What do you think of when you picture Christmas? Perhaps it’s a dining table stacked with plates of food, or a glowing tree surrounded by gifts. For some, nothing completes the cosy winter ambience quite like a wood fire crackling away in the background. In this article, experts from firewood supplier Firewood.co.uk share their top tips for keeping your wood fire burning all season long.
Whether for aesthetic or heat reasons, or a combination of the two, wood fires continue to be a staple in many of our homes. But running your wood burner efficiently can be a challenge, especially over the winter months. If you’re looking to run your wood burner more cost effectively, or if you’re new to wood burning stoves, here are five tips to help.
Select the right wood
Properly dried wood is essential for a good burn. As a minimum, the moisture content should be less than 20 per cent. This is because wetter woods tend to burn less efficiently, producing more smoke and potentially putting you at risk of breaching government rules, which can result in fines.
So, how can you ensure a low moisture content? Seasoned or air-dried wood often has a variable moisture content, thanks to the drying method used. Instead, opt for kiln-dried wood. Kiln-dried wood guarantees a low moisture content in every single log for maximum efficiency. And drying firewood in a kiln is much faster than drying in the air, meaning that kiln-dried wood is much more readily available.
In terms of what you can’t burn, you should avoid using scrap wood. Painted or treated woods, such as chipboard and MDF, can release harmful chemicals when burnt. If in doubt, always source firewood from a reputable supplier. This also applies to firelighters — opt for natural sources rather than newspaper or cardboard.
It can be tempting to go straight off price when comparing firewood options. But it’s important to consider how much energy each log can release. Hardwoods, such as ash and oak, can provide up to 50 per cent more heat than a similarly sized softwood log. This is because hardwoods have a much higher density, making them an ideal choice for the cold winter months. Wood density directly relates to how the energy of each firewood log is released: the denser the wood, the longer the burn time.
Watch the temperature
Keeping your fire at the ideal temperature means you can get the maximum heat out of your wood. Many modern stoves will come with a built-in thermometer, but for those without them it’s possible to obtain a magnetic thermometer cheaply elsewhere. The thermometer should be placed at the bottom of the flue collar, which is the pipe leading upwards out of the stove. Ideal temperatures are typically between 150 to 250°C for the most efficient burn, though the exact number will depend on the wood type, room size and the individual wood burner.
To do this, you’ll need to control the airflow. Newer stoves should have two vents: the primary vent to help start the fire, and a secondary vent to keep it burning. Once the fire has caught, you’ll want to close the primary vent, and use only the secondary vent to control the fire. Allowing in more air should create a hotter fire, and vice versa. Keeping close tabs on how well your fire is burning means you only burn as much wood as necessary, rather than wasting energy heating up only the inside of your chimney.
Though it’s not the most exciting part of having a fire, regular cleaning and maintenance is essential to keeping your stove in good shape. Ash should be removed after every fire if possible, and the gaskets regularly checked for air leaks.
At minimum, chimneys should be swept once a year, though if you’re using it regularly over the winter it might be worth booking in another cleaning. This keeps chimneys free of creosote and other debris, minimising the risk of fires. It also helps to provide optimum draft for your wood stove.
Light from the top
Tend to pile your firewood into your stove and light it from underneath? Though this is one of the easiest and most common ways of starting a fire, it isn’t always the best setup for a steady, long-burning fire.
Instead, you can try the “top-down” method. Here, the logs are piled horizontally, with the kindling on the very top. Lighting from the top stops all the wood from catching at the same time, and typically achieves higher temperatures for better combustion as well.
A key tip when setting up your stove, regardless of the method used, is to make sure you aren’t overloading it. Put in only the minimal number of logs that you need. If you overload your fire, it won’t get enough oxygen, preventing it from catching and burning properly. Not only is this inefficient, but it also releases more creosote into your flue.
Based locally in Cirencester, Firewood.co.uk offers a wide range of firewood and briquettes to keep your fire roaring all winter long.