upgrading to a more environmentally friendly device. Be sure to check if your state has a changeout program or other incentive programs. Maryland for example, just started offering rebates for wood and pellet stoves.

Fireplaces also have a huge variety in efficiency. Typically, a factory-built fireplace, also known as a “low mass fireplace” will be more efficient. However, it is not uncommon for a family’s masonry fireplace to be more efficient than a neighbor’s prefabricated fireplace. Again, the design and construction plays a huge role in efficiency. The quality of the installation and the situation of the chimney also are important.

Learn what you can do to your chimney and fireplace to reduce pollution in part 5 of the Heating with Wood and the Environment series.

The Benefits to Owning a Wood Stove

Wood-Stove

With the newly announced wood stove rebate pilot program set to debut in Maryland this upcoming heating season, many Maryland and D.C. area homeowners are finding out for the first time that they have the option of heating their home with a wood stove instead of more contemporary methods. The first question you might ask is ‘Why would I want to install and use a stove in the first place?’

There are plenty of benefits of using a wood stove for your residential heat. The most obvious is the cleanliness of burning wood, which gives off less particulate matter and is a renewable resource, unlike gas-powered alternatives. Another chief benefit is the cost efficiency – a 2009 Consumer Reports study found that cord wood was the cheapest way to generate 1,000,000 BTU’s of heat, priced at $9.09 per million BTU’s versus $12.61 and $18.53 for natural gas and oil, respectively. Of course, pricing will vary based on your geographic location, so make sure you do your due diligence if you’re only looking to save on heating costs.

There are some more peripheral benefits about heating your home with a wood-fueled stove, however. Because they only need wood to operate and don’t rely on electricity, they can provide a home with a heat source and cooking solution when bad weather takes down power lines. This is especially good to keep pipes heated and prevent burst waterlines during large ice storms. Additionally, wood burning stoves can be used as additional cooking surfaces in your home, perfect for warm cocoa on cold winter days. They also have the added bonus of saving you money on other utilities, like electricity.

There’s a certain appeal to a wood stove as well, a timeless charm that brings back special memories. Nothing is cozier than a hot stove after a day spent in the snow. The dry heat they produce is great for drying wet clothes, too.

Selecting a stove

If you’ve decided that a stove is something you want to explore, we’d like to put in a word of caution about selecting your stove. Many larger retailers can offer you stoves at prices that are out of reach for smaller retailers. Although we would prefer you come to High’s for your needs, we would rather you purchase your new stove from any small retailer rather than a large chain outfit. The reason for this is simple – you’ll receive a better product that comes attached with installation by craftsmen who have had long-term experience with their products.

Big box stores offer you lower cost products that are designed to achieve the best margins of profit. They meet standards, but are more likely to warp, have poor welding, and give off more particulate emissions, all problems that worsen over time because of low-quality design. Additionally, since their product rotates seasonally and on a per-cost basis, their installation teams are not as experienced with each particular product that the retailer has on offer.

A wood-fueled stove is an investment in your home and future. Although you might save some money with a big box unit up front, those savings will work out to less than pennies a day in difference from a high quality unit over time. We recommend finding stoves made of heavy steel or cast iron, a sign of good craftsmanship. Additionally, we recommend purchasing a unit from a retailer with a track record of quality installations (speaking of quality wood stove installers). And don’t forget the new rebate that you can put towards the initial cost of the stove!

Have you ever or been in a home using a wood-fueled stove for heat? Tell us your favorite memory in the comments.

Burning a More Responsible Fire

Heating with Wood & the Environment: Part 3 – Burning a More Responsible Fire

FireIn this article, we discuss environmentally responsible practices for lighting and burning your fire. This continues our series discussing how you can enjoy wood heat in a more environmentally friendly way.

In Part 1, we described the environment impacts of burning wood. Recall that when something is burned, there will be harmful emissions. Fine particulate matter (which is soot when no longer airborne) is normally the biggest culprit when wood is burned; reducing wood smoke generally reduces particulate matter.

