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Complete Guide Fireplace Fuels

Introduction

Having a fireplace to sit around when the weather gets cold is usually a good idea. Not only is it cozy, but it’s also a great way to keep you warm.

But do you know about the types of fuel that you can use?

Sure, a lot of people just use wood. And that’s the most common fireplace fuel that we see still to this day. But the most common fireplace we install is gas.

We don’t see a lot of coal burning fireplaces anymore, but they are still there.

In this post, we’ll talk about each of the most common fuels.

Wood

Still, in 2020, wood is the most common fuel for stoves and fireplaces that we see. 

Wood is so easy to get – just take a drive to the local hardware store and you’re likely to see bundles of wood outside the door. 

Plus, it’s one of the only fuels that you can easily prepare for yourself. If you have access to woods you can cut, store, and season the wood to use a few years from now. 

Wood with the ideal moisture content of 15-25% will have between 5500 and 6500 BTUs per pound. 

Since actual heat potential for wood is determined by weight, the more dense hardwoods usually contain greater heat potential when compared to an equal size piece of softwood.

Green Firewood

Note that I mentioned that you can season your firewood. 

That means that you can take the wood, store it in a dry area for about two years (depending on the kind of wood you use) letting the moisture evaporate until there’s about 15-25% moisture content. 

Some wood burns better and produces less creosote build up inside your chimney. 

But whatever wood you choose, do not use green firewood. 

Green firewood is any wood that has high moisture content and is not seasoned. The tree species doesn’t determine if the wood is green, just the moisture content. You can test the moisture content of the wood with a moisture meter like this one at Home Depot

As I mentioned before, the ideal moisture content in firewood is between 15%-25%. 

Wood with higher moisture content is very hard to light and burn. Greenwood will sizzle, pop, smolder, and smoke. It’s nearly impossible to create a scolding hot fire with moist wood because the fire never really takes off or gets going. 

Here are a few symptoms that you may experience when burning greenwood: 

  • Difficulty getting your fire going and keeping it burning
  • Smoky fires with little flame
  • Dirty glass
  • Rapid creosote buildup in your chimney
  • Low heat output
  • The smell of smoke in your house
  • Short burn times
  • Excessive fuel consumption
  • Blue-gray smoke from the chimney

Buying Wood

Wood is usually sold by the cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet of wood and usually stacked in a pile that measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. That’s a lot more than what you buy at Lowes.

When you’re buying wood, you should consider the value of the wood compared to the BTUs produced.

For example, if you see a dense wood, like oak, that contains more BTUs than a softwood, being sold for the same price as a softwood, like pine then the oak is a much better value.

When buying firewood, there are some folks that will sell it to you by the truckload. What does that even mean?

A Ford F250 has a much larger volume than a Ford Ranger. Both are trucks, even if the Ranger is questionable… A truckload in an F250 is much larger than that of a Ranger.

You should only buy wood by volume or by weight so that you know exactly how much you are getting.

Also, try to buy wood that’s stacked so you can take a measurement. Remember, you want your cord of wood to be 128 cubic feet. It’s hard to determine the cubic feet if the wood is just laid out on the ground.

Woods to Avoid

  1. Greenwood – I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Greenwood is no good. It smokes too much and can be dangerous to burn. 
  2. Treated, Painted, or varnished wood – You want to avoid anything that has been treated. This is because when burning it could release arsenic into the air. 
  3. Non-local wood – If you find wood that has been cut and stored more than a few miles away, don’t use it. Using firewood that’s had to travel is the number one way to introduce invasive insects or diseases to a new environment. 
  4. Driftwood – It’s pretty but the salt content and materials on the wood are actually carcinogens and toxic if you burn the wood. 
  5. Wood that’s too large – if you don’t have wood that is measured properly to fit inside your wood stove or fireplace, then it could be difficult for the wood to burn as hot as it needs. This can affect how the chimney is working to move the gases up and out and can contribute to excessive creosote build-up. 

