What’s the best firewood to burn?

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burning firewood

Firewood– a sort of arbitrary area that I recently did a bit of research. A recent opportunity to gain loads of firewood for the winter made me curious about the various types of firewood.

First, I will start with my arborist story and then I will review this new firewood info I learned.

Arborist Story

Last week I woke up to the very loud AF noise of a neighborhood having a huge tree removed in their backyard. First, I will admit that I was sleeping late on a Tuesday and the “arborist” was not breaking the District’s noise ordinance. BTW– if you’re a Washingtonian, construction is allowed Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 7 pm without any special permits.

Ok, back to the story– although there was no ordinance issue, there were tw0 things I soon found completely unacceptable and one that was a win-win.

Fist, the unacceptable…

Unacceptable With Arborist
  1. The arborist was using my backyard as a staging area for removing the tree. Huh?? No one discussed this with me or my husband. Time to head outside for a conversation…
  2. The arborist offered to give my husband and I cut firewood if we would allow him to utilize our driveway to remove the wood. Needless to say, my response was– “Absolutely not!”
Acceptable With Arborist
  1. In an effort to avoid dragging this wood up my neighbors hill, he then offered to simply “give” us the firewood. (It was hickory!)

The Best Firewood

Not all wood burn the same. Some burn hotter, slower, and cleaner than others. Some create a lot of smoke, and some have a lot of sap or resin that will clog your chimney.

I learned that the best firewood for a fireplace burns hot and relatively steadily. Producing more heat and typically, burning more completely. These woods tend to be hardwoods, such as ash or hickory vs. softwoods, such as cedar and pine.

Hardwood Firewood

The most common hardwoods are ash, birch, maple, hickory, oak, and most fruit trees. These woods have the least sap and are cleaner to handle.

Hickory is considered to be the best type of firewood. Hickory produces minimal smoke and can burn through the night.

Birch has a thick inner brown bark called the phloem. This inner bark retains a lot of moisture and often prevents the wood from drying evenly. Therefore, you will want to mix birch with another type of hardwood for a cleaner burn and less smoke.

The cons of hardwood– 1) hardwoods are generally more expensive than softwoods and 2) hardwoods are more prone to leave a stony residue in the leftover ash.

Softwood Firewood

Popular softwoods include alder, balsam, cedar, fir, pine, poplar, spruce, and tamarack. Softwood is the lease expensive type of wood you can buy, but tend to burn faster and leave finer ash compared to hardwoods.They also can be messy to handle, especially balsam, pine, and spruce.

If choosing a softwood, fir is the best choice.

Best Firewood Practices

  1. Make Sure Your Wood Is Dry – Never burn “green” or insufficiently dried wood. It produces less heat and more smoke.
  2. Proper Storage – Stack your wood for efficient air circulation, covered at the top only, and make sure it is thoroughly dry before burning.
  3. Rotate Wood – Burn older dryer wood first to avoid wood rot and waste.
  4. Woods to Avoid – Some salvaged wood produce hazardous fumes indoors, as well as chimney emissions that would be harmful for the environment. Examples include: painted or varnished wood, pressure-treated lumber, driftwood, and plywood.
  5. Wood Burning Safety – Have an active carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm, use only enough paper to get the fire going, and protect flooring with a fire-resistant floor pad.


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By Dana Ash-McGinty

Dana Ash-McGinty is the Principal Broker of ASH | MCGINTY, a Washington, DC Real Estate Brokerage. This real estate maven has 15+ years experience in residential, commercial and land sales in addition to multi-state residential renovation, re-zoning, and condo conversion projects. A sought after real estate authority, she has been featured on CNN and in various real estate and financial publications. Dana is married to the highly esteemed Dr. Dana W. McGinty, a Washington, DC internal medicine physician and medical correspondent. They are often referred to as "The Danas".