FirewoodIn Part 2, we discussed how to select the right firewood to reduce negative environmental impacts. Here, we learned how to look up species of wood that produce less smoke, and we learned the importance of using seasoned (dried), chemical-free wood. We also learned about the benefits of using responsibly and locally sourced firewood.

So now you know to use the right firewood, and you know to reduce harmful emissions. We assume you already know it’s not good to catch fire to things you did not intend to catch fire to. You’re now ready to review best operating practices to burn clean, smart, and safe.

10 Rules to Burning a More Responsible Fire

1. Always burn good firewood. Hey, it’s worth repeating. Never burn garbage, paper with colored ink (the ink becomes toxic), glossy paper, cardboard, or wood that is rotted or diseased. Wet wood produces more smoke since it burns less efficiently. Never burn wood that has been treated in any way (coated, painted, pressure treated, or glued). Avoid burning wood sourced more than 50 miles away or that contributes to deforestation. Be careful with artificial logs – they are not meant to be burned the same way as real wood. Always burn dry, well-seasoned, safe, quality firewood.

2. Have a “clear zone” around the fire. Make sure there is nothing flammable nearby the fire – sparks can travel a distance. Potentially flammable materials include rugs, grass, newspapers, and blankets. Remember, house fires and forest fires are not exactly good for the environment – or you.

3. Protect your home by using a carbon monoxide detector and keeping a fire extinguisher handy.

4. Build a moderately sized, hot fire. Really small fires have a proportionately longer start and smolder period, which means more smoke. Cool, smoldering fires produce more smoke. Hot fires burn more efficient. Just remember not to get too crazy building a fire so hot it’s dangerous. Overloaded fireplaces are dangerous because a huge fire can overheat your walls or roof.

5. Be kind with your kindling. Kindling should only be used as kindling, never as your main fuel source because it burns inefficiently. Remember to avoid using toxic materials for your kindling. Fuels like gasoline and lighter fluid are an explosion hazard – avoid using, or at least proceed with extreme caution.

6. Steer clear of smoke. Breathe in as little as possible, produce as little as possible, and make sure it goes straight up. You shouldn’t be having any backdraft from your chimney; if you do, you have a problem that needs fixed.

7. Use the doors and screens right. Shut the metal screen on your fireplace to protect the surrounding area from sparks. While burning, keep the glass doors on the fireplace open to ensure flow of air (combustion requires oxygen) to the fire. Shut the glass doors when the fire is out. Keep the door shut on wood burning stoves to keep carbon monoxide from leaking into your home.

8. Don’t let the fire smolder. Don’t let a fire smolder overnight – it will produce little heat and a whole lot of smoke. Furthermore, you should know to never leave a fire unattended, even if it is simply smoldering. Always put the fire out before going to bed or retiring for the night.

9. Dispose of your ashes properly. Not cleaning ashes in wood-burning appliances can clog the air vents. Excessive buildup of ashes can become dangerous. Ashes can stay flammable for days. Always place ashes into a metal container and soak in water. Fairfax County, VA has a good informational on ashes called Can Your Ashes.

10. Follow the Rules. Many areas have restrictions on burning fires. For example, there are restrictions on outdoor fires in Virginia and in Maryland. Many states have requirements on wood stoves and pellet stoves in addition to EPA standards. Some areas such as many counties in the state of Washington often implement temporary burn bans of all fires during adverse weather conditions such as stagnant weather. Please stay informed and make sure you follow the rules.

Burning Wood

There you have it. Follow these 10 tips to ensure you burn safer and more environmentally responsibly. Learn about the environmental impact of different types of woodburning stoves and appliances in Part 4. For some tips on keeping your fireplace, chimney, or wood-burning appliance burning clean, see Part 5.

Choose Environmentally Friendly Firewood

Heating with Wood & the Environment: Part 2 – Choose Environmentally Friendly Firewood

FirewoodIn this article we continue in our series discussing how you can heat your home with wood in a more environmentally friendly way. In our last article, we described the environment impacts of burning wood. In this article, we discuss how selecting the right wood can reduce those environmental impacts. Basically, before you select the wood you’ll throw in your stove or fireplace, you want to consider two things – what you burn and where it comes from.