 

Related —-> 7 Mistakes You Probably Make Related to Fireplace Safety

Wood Storage

Once you have your firewood, you’ll need a place to store everything.

Assuming you have enough for the winter, you’ll need to stack and store in a dry place. Make sure that the wood isn’t sitting directly on the ground or right up against the wall or fence.

This is because the pieces on the ground will get wet and stay wet, and the ends against the fence won’t dry well. This will just give you improperly seasoned firewood that burns unevenly.

Location, location, location

Where you choose to store your firewood should be thought about a lot. Your wood is going to be there for a long time and you want to use the wood when the time is right.

When choosing the location, think about the sunlight. Think about if the location is going to keep you from accessing some parts of your yard (if you even care about that part). Think about when you’re going to use it – will it be convenient to grab when it’s cold outside? 

Never put your firewood against your house, garage, shed, or any other building. Unless you want termites, of course. The wood needs to be piled in a place where the sun can warm it and the wind can blow through it. The sun evaporates the water and the wind helps to blow it away.

Stacking

Even though you shouldn’t place the firewood directly on the ground in the soil, you can place a tarp or a plastic sheeting underneath.

But raising the stacks of wood off soil is much better since it allows the air to flow beneath the wood.

You could even sacrifice a few pieces to serve as the bottom “legs” of a makeshift rack for your firewood.

You should try to pile your stack to about 4 feet tall and in a single row. If you don’t have enough space to dry in a single row, you may be tempted to stack a few rows together.

That may be okay, but you should be sure to give some space between the rows so that the wind and sun can run through.

Covering vs. Not Covering

I’ve seen people who leave their woodpiles out all year long.

They say that the wood is dry enough by the time they want to bring the wood into the woodshed.

Leaving your firewood completely uncovered is the ideal way to go, but it isn’t exactly ideal when you factor in rain, snow, and ice. 

I’d recommend leaving your wood uncovered for a few weeks at least before covering it, though.

This way your firewood can get a head start in the seasoning process.

Then, simply add a good cover on the top of your firewood to protect it, but be sure the cover is slanted to shed moisture away from the base.

Also, make sure the cover is above the pile so that the wind and sun can still work their magic in helping you season your firewood.

Additional Considerations

  • Store your wood with the bark side down to help encourage even more moisture evaporation
  • Stored wood will start to decay after four or five years and burning ease and efficiency begins to drop
  • Cut, split, and stack your wood in the early spring so the seasoning process can work through the summer
  • If you don’t have woods that you can cut down, and you need to buy the wood, you can buy greenwood in advance and season it yourself
  • Don’t mess with wood that has been treated with pesticides or insecticides. 

Where to buy seasoned firewood in Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Lynchburg

If you’re not up to doing it yourself, no worries. You can always look out for someone that seasons firewood. Just be careful, and refer back to this guide when you need to verify that the firewood is in good condition. 

  • Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace – Buyer Beware

Coal

Coal can be used as a fuel for stoves and fireplaces. It was actually the fuel used in the only real fireplace on the Titanic. 

Before burning coal, you need to make sure your fireplace is properly set up for coal burning. 

Do not burn coal if your fireplace isn’t designed to handle it. Improper combustion of coal will produce carbon monoxide. Here are the minimum design considerations for coal stoves: 

  • A properly sized firebox, usually lined with firebrick
  • A coal grate incorporating a shaker
  • Secondary air inlets in addition to the primary air inlet to burn the gases generated by burning coal
  • An ash pan
gaslogs

Types of Coal

Believe it or not, there are many types of coal. But there are only two that are acceptable to burn: anthracite and bituminous coal. 

Anthracite is recommended because it burns a lot hotter and cleaner. It’s available in several sizes, but we recommend chestnut or pea sizes. 

Bituminous coal is dirty to handle and produces a lot more soot and smoke. It should only be used when you can’t get anthracite coal. 

Some manufacturers only recommend one type, so check that before choosing any type of coal to use.

