Burning wood: lost art makes sense again

The early settlers on the American Continent got most of their home-heating energy from wood. Gradually, wood was replaced with other forms of fuel, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Now, however, wood is on the rise again as a significant source of heat for the home. More and more homeowners are burning wood in stoves, fireplaces, and even in central furnaces.

In some New England states, according to one estimate, up to 30 percent of all housese now use supplemental wood-burning stoves or furnaces for 50 percent or more of all heating. In the Southwest, privat industry is experimenting with wood-burning techniques, along with solar heat, to run air conditioners.

Simply, people are finding out that using wood as a supplementary source, or even as a standby heating system, makes a lot of good sense these days.

Of course, when the country was young the settlers simply took wood for granted, because there was plenty of it. Also, they had the knack of cutting, storing, and using firewood. Today, most people have a lot to learn about the subject.

Types of wood vary widely in the quantity of heat they deliver. The burning efficiency and heating value of logs depend on the species of wood being burned.

Hardwoods are the elite fuel. Hickory, locust, ash, hard maple, dogwood, red and white oak, beech, and yellow birch give the most heat and burn slowly. Specialty woods, such as ample, cherry, pecan, and hickory, are often used for the scent they give to a room when burning. White birch is popular because it looks pretty in a wood basket next to the fireplace.

Hardwoods are light smokers and do not throw off sparks the way some softwoods -- elm, box elder, cottonwood, willow, pine, and cedar -- do. However , softwoods are easier to ignite and split more easily for good kindling.

Softwoods that are rated hight in heat production and ease of burning and splitting include Douglas fir and southern yellow pine. Spruce, eastern white pine, sugar pine, and some firs are poor in heat output.

Remember, too, that spruce and pine -- and any green or wet wood -- are high in the production of creosote. Burning this type of wood will build up creosote and soot, not only in the stove and fireplace, but in the chimneys as well. A soot-encrusted chimney is a dangerous one.

Chemical cleaners tossed onto a hot fire can help to reduce the accumulation of soot. Chimney Sweep is a good product and does its job well. Or you can simply throw a few handfuls of salt on a hot fire.

In place of wood, you can also use coal, compressed logs, or even newspapers that have been rolled up tightly into "logs." When burning commercial compressed logs, be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions precisely. Usually, you may only burn one compressed log at a time.

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