IDEQ offering free moisture meters

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Photo by JOSH MCDONALD Dan Smith demonstrates how to use one of the wood moisture meters at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality office in Kellogg. These meters are now available for free at the IDEQ office in Kellogg, the U.S. Forest Serive Office in Smelterville and the Idaho Department of Lands Office in Cataldo.

KELLOGG — As the Silver Valley once again approaches camping and wood cutting season, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality wants to remind residents to only burn and buy dry wood in your campfire or stove.

IDEQ is so emphatic about this that it and other local agencies are now offering free moisture testing meters to those who burn and/or sell firewood.

IDEQ West Silver Airshed Project Coordinator Dan Smith said that these meters are easy to use and are currently available at the IDEQ office in Kellogg, the U.S. Forest Service Office in Smelterville and the Idaho Department of Lands Office in Cataldo.

“The reasons we gave them to the Forest Service and the Department of Lands is that they have the wood cutting permits,” Smith said. “We want people to pick them up when they come in for those.”

The meters are not just for those getting permits or cutting wood though. Even if you are simply buying firewood, IDEQ asks that you use the meters to check the moisture in that wood and see if it’s ready to burn.

Smith explained in a previous interview that there are several advantages to burning dry wood instead of wet.

“First of all, it’s the efficiency — it actually heats your home better. Secondly, it’s safer. It’s not producing the creosote that clogs up your chimney that causes chimney fires. And lastly … you’re not polluting the environment to the same degree you would if you were burning wet wood.”

Simply put, if wet wood is used to make a fire, a large amount of energy is used to boil away the water trapped inside. This causes the fire to not burn as clean or as hot as compared to if the wood were dry. Wet wood also can make starting a fire more difficult.

“We want everybody to burn wood properly with a low moisture content,” Smith said. “Be a little more scientific about it instead of knocking two pieces of wood together.”

Paid for through the Environmental Protection Agency airshed grant, the meters are a $25 value and the limit on it being handed out is one per household. Instructions on how to use it and other burning information will also be provided with it.

Unless you stumble across an already dead tree, it can be difficult to come across firewood that meets the IDEQ approved 20 percent or less moisture level. If you are in possession of wet wood (which the meters can tell you if it is or not), IDEQ recommends drying or seasoning your wood.

Tips to do this include:

• Wait at least six months and up to 12 months for dry firewood depending on the type of wood. Hardwoods like oak and maple dry more slowly than softwoods like pine and spruce. To test, bang two pieces together; dry wood sounds hollow, wet wood sounds dull.

• Cut wood to the right length. The wood should fit easily in your wood stove or fireplace. Make sure it is about 3 inches shorter than the firebox width or length.

• Split wood before stacking. Split the wood to the right width, no more than 6 inches in diameter. Splitting the wood before stacking increases exposure to air, which improves the drying process.

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

• Store firewood off the ground. Build a woodshed to keep firewood 6 inches or more off the ground to protect the wood pile from moisture.

• 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 IDEQ’s West Silver Valley Air Quality page at www.deq.idaho.gov/west-silver-valley-air-quality.

The Kellogg IDEQ office can be reached at 208-783-5781.

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