Wood burning stoves are a good way to heat your home while using a renewable fuel.
Growing up in the center of Kansas City, my mother was the epitome of a Scout – always prepared. Days before a big storm was due, she’d start cooking stews and soups. Dad had the type of job where he was gone a lot of the time, so mom dealt with seven kids many times on her own. Our large, old house was notorious for the power going out for days at a time. We would build a fire in the fireplace and put one of Mom’s soups or stews over the coals. She would read aloud as we would pile around her.
Whether you enjoy fires inside the house or outside around a campfire, you may want to be aware of some of the differences between firewood logs and the qualities they offer.
Most people know hardwoods provide more heat because they are denser. Hardwoods that contain the highest energy content include Osage orange, hickory, locust, oak, ash and hard maples. Generally the slower growing the tree, the denser the wood. Less dense woods have lower energy content. These include basswood, cottonwood, cedar, pine, silver maple, elm, and sycamore. Contrary to popular belief, walnut may be wonderful for furniture and cabinets, but it is not a good choice for firewood.
Heat is measured in British thermal units. One BTU is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. BTUs in woods range from is 30.7 (Osage orange) to 14.7 (basswood). I worked with foresters who said Osage orange (or hedge apple or hedge tree) burns so hot you should only put one log in the fire at a time and mix it with other woods. They also said to never use Osage orange in a stove because it burns so hot, it can crack the stove.
Some wood species:
• Ash – 23.6 million BTU per cord
• Red cedar – 18.9 mBTU.
• Elm – 20.1 mBTU.
• Hickory – 29.1 mBTU.
• Locust – 28.1 mBTU.
• Silver maple – 20.8 mBTU.
• Sugar maple – 25.0 mBTU.
• Red oak – 25.3 mBTU.
• White oak – 27.0 mBTU.
• Sycamore – 20.7
Not only do hardwoods burn hotter, they also split more easily and don’t spark or smoke as much making them a safer and more enjoyable fire. No one likes a smoky campfire.
It is important to have your fireplace flue cleaned every year. Although, fireplaces are charming, when it comes to adding heat to the home – they lose. More heat goes up the chimney than into the room. Adding glass doors can help, and a good fireplace insert can maximize your fireplace’s energy efficiency. For true heating, a good air-tight wood stove is the way to go.
Remember, firewood is one of Missouri’s renewable resources. It is one way you can wean yourself off of a nonrenewable resource, such as coal. I hope you’re able to enjoy some good fires this year with family, friends, or just a good book.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association.