Prepare firewood now to save money, burn cleaner, protect air quality

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Dan Smith tests the moisture levels in firewood at the DEQ office in Kellogg by using a moisture meter. These meters can be checked out at the DEQ office for personal use. Photo by JOSH MCDONALD

KELLOGG — The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says that now is the time to collect and properly store your firewood so it is dry enough to burn efficiently during the colder months.

Burning clean, dry, seasoned firewood to heat your home saves money, ignites easily, and lessens the impact on local air quality.

When people have trouble with wood-burning systems, the problem is most often that the wood is not dry enough.

Wet firewood is hard to ignite, slow to burn, and hisses and sizzles in the firebox.

It also creates excessive smoke, which can lead to health and air quality issues.

“Next winter you gotta have that seasonal wood or your stove just inst going to work right,” West Silver Valley Airshed Project Coordinator, Dan Smith, explained.

“There is not a species of firewood in North Idaho that doesn’t require at least a six month seasoning period, so its really important to go out there and cut your fire wood, split it now, stack it, and cover it.”

Whether you get your firewood on your property, on public lands, or from an independent firewood seller or retailer, it needs to be seasoned and tested.

Seasoned wood has been split and air dried for at least six months (longer for hardwoods).

It tends to be dark in color, cracked on the ends, is lightweight, and its bark is easily broken or peeled.

Smith explains that this is especially important to those in the Silver Valley who burn.

“We have an air quality issue so it makes it very much our job to be responsible for our own air.”

The DEQ office at 1005 West McKinley Avenue in Kellogg has wood moisture meters available for check out so that residents can test the moisture levels of their firewood.

“It probably inst so important right now, but as the summer goes on its good to start looking at that,” Smith said.

“Its also especially important next fall when you are thinking that your wood is perfectly seasoned, go on out and test it.”

The DEQ offers these tips to make your fire burn hotter and keep local air cleaner:

1. Wait at least 6 months and up to 12 months for dry firewood depending on type of wood. Hardwoods like oak and maple dry more slowly than soft woods like pine and spruce. To ensure dry firewood, wait at least 12 months before burning. To test, bang two pieces together; dry wood sounds hollow, wet wood sounds dull.

2. Cut wood to the right length. The wood should fit easily in your wood stove or fireplace. Make sure it is about three inches shorter than the firebox width or length.

3. Split wood before stacking. Split the wood to the right width, no more than six inches in diameter. Splitting the wood before stacking increases exposure to air, which improves the drying process.

4. Stack wood in alternate directions. This improves circulation and further reduces moisture.

5. Store firewood off the ground. Build a woodshed to keep firewood six inches or more off the ground to protect the wood pile from moisture.

6. Cover the top of the wood pile, but leave the sides exposed. A structure with a roof is ideal, but you can also use a tarp. Remove the tarp to speed up drying in the warm summer months.

For additional information about firewood preparation, visit woodheat.org.

For information on how to build a woodshed, insulating your home, wood burning, and air pollution, visit DEQ’s West Silver Valley Air Quality page at www.deq.idaho.gov/west-silver-valley-air-quality.

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