What Type of Firewood is Best for the Environment?

The best burn for the environment boils down to some very simple math: Best burn = Maximum heat per unit burned + minimum harmful emissions. Thus, you want firewood that burns efficiently, produces minimum smoke, and has no harmful substances. Fortunately, efficiency and smoke are related – generally, the more smoke, the less efficiently the fuel is being burned.

Seasoned Firewood

Improperly Stored Firewood

Firewood that is not stored properly may not adequately dry out.

First, you want “seasoned” (or “cured”) firewood – firewood that has been left to dry for some time. Burning unseasoned firewood is probably the most common mistake people make. Wet firewood burns very inefficiently and produces lots of smoke to pour out of your chimney. Ideally, properly seasoned firewood has less than 20% moisture content. It typically takes a good 6 months of being left to dry in a well circulated stack to for wood to become adequately seasoned. Also, hard woods like oak take longer to dry out than soft woods. Adequately seasoned firewood will weigh 50% to 75% less than fresh, “green” wood. Some other indications that the wood is properly seasoned include: grayed, discolored wood; bark that is falling off; cracks and splits; and being dry to the touch.

Species of Wood
The next thing to consider is the species of wood. Some species burn more than twice as efficiently as others. Some species naturally produce more smoke.  Finally, some species are easier to split and start a fire with. Sometimes, you can find wood that is efficient and easy to work worth; other times you may need to combine long-burning woods Hickory, Beech, and the plentiful White Oak are three excellent species of firewood you might find in the Washington DC region. For more details on firewood species, go to the State of Maryland’s page on Buying Firewood; they have excellent charts, and we highly recommend referencing this page before selecting your firewood.

Harmful Substances in Wood
Not all wood makes for safe firewood. If wood has not been stored in a properly ventilated stack, it could get moldy, and mold is typically something you want to avoid breathing in any form. Chemicals are an even more serious hazard. Do not burn painted or stained wood, plywood, particle board, or any wood product that has been treated with chemicals. Pallets, for example, are often treated with chemicals like flame retardants and pesticides that contain toxins such as arsenic and formaldehyde. Is this the kind of thing you’d want to breathe in? Neither do your neighbors.

Where you get your Firewood Matters

Now that we’ve covered what types of firewood are best for the environment, we’ll explain where to source environmentally friendly wood.

Deforested Wood

Deforestation

Help stop the spread of deforestation.

As we discussed in our last article, deforestation is a major environmental problem that affects us all. Deforestation is where large pieces of forests are cut down and the trees are never replaced. Forests are home to millions of species; additionally, reductions in the number of the Earth’s trees are contributing to the greenhouse effect. Thus, it helps us all out when you choose to consume responsibly harvested wood over deforested wood. Responsible sources of firewood include sustainable logging, sustainable plantations, agroforestry, and waste wood such as deadfall, debris, and recycled pellets.

The Proximity Issue
It is always better for the environment to burn firewood near its origin. The fewer miles the wood travels, the less gasoline used, and the better the carbon footprint. In addition, some trees may be diseased or infested with pests, and you could introduce these tree killers to new areas when you move wood a long distance. Because of this issue, there are frequently restrictions and “quarantines” on firewood movement in many states – you can look your state up here. In Virginia and Maryland, for example, there have been restrictions and recent quarantines because of Emerald Ash Borer infestations. This troublesome Asian beetle is thought to have been introduced to the country in 2002 and to the DC area in 2007, and has utterly decimated local populations of Ash trees.

Waste wood
Lying TimberThe best sources of firewood, ecologically speaking, is waste wood; the wood has already fallen or been felled – you will just happen to burn it instead of letting it decay. There are several ways to obtain waste wood.

