split oak firewood

Best Types of Firewood to Heat Your Home

Winter is here for most of the U.S. and that means many homeowners will be heating their homes by burning firewood in wood stoves and fireplaces as a main heat source, or burning firewood as a supplemental heat source for the home.

With a long burn time and a high heat output of 26.4 million BTUs, seasoned and split Oak firewood is no doubt one of the best types of firewood you can burn in your home’s fireplace or woodstove. Oak firewood also produces very little smoke and has a low spark rate, making it an ideal hardwood for many homeowners. But if you do have access to other types of hardwood trees there are good alternatives to burning oak firewood to heat your home.

The type of tree and percent of dryness of the wood to burn is important to know when choosing the best firewood to burn inside the house. It’s also important to know the differences between the different types of firewood, along with their BTU output, how much the wood sparks and smokes, and how difficult the firewood is to split.

Mulberry wood is a great burning hardwood for wood burning stoves
Mulberry wood burns at a high 25.8 million BTU rating, making it an excellent hardwood for burning in woodstoves, if you can get it. Burning Mulberry firewood has a moderately high spark rate, so it's not a good choice of wood for an open air indoor fireplace.

Here is chart of some of the more popular types of hardwood trees typically found across the U.S. that are commonly used as firewood that is safe to burn inside your home.

Firewood Chart

Tree TypeBTUsSplittingSmokeSparkQuality
Alder17.5EasyLowModerateExcellent
Apple27MediumLowFewGermany
White Ash24.2MediumLowFewExcellent
Aspen18.2EasyLowFewExcellent
Beech27.5DifficultLowFewGood
Birch20.8MediumMediumFewFair
Cherry20.4EasyLowFewGood
Cottonwood15.8EasyMediumFewFair
Maple25.5EasyLowFewGood
Silver Maple19.0MediumLowFewFair
Mulberry25.8EasyLowModerateExcellent
Red Oak24.6MediumLowFewExcellent
White Oak29.1MediumLowFewExcellent
Black Walnut22.2EasyLowFewExcellent

For a more comprehensive look at different types of wood used for wood heating and firewood facts see this wood heating chart from Utah State University.

types of hardwood you can burn in woodstoves and fireplaces
There are many different types of hardwoods that you can burn in your home's wood burning stove or fireplace. Black Cherry and Maple trees are examples of good burning hardwoods.

Only burn seasoned firewood in your fireplace or woodstove

Seasoned firewood is wood that has been split and stacked properly and allowed to air dry for at least one year. Burning unseasoned wood decreases heat output and increases the risk of chimney fires, so you should only burn seasoned and dry firewood in your home’s fireplace or woodstove.

In woodstoves, the primary heat source comes from the combustion of the firewood, but there is also a secondary heat source coming from the combustion of unburned wood particles and gasified resins in the stove’s baffle plate. Burning unseasoned or wet wood converts water from the burning logs into steam, which will mix with the exhaust gases and extinguish the secondary burn.

More dangerously, burning wet or unseasoned firewood emits a dense, wet smoke that will slowly make its way up the chimney to cool and condense on the chimney walls, causing excessive creosote buildup.

Don't burn softwood indoors

You should never burn softwood in your woodstove or fireplace because of their high resin content. Burning softwood in the home is a leading cause of chimney fires, which can lead to house fires caused from an excessive accumulation of creosote building up inside the chimney walls. Creosote, a highly combustible tar-like substance,  that has built up in sufficient quantities can sustain a long and destructive house chimney fire.

Creosote also collects inside of the chimney walls from burning any type of hardwoods, although in lesser quantity, because the smoke produced from the fire contains unburned wood particles and a higher that recommended percentage of moisture if the firewood has not been sufficiently dried. So it is important to clean your chimney every year or hire a professional chimney sweep annually to prevent the building up of creosote in your chimney.

Visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America to find a certified chimney sweep near you.

Hire a chimney sweep annually to prevent chimney fires
There are over 25,000 chimney fires in the U.S. every year. Make sure you only burn dry, seasoned hardwood in your woodstove or fireplace. Clean your chimney thoroughly every year, or hire a professional certified chimney sweep and cleaning service.

Excessive extreme heat from chimneys and chimney fires can also weaken the surrounding wood framing of your home. Repeated exposure to high temperatures will weaken the wood’s density, and lower it’s combustion point.

How can you tell the difference between softwood and hardwood trees?

Softwood trees are classified as evergreen trees and have cones, which they use to reproduce. Some examples of softwood trees include pine, cedar,  spruce, Douglas fir and juniper.  Hardwood trees shed their leaves every year and reproduce by dropping their seeds.

You should also never burn wet, moldy or rotten wood, pressure-treated lumber, or even driftwood. These will have a high moisture content and lead to a corrosive creosote build up or can release toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air inside your home.

How to measure a cord of firewood

Firewood is usually sold by volume. A standard or full cord of firewood measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′, and the total volume of a cord of wood is an evenly stacked 128 cubic feet pile of whole or split firewood logs. A poorly stacked pile of wood with more air gaps would have less wood in it, knotty wood pieces and branches will also decrease the amount of wood in a stack of firewood.

If you want to determine the number of cords in any other shaped pile, divide its cubic foot volume by 128.

Some people buy firewood locally that is delivered in a pickup truck but this is not a very precise way to deliver firewood to your home.  A standard bed, full size pickup truck will hold approximately one-half of a full or standard cord, or 64 cubic feet, when the firewood is loaded evenly to the top of the truck’s  bed. If the firewood logs have been thrown in and loaded randomly there will be more empty air spaces and therefore less firewood you paid for. Compact pickups will even  hold much less wood.

Buy firewood locally

Most homeowners only buy cords of split, seasoned oak firewood to burn. It’s important to only buy firewood locally, otherwise you can unknowingly introduce invasive insects to your area by transporting firewood across state lines. It is also illegal in many states. DontMoveFirewood.org has an informative interactive map you can use to see firewood pest concerns for states and provinces throughout the USA and Canada, along with other firewood rules and regulations.

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