Coal Storage

Coal is sold by weight, with the standard measure being by the ton. The heating value of one ton of anthracite compares equally to the following fuels: 

  • One cord of hardwood
  • 160 gallons of #2 fuel oil
  • 24,000 cubic feet of natural gas
  • 3800 kilowatts of electricity

You’ll need a place to store a ton of coal. It’s really not a big area. The area should be dry and free of any other combustible materials.

A weather-tight coal bin is usually recommended and can be easily built. 

You can build a bin that’s 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet. And holds nearly two tons of coal. See, I told you it’s not as much space as you’d think! 

Manufactured Fuels

There are three common types of manufactured fuels that we see a lot:

  • compressed wood logs
  • wood wax logs
  • wood pellets.
gaslogs

Compressed Wood Logs

Compressed wood logs are made by compressing wood chips or coarse sawdust.

They use no binders and are held together by the pressure exerted on them during the manufacturing process.

They’re usually 3-4 inches in diameter and 12-18 inches long. They have a comparable heat output to cordwood but produce less smoke and ash.

You can burn compressed wood in stoves or fireplaces. And you can burn two or three at a time. They have a very dry, wood-like appearance.

Wood Wax Logs

Wood wax logs are made by molding sawdust into a log-like form and adding combustible binders such as wax or paraffin.

Because of the wax content, these logs have a BTU rating of about 15,000 BTU per pound, so much higher than the cordwood and compressed wood logs.

Wax logs should only be burned one at a time and should not be used in wood stoves.

You can find a wax log at a convenience store or grocery store.

When burned properly, wax logs will produce less creosote and smoke than an average cordwood fire.

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are made by compressing small wood chips, shells of nuts, or material like the pits of cherries into pellets. Basically, the process for making wood pellets is the same as for compressed wood logs.

The pellets are small – anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 inches in diameter and about 1-2 inches in length.

Their heating potential is similar to cordwood since the pellets are made from wood without any binders added.

They are designed to be burned in special stoves though. The special stoves will allow you to feed the pellets from a storage hopper to a special combustion chamber (AKA the firepot).

Pellets come in 40-50 pound bags and may be purchased by the bag or by the ton.

Pellet fuel is clean and convenient to handle. A bag will last 1 to 2 days if you’re burning all the time.

Emissions from pellet stoves are so low that pellet stoves used to be exempt from EPA certification. Now they have to meet the same standards as the wood stoves.

Fuel Gas

Gas hearth appliances may be fueled by either natural or propane gas.

Natural gas is supplied through pipelines to individual homes and sold by the therm (a measure equal to 100,000 BTUs).

Propane, on the other hand, is supplied in containers stored on your property. Propane is sold either by the pound or gallon depending on local custom. Propane has 21,591 BTUs per pound and 91,547 BTUs per gallon.

gaslogs

Natural Gas

Since pipelines deliver natural gas, it is more common in cities. Today’s natural gas suppliers deliver fuel that contains about 1,000 BTUs per cubic foot.

Advantages

  • Usually less expensive than propane gas logs
  • Lighter than air (0.65 specific gravity), so it dissipates into the atmosphere after combustion

Disadvantages

  • Needs to be hard-piped to any appliance from buried gas service lines
  • Natural gas service may not be available in your area

Liquid Propane

Propane has been around as a heating source since the very early 1900s. It is more common than natural gas in many rural parts of the United States and very popular for heating and cooking.

Advantages

  • Contains more carbon dioxide than natural gas
  • Burns three times hotter than natural gas
  • Can be operated independently of natural gas lines or appliances
  • Popular in rural areas since it can be used in areas where natural gas service is not

Disadvantages

  • More expensive than natural gas
  • Requires installation of a dedicated tank
  • Often requires you to sign a contract with a propane dealer to refill your tank

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re considering fuels to heat your home. If you have any questions regarding the fuels, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We’re experts in the heating industry, and we’ll be able to help guide you along the way. 

Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection. 

We’re licensed, insured, certified, and guarantee you’ll be happy with your service.

 

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