There’s an indisputable charm about the cosy atmosphere created in front of a glowing fire. Fires draw people together for warmth, and families especially have come to use this environment as an opportunity to communicate and grow closer to each other. If you have chosen the right firewood and cured it properly, the fire will keep you warm and cosy. On the other hand, if you’ve chosen improper firewood or wood that has not dried properly, things could end up disastrous with more smoke and less heat, driving people away.
To prevent such disruptions to what should be a cosy night spent snuggling in front of the fireplace, we’ll outline what wood works best for burning in terms of sustainability, energy content, and general practicality.
Why you should only burn wood from sustainable sources
The Firewood Association of Australia Inc. recommends that Australian households only burn wood from sustainable sources, which is more helpful to the environment than using electricity or gas to heat your home. This is because wood is a renewable bioenergy, which means that you can have your woodfire guilt-free.
The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council’s Firewood Taskforce has outlined these sources as being an acceptable for firewood:
- Residual logs from plantations and forests that are sustainably managed.
- Residual and by-product logs/timber from wood processing or sawmill operations that are supplied by plantations and forests that are sustainably managed.
- Wood that has been collected from forests or woodlands which are under Australian government authorisation.
- Wood that has been collected from private properties which conform to environmental guidelines and sustainable management plans.
- Waste timber or wood from planted shelterbelts, agroforestry or planted windbreaks. This also includes waste timber that has been salvaged from private or public land through approved harvesting.
- Waste and recycled timber from urban salvage, building demolition or tree lopping. However, you should avoid burning timbers that have been stained, painted, or treated with preservatives, as they will release harmful fumes when burning.
The Australian Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) reports that an estimated 6.1 million tons of firewood are collected each year in Australia. This rate of collection is becoming unsustainable as the main species of firewood are becoming less and less common. This is also causing environmental damage in the sense that the trees being used, whether standing or fallen, provide an important habitat for native animals.
For these reasons, consumers are encouraged to only burn firewood that has been sourced according to the above guidelines.
The best types of wood to burn
The rest of this article will examine different types of firewood, and the characteristics that make them suitable for home based fires.
The attributes to consider when selecting firewood include:
- Seasoned woods – This is the extent to which to wood has dried. When wood is wet it burns poorly and releases a lot of smoke.
- Energy content – This is a measure of how much heat is produced by a certain amount of wood. Measured in British Thermal Units (BTU), energy content ranges between 85 and 100.
- Hardwood vs. softwood – Hardwood burns at a higher temperature and for a longer period of time than softwood. This is because hardwood has a higher density.
Popular woods for burning by state
Here are the most popular woods for burning by Australian state, as stated by the Firewood Association of Australia:
- Western Australia – Jarrah and Wandoo wood
- Northern Territory and Queensland – Ironbark and Box wood
- New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia – River Red Gum wood
- Tasmania – Brown Peppermint wood
Firewoods to avoid
Some woods to avoid include wood from:
- Telephone piles
- Railroad beams
- Pressure treated wood
- Particle boards
- Laminated, stained, or painted wood
- Pieces of old furniture
- Turpentine wood
- White Stringybark
The surface treatment of these woods makes them unsuitable for burning, and their emissions could be extremely harmful to humans.
Some practical aspects of managing your firewood
Some hardwoods need as long as two years to dry properly. When dry, they should contain no more than 15-20% of the normal 50% moisture level when cut. While drying, wood piles should be covered and not come into direct contact with the ground, as this will spread rot and fungi throughout the pile.
If you’re confused as to how to work out the moisture level in the wood, there are a few methods you can use to help make an estimate:
- Split a piece of wood in half. If the exposed surfaces feel damp, the wood needs additional seasoning
- Dry wood ignites and burns easily. Wet wood is difficult to ignite and burns with a hissing sound
- Dry wood tends to darken from white to cream or yellow as it dries
- Dry wood weighs much less than wet wood.
For a modern style wood burner, wood should be cut into lengths of 35-45 cm. Selecting an armful of firewood on a daily basis will be easier if the wood has been split into various thicknesses, ranging from 7-15 cm. The uneven sizes will also allow more air to circulate through the wood pile, allowing it to dry faster.
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