The Wet Wood Burner

By Wendy Dew

I always know when the cold weather is coming: folks in my neighborhood start cutting wood for the next season. We usually decide on a weekend that works for everyone, get out the log splitters and get to work. All of my neighbors burn wood to offset heating costs. Plus, a lovely fire is just part of Colorado mountain living! We burn wood all winter long and we burn it wisely. We stack our wood each season away from our houses and in different piles so we only use the driest wood for the current season.

However, we have one neighbor who only burns wood cut recently so the wood is “wet.” We always know when they’re burning because the whole valley fills with stinky smoke. When you live in Colorado, you spend as much time outside in the winter as you do the summer. But this year, I may stay inside to avoid the smoke.

It’s important to burn wood correctly to be safe and healthy, and also to save money. Burn Wise is an EPA partnership program that teaches people to burn the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.

Practical Tips for Building a Fire

  • Season wood outdoors through the summer for at least 6 months before burning it, stacking it neatly off the ground with the top covered. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
  •  Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20%. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test your wood before you burn it.
  • Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling or consider having a professional install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
  • Burn hot fires, using only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly.
  • To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your wood-burning appliance using a metal container with a cover. Store the ashes outdoors.

Find out how you can burn wisely and avoid becoming the neighborhood “Wet Wood Burner.”

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About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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