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Article contributed from DC area fireplace and chimney experts High’s Chimney Services.

As the weather starts to chill this fall and the threat of winter looms near, many are beginning to concern themselves with how to best heat their homes.  Building a fire is a popular option, as it makes your home nice and toasty and often fills the house with the pleasant aroma of the outdoors.  However, there are many considerations to bear in mind when preparing for a winter of warm fires.

First and foremost, if you plan on chopping the wood yourself, be sure to take proper safety precautions.  Note the following recommendations for wood cutting safety:

  • Goggles to protect the eyes while sawdust and bits of wood are flying about
  • Gloves to prevent the hands from becoming sticky from sap or pricked with splinters
  • Hard hat to protect the head from rogue falling branches
  • Chainsaw pants and boots to protect from cuts and similar injuries
  • Back support to prevent injury from bending and straining muscles during chainsaw use

Next, make a plan.  If you have a lot that you will be pruning trees from, know which trees you are going to cut and in which order.  This will enable you to predict how they will fall to maximize safety and accessibility to other trees.  To better plan your firewood cutting efforts, know which trees produce undesirable burning smells or that people are allergic to and avoid them.  Also note which trees make for the best firewood.  Generally-speaking, “hard” woods are best, and include the likes of oaks, hickories and poplars which are found in the DC area, as well as many others such as maple, locust and apple trees.  Harder wood burns faster and longer, making your cutting efforts more worthwhile.

While keeping in mind the best types of wood to use (you may also want to remember that soft trees like larches and pines aren’t as good), also note the condition of the trees.  Odds are that there will be at least a few crooked or dying (but not diseased) trees in the area, which take up a great deal of space from the better trees.  Consider taking these trees first to allow the better ones to flourish.

Once you’ve chosen and cut your trees, it’s time to cut them down further into logs for the fireplace.  Bear in mind the size of your fireplace grate when doing this, as a good log fit will make a better burning fire later.  Upon cutting the logs, you may choose to split them immediately, as “green” or live wood splits more easily and split wood will dry faster.

Ah, you’re finally done with the manual labor!  Now it’s time to store the wood for later use.  With firewood, it is abundantly important to ensure that bugs and other pests stay out of your supply, so consider investing in a metal firewood rack to keep the wood off the ground while it dries and is stored outdoors.  Once you’ve stacked your “cord” of wood (equal to 128 cubic feet), it will need to sit and dry for preferably one year’s time.  This will appropriately season and dry it for fireplace use and maximum burning time.

If you’ve not prepared to wait or would prefer to keep your hands clean, firewood can be bought through us at reasonable price and comes from local sources in DC, Maryland and Virginia)

If you plan on using your fireplace as a primary heat source during the colder months, be sure to have 3-4 cords or stacks on hand for the season. It takes a lot of wood to keep that fire burning!

A fire is a great way to keep warm, but it does require some planning.  Signs of adequately seasoned wood include: cracks or splits, graying and discoloration, and peeling bark. Remember these tips and you’ll always be prepared for those chilly seasons!