Ashley is a professional writer.
A warm fire in a fireplace is a welcome comfort on a cold night. If you’re preparing to use your fireplace in the cold winter months, whether to warm your house or to have a cozy night in, then you’re probably wondering what kind of wood to use. The best wood for fireplaces boils down to a few different factors: what type of wood it is (for example hardwood or softwood), how dry it is, and whether you decide to use reclaimed lumber or wood straight from the tree.
Even with all of these factors, there’s still a variety of wood out there, all fit to burn in any fireplace or on any budget. Here is all the know-how to determine what wood is the absolute best to use depending on what you want.
As it turns out, you can burn pretty much anything that was once a tree. That means that you can get wood from countless different sources out there. Lumber works just fine in a pinch, but you always need to be careful of what kind of lumber you’re planning on burning. Anything pressure treated or stained/painted is an absolute no-go because the chemicals used in these treatments are toxic. When you burn treated lumber, you release those chemicals into the air, and that can be incredibly dangerous to your health.
If the wood you’re planning to burn isn’t pressure treated or stained in any way that gives it a distinctly unnatural coloration, then you’re good to go. Ideally you know what wood you have, but as long as you follow this rule of thumb then you shouldn’t run into too much trouble.
You will also want to consider seasoning your wood. Seasoning is a term used to describe firewood that has been properly dried. You should be seasoning your firewood for at least a few months before using it in your fireplace, though some wood varieties can burn just fine without being seasoned.
You may have heard terms like hardwood and softwood before in reference to firewood – or any application that uses wood for that matter. What these terms denote are density of each kind of wood. Hardwood is generally more dense and higher quality than softwood, which is the less dense of the two. Density matters because it determines how much or how little water and sap a piece of wood may contain. The denser hardwoods contain less water and sap, which makes them optimal for burning. This also makes them easier to dry, and once they’re in your fireplace, they burn for a much longer time than their less dense counterparts.
Softwood, on the other hand, has more room for liquid because it’s less dense, which also means there’s less to burn. So, it’s not as long lasting. But don’t count them out just yet! Since hardwoods are generally considered the higher quality wood, they tend to be more expensive. Softwood may not burn as long or as well, but they’re less expensive, making them a more cost-effective option. Not to mention the fact that softwood burning quicker may be to your advantage, depending on how long you want a fire to last. It’s also easier to ignite and get your fire started than hardwood.
Because certain wood varieties burn differently than others, they are categorized into heat values. The heat value of wood tells us how much you’ll be getting out of whatever wood you choose to burn. Wood with a high heat value (meaning one cord of wood burns at the rate of about 200-250 gallons of fuel oil) is the best to use for your fireplace, and include:
Apple is a standout because of its high heat value as well as its pleasant scent when burning. Applewood is popular for fireplaces and for cooking, because some of that scent will get on the food and make it taste even better.
One of the pros of certain regions of the United States and Canada is the abundance of sugar maples. Not only is it a hardwood with a high heat value, but like applewood, it smells amazing while being burned.
Oak has a reputation for being a sturdy hardwood, and that translates to its heat value too. It’s overall a consistent, reliable wood no matter where you are.
Like the name implies, ash is a great wood to burn because of its high heat value. You can get a fire going for a long time before it really lives up to its name and becomes nothing more than a pile of ashes.
A step below these is wood with a medium heat value (meaning one cord of wood burns at the rate of about 150-200 gallons of fuel oil). These would include:
While we may love a good sugar maple, red and silver maple varieties work well too. Though not as long-lasting as their sweeter cousin, most other maples are still great for burning.
Another fruit tree, which means another great-smelling fire. Not as popular as apple, but still worth using in your fireplace.
A very common tree in many areas, birch is a great softwood to use for burning. You can start a fire pretty easily with this wood.
Lastly, there’s the low heat value (meaning one cord of wood burns at the rate of about 100-150 gallons of fuel oil). These woods generally fall under the softwood varieties and may not burn as hot as others, but that makes them great for days that aren’t as cold, or for fires that don’t need to last a very long time. They include:
While seasoning your wood is usually recommended, you can actually burn cedar unseasoned, making it easy to use in a pinch.
It’s easy to start a fire with pine, but it’s actually not recommended to burn it in your house. That’s because of their resin content, which can be dangerous to inhale when burned. If you need a good wood for an outdoor fire, however, pine is a great choice.