Firewood as a viable source of energy
With the weather turning colder and energy costs relatively high, many homeowners are using firewood as a heating source for their homes.
According to Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulture agent, information on the amount of heat produced per cord is available for many tree species. This information can be found at the USU Forestry Extension Web site at http://extension.usu.edu/forestry/HomeTown/General_HeatingWithWood.htm.
"In general, hardwoods or deciduous trees produce more heat than softwoods or conifers," he said. "However, this is not the only factor to take into account when purchasing firewood. Other things to consider include how long the wood has been dried, how much smoke is produced, tendency to produce sparks and ease of splitting."
As a general rule, wood should be dried for a full year before it is burned, he said. If you are going to purchase wood, find a reliable vendor to be sure you are getting a quality product. Burning wet wood produces less heat since water must evaporate before the wood can burn and dirty smoke is produced that causes creosote buildup. This can lead to chimney fires.
Additionally, Beddes said the resin content of wood impacts the amount of smoke and sparks produced. In general, hardwoods contain fewer resins and produce less smoke and sparks. Of wood available locally, Gamble's oak (scrub oak) and bigtooth maple produce the least amount of smoke and burn the hottest.
"If you are planning on cutting and splitting your own wood, the ease of splitting becomes very important," he said. "Interestingly, this is less related to hardwood or softwood and more to the particular species. Some of the densest woods are relatively easy to split while other softer woods are more difficult."
Beddes said there are many options available for obtaining firewood. Permits can often be acquired for homeowners who want to cut their own wood. There are also many vendors who deliver for a reasonable price. Be aware that when purchasing from vendors, hardwoods generally cost about 50 percent more than softwoods. Landfills often allow cutting from trees left at their green waste facilities. In addition, many homeowners advertise free firewood from trees they have felled if someone is willing to cut it up. Construction waste, which is usually softwood, is fine to burn as long as it has not been treated or painted. Many arborists, wood working and pallet companies offer wood for burning. In fact, arborists can be a source of more difficult-to-come-by hardwood due to the number of shade trees they remove.
Once firewood is obtained, be aware of safety when burning it. Chimneys should be swept and inspected at least annually. Avoid burning wet wood, and have sufficient carbon monoxide/smoke detectors. With these precautions, wood heat offers a viable and often less expensive source of heat.