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The wintertime joys of a good fire

The Examiner

Old man winter began the new year blowing in arctic air with its freezing temperatures and snow. The best way to spend days like this is in front of a cozy, warm fire. What does it take to get the best fire?

Lynn Youngblood

If you cut wood on your land, fine. Just use the chainsaw safely, use safety equipment, and never do it alone. If you do not have land with trees, always (always) ask for permission and double-check boundary lines wherever you are.

Standing dead trees are the best because they have had time to dry out and have not lain on the ground to begin rotting. However, ensure they do not have nest holes or cavities before you start cutting; these are called snags and are very important for wildlife nesting and winter cover. Next best are fallen dead trees. They also have had time to dry as long as they are not “punky” (soft and spongy).

I’ve had many wonderful experiences around a fire and cannot fathom living in a house without a fireplace. To me, a fireplace is the very heart of the house. Whether you are enjoying fires inside the house, or outside around a campfire, you may want to be aware of some of the differences between the woods and the qualities they offer.

Most people know that if properly dried, hardwoods provide more heat because they are denser. I found out this year that burning hardwoods is also best for your chimney flue. They create less creosote, reducing the chance for flue fires. If you buy wood, this alone may justify the price for hardwood logs.

Not only do hardwoods burn hotter, they also split more easily and don’t spark or smoke as much, making them safer and more enjoyable. Nothing is worse than sitting around a campfire that is smoking so much you cannot even enjoy it. 

Although, fireplaces create the charm we all desire, when it comes to adding heat to the home they lose. In actuality, 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 while still being able to enjoy the ambiance. For true heating, a good airtight wood stove is the way to go.

Remember, firewood is a renewable resource. There is a lot of satisfaction when you toss on the log that you cut. It is also the best way to make some good memories. I hope you are able to enjoy fires this year with family, friends or just a good book.

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.

Firewood comparison

Ash – 23.6 BTU per cord of wood

Basswood – 14.7

Box elder – 17.5

Cedar (red) – 18.9

Cottonwood – 16.1 

Elm – 20.1

Hackberry – 21.6

Hickory – 29.1

Locust – 28.1

Maple (silver) – 20.8

Maple (sugar) – 25.0

Oak (red) – 25.3

Oak (white) – 27

Osage orange – 30.7

Pine – 19

Sycamore – 20.7

Walnut – 21.8

Source: University of Missouri Extension Service