ALBANY, N.Y. — C ALBANY, N.Y. -- Building a cozy fire is still a popular way to trim utility bills, as temperatures turn cooler this fall.
And whether you use your fireplace or wood stove only a few times or every day, you can get the most out of your fires by using the right logs.
If you want a hot, clean-burning fire, choose dense hardwoods such as ash, apple, hickory, cherry, ironwood, beech, birch, maple and oak. They burn slower than softwoods and with a shorter flame. Oak, which is common in the Northeast, burns with the shortest and most uniform flames and produces a steady bed of glowing coals.
Softwoods, including pine, spruce and fir, are generally easier to ignite than hardwoods. Softwoods are resinous and will burn fast with a hot flame, heating your firebox and flue faster than the others. They also tend to create a bit more smoke. If you use only softwoods, your fire will burn out quickly, requiring more wood and frequent attention. Softwoods are usually readily available and reasonably priced.
Beyond heat, there's the aesthetic issue of smell. Wood from fruit trees produces an aroma that generally resembles the fragrance of the tree's fruit. Wood from fruit and nut trees usually sells for more per cord. To create a fire that ignites easily, is fragrant and lasts a long time, use a combination of softwoods, hardwoods and fruit woods.
Experts warn against using freshly cut "green" wood for fires. Chris Nelson, owner of Northern Firewood Distributors in Malta, N.Y., said green wood produces creosote - that sticky tar-like flammable residue that can collect along a chimney flue and possibly catch fire.
"Any kind of green wood will cause a creosote buildup," said Nelson, whose company sells only unseasoned cords of 8-foot-long hardwood logs. "Green wood has a lot of moisture in it, which produces a cooler, smoldering and smoky fire, rather than a hot, clean one. The water in green wood absorbs heat rather than giving it off, which renders it an inefficient and costly way to heat, in addition to creating an ideal condition for creosote buildup. Anybody who tries to heat with green wood is just throwing their money out the window."
The best kind of wood for a fire has been seasoned, meaning that it was cut and left for six to 12 months under a protective tarp or shed, so that air circulated around it to dry it.
Much of the seasoned wood is sold and delivered in late summer and the fall, according to firewood experts.
"A lot of people who supply firewood don't have the capital to hold wood inventory for six months or more to season it before they sell it," said Peter Wilson of Firestix Industries in Balston Spa, N.Y., makers of packaged kiln-dried hardwood firewood.
If you are going to use cut wood, Wilson recommends that you purchase green (unseasoned) firewood and air-dry it yourself. Hardwoods cost more than softwoods, because they last longer. But in the long run, you'll probably have to burn fewer hardwood logs than softwood logs.
"Hardwoods take more time to dry than softwoods," Nelson said. "Oak, hickory and locust take the longest time to dry, which is about one year, while ash and soft maple, which are also hardwoods, take about six months."
Pub Date: 9/28/97