To ensure a cozy home and minimize negative effects on health and the environment, it’s essential to burn appropriate fuels in your wood-burning stove.
If you have a dedicated wood-burning stove, burn seasoned firewood with a moisture content of less than 20%. On a multi-fuel stove, you can burn coal, logs, peat briquettes and other types of solid fuels approved by the authorities. Do not burn wet, painted or treated wood.
Discover more about the various wood-burning stove fuels and their explanations by reading further.
On a dedicated wood-burning stove, you should burn only dry, properly seasoned wood and manufactured solid fuels such as wood briquettes. Properly seasoned wood refers to wood that has a moisture content of less than 20%. To achieve this, firewood should be dried for at least 6 months.
Seasoned wood should weigh less and appear dark. Manufactured solid fuels are made from dry wood chips or sawdust. These fuels must have a very low sulfur content.
By all means, avoid burning wet wood or house coal. When wet wood is burned, the combustion releases plenty of smoke, and the stove works very inefficiently. In fact, sales of wet wood is illegal in the UK.
House coal releases large amounts of CO2 when burned. Sales of bagged house coal are already banned in the UK, and after 2023, suppliers will no longer be able to directly sell loose house coal to customers. Anthracite, however, is not being banned. Other approved solid fuels include peat, coke, charcoal, and wood pellets.
Non-authorised solid fuels include Maxiheat, Union briquettes and peat briquettes.
A stove designed to burn wood only, and no other fuel, usually has no open fire grate. Instead , it has a flat base that collects the ash. It does not have an ash pan, in part because the buildup of ash actually helps wood burn efficiently and also acts as a barrier that reflects heat and prevents damage to the base of the unit.
The absence of an ash pan or fire grate usually makes a dedicated wood-burning stove cheaper than a typical multi-fuel stove.
A multi-fuel stove features an open fire grate through which air passes and thus makes combustion possible. The unit has a knob or slider, which usually sits at the bottom of the door, to control primary air supply. It allows you to manage the burn rate and flame pattern.
A stove that is designed to burn only wood should not be used to burn coal.This is in part because coal fires burn hotter than wood fires, reaching temperatures of up to 2500°F. This high temperature can damage the internal parts of a typical wood-burning stove.
If you do not want to examine these technical details, just read the user manual of your stove. The manual should explicitly explain if the stove is a dedicated wood-burning stove or a multi-fuel unit.
While wood is a renewable resource, all types of wood are not equally sustainable or eco-friendly. In terms of their efficiency and environmental impact, certain wood species are better than others. The following table categorises different species of wood as per their abilities to generate heat energy.
|High caloric output
|Medium caloric output
|Low caloric output
|BeechApple HickoryBirchMaple (Sugar)IronwoodWhite ashRed oakWhite oak
|White BirchBlack CherryAmerican ElmDouglas FirTamarackRed and silver maple
|AspenRed alderRed cedarMemlockCottonwoodRedwoodPine Spruch
As we have seen, not all types of wood produce the same levels of heat energy. But there are some types of firewood you should never burn on your wood-burning stove. Here they are:
- Green wood: Freshly cut wood is loaded with moisture, and that’s why wood must be seasoned for at least 6 months before you burn it. In fact, sales of firewood containing a moisture content of higher than 20% are illegal both in the UK and USA.
- Large pieces of firewood: Even if the firewood is properly seasoned, each piece should be within 5 inches in diameter. Split larger pieces into smaller ones so that they easily fit inside your stove.
- Softwood: Soft wood such as firs, pines and cypress burn too fast and the combustion releases plenty of smoke. While a catalytic stove can generate a temperature of up to 1500°F, the unit will not achieve this temperature if you burn softwood. However, as long as the softwood is properly seasoned, feel free to use it for outdoor fires.
- Non-local wood: When firewood is moved to faraway places, it rapidly spreads insects and diseases. These insects include the goldspotted oak borer, the Asian longhorned beetle, and the emerald as borer. The invasion of non-native pests has damaged millions of trees, so it’s important to be careful when moving firewood to faraway places.
- Endangered species: In North America, there are some endangered native trees such as the Kentucky coffee tree, American chestnut, and Blue ash. Check out this list and make sure you do not chop down something that’s facing the risk of extinction.
- Poisonous vines: Combustion of poisonous vines such as poison oak, poison sumac and poison ivy releases urushiol—a substance that causes respiratory issues and lung irritation. Stay away from anything with the word “poison” in its name.
Choosing the right wood is not enough. You must store it properly during the winter. In fact, the quality of firewood largely depends on the way it is stored. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when storing firewood for your wood-burning stove:
- Store all firewood on an elevated platform, at least 5 feet above the ground.
- Store the stack of wood somewhere outside of your house. This will reduce the risk of fires.
- Make sure the wood is not stacked against the wall of a wooden building.
- Do not bring too much wood inside the house. The amount you need for the next couple of days should be enough.
- Store the stack of wood in a place that receives direct sunlight.
- The wood is ready to burn only when it is properly seasoned, with a moisture content of less than 20%.
- Never spray insecticide over firewood. Insecticide is flammable, and combustion releases highly toxic fumes.
In order to get the best out of your wood-burning stove and reduce your carbon footprint, be sure to choose the right fuel. Unless you are using a multi-fuel stove, do not burn coal. Burn only anthracite, and not house coal on your multi-fuel stove.
In general, choose the types of hardwood that generate high levels of heat energy. Try to stay away from softwood because it burns up too fast. And regardless of the type of firewood you choose, make sure it has a moisture content of less than 20%. It all comes down to burning firewood as efficiently as possible.