First, if you have the capabilities to remove the wood yourself, you can ask around town to see if anyone has wood they need removed.  Your neighbors may have free wood in the form of stumps, fallen trees, limps, and branches just laying around on their property. You might be able to do them a favor, and get free eco-friendly firewood in the process.  Just be sure to ask them first – assuming wood is free for the taking could bring you some problems!

Another way of obtaining waste wood is to ask a professional give you theirs. Landscapers and tree care professionals often have an overabundance of wood. If you pass one at work next to a pile of freshly felled limbs, you may be doing them a favor by seeing if they would like help taking some of it off their hands.  Occasionally, a friendly tree professional will even drop off the wood for you if you aren’t out of the way.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for waste wood when driving. Sometimes, firewood appears on the curb – keep your eyes peeled when you’re driving for piles of wood on the side of the road with a “free wood” sign – it happens!

A final way of obtaining free waste wood is by scanning internet classifieds. There is almost always free wood posted on DC’s Craigslist, for example.

Wood pellets and wood brick are also often made of waste wood that has been recycled into great burning wood. Just remember that pellets are for pellet stoves, not your average fireplace. Many wood bricks, on the other hand, work great in standard fireplaces. Many dealers provide pellets and bricks.

Just remember the following in regards to waste wood: always properly season firewood; make sure it is not ridden with mold, chemicals, or pests like termites or ash borers; and do not move the wood long distances. We also advise familiarizing yourself with local ordinances if you plan on heavily utilizing waste wood.

Buying Firewood
It’s often easier to buy your firewood. When doing so, you want to make sure you get good firewood sourced responsibly. Anybody can have leftover wood and claim to be a firewood dealer, and many don’t know or care what they sell or where it came from, so you should use a reputable dealer.

Most states have regulations on firewood sales, and many states, including Maryland, require firewood dealers to have a license. To find or verify authorized dealers in Maryland, go to http://www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/fpo_search.asp.

Anytime you burn fuel, there is an environmental impact. So remember – what you burn matters!

For more on Wood Heat and the Environment, read:
Part 3: Burning a More Responsible Fire
Part 4: Environmental Comparison of Wood Burning Stoves & Appliances
Part 5: 7 Ways to Reduce your Chimney & Fireplace Pollution

Washington DC Firewood Guide

Keep your Fireplace Roaring: A Washington D.C. Firewood Guide

If you have a fireplace in the Washington D.C. area, then you know that the time of year to use it is upon us. A well-stocked fireplace that is kept roaring consistently provides a warmth to the heart and to the wallet. Wouldn’t it be great to know everything about firewood in and around Washington D.C. so you know how to get the best for your wood-burning fireplace?

white oak tree

white oak tree in Fall

White Oak is the state tree of Maryland. It is found in every county in the state and surrounding states. This means that the majority of wood you buy is going to be of this species. When they’re not bundled into cords of wood for you to take a match to, White Oak sport acorns and many-fingered green leaves that it sheds when fall comes calling. Since these trees grow to monstrous heights, many often need to be trimmed if they grow to houses or other structures that they could potentially fall on. That’s where your firewood comes in: tree removal services all over the greater Washington D.C. area use the limbs, branches and trees they cut down to make firewood.

Other native trees include the Adler, the Ash and the American Beech Tree. Many specimens of maples and other oaks are prevalent in our area, too. All of these trees make for great burning, but you must make sure it is seasoned wood in order for it to burn well. Seasoned wood means that it has to be completely dried out; any wet spots in the wood will translate to your fireplace. If stored in a proper location, most wet wood can dry out within a week. The drier the wood, the better and hotter it will burn in your fireplace.

maryland logoAlways be aware of Washington D.C. rules for wood burning fireplaces. If you want to gather firewood yourself, you must have a permit. If buying firewood from a dealer, make sure they have a license to do so. Firewood sellers must sell at a standard rate, so if you think you are paying too much for a cord, contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to address the issue.

Well, we hope you’ve learned a little more about what to put in your fireplace. And of course, if you need expert chimney service in the Northwest Washington DC area, we hope you know who to call.