Is a Wood Fireplace System Right for You?
Our Experts Are Here To Help
Just take a moment to picture a wood-burning fire. The crackling of wood, those classic smells, tall flames dancing in random patterns… it paints quite the scene, doesn’t it? If this sounds like an idyllic ambiance to you, maybe it’s nice to consider investing in a new wood-fueled system for your home. And if you live in or near the San Antonio area, we’re the experts to get it done for you.
Why Invest in a Wood Fireplace?
Gas systems are known for their efficiency and convenience, so what is it about wood-fueled systems that cause so many to opt for them instead?
- They have a more classic ambiance that you simply cannot replicate with a gas-fueled system – no matter how realistic-looking gas logs get.
- Wood is renewable, cost-effective, and easy to access – and if you have the ability to chop, season, and store your own fuel, even better.
- Many love the work involved with operating a wood system (like storing wood, building up a fire, managing flames with different types of wood, etc.) and wouldn’t have it any other way.
- You can cook food over wood-burning systems, if that’s an activity you and your household might be interested in.
- Wood systems can boost your home value significantly.
- Wood fireplaces – and wood inserts, especially – can offer reliable heat output, ensuring that extra heat you need to lower your monthly bills.
And the downsides?
At Wolfman Chimney & Fireplace, it’s our goal to help homeowners living throughout Boerne, New Braunfels, Seguin, Canyon Lake, San Marcos, and more find the perfect system for them. We don’t care if you invest in a wood stove, gas insert, prefab system, or something else, as long as it makes you happy – which is why we like to note the downsides of all your options too.
The biggest reason homeowners end up deciding against wood-fueled systems is because they’re a lot more work than their gas-fueled counterparts. While gas can just be flipped on and off, wood systems require you to actually build a fire, which isn’t a skill everyone possesses – or even wants to do. And then, you’ll need to get up and refuel the fire time and time again throughout the evening, which is more work yet.
Along with all that, there’s more mess to deal with – think ash piles to scoop, pieces of wood to sweep up, and more soot and creosote overall. And to top it all off, wood setups don’t necessarily excel in efficiency, so you might not get as much heat output as you’d hope for.
All in all, if you’re wanting an option that is simple, pours a lot of heat directly into your space, and doesn’t require tons of maintenance, wood might not be the fuel for you.
Are Wood Fireplaces Safe?
Wood fireplaces are safe to operate as long as you do it correctly – like most appliances, really. Be sure to have your system professionally installed or built, then don’t neglect to book annual inspections, regular sweepings, and swift repairs, when needed.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re using the system appropriately. Be sure to use seasoned wood for your fires and avoid tossing in treated or wet wood, as this encourages creosotebuildup. You’ll also want to leave out trash, plastic, lighter fluid, and basically anything that isn’t well-seasoned wood.
How Do I Start a Fire in a Wood Fireplace?
Starting a fire in your fireplace can be a challenge if it’s not something you’ve done before, but no worries – it’s a skill that can be learned. You just need the right technique and materials. Now, there are actually lots of strategies for fire-building (top-down, tepee, log cabin, etc.), but we’ve got some good basic steps to follow, no matter the type you try.
1. Clear out your fireplace. It’s good to clear out debris from previous fires, and you may want to scoop some fireplace ash too – just not too much! Experts recommend leaving behind a thin layer of ash, as this can insulate your fuel and get your fires going quicker.
2. Gather your fire-starting items. Gather up everything you’ll need to get the fire going – wood logs, kindling, matches/lighters, etc. Just make sure your wood is well-seasoned.
3. Arrange your materials appropriately. For top-down burns this would mean putting bigger wood pieces on bottom, but for most other techniques, you’ll start with the kindling near the bottom.
4. Light your kindling. No matter which fire-burning technique you try, the kindling always gets lit first.
5. Monitor your fire. If you did it right, your fire should start going strong – after which it’s just up to you to keep things properly fueled and monitored.
Remember – you should never leave a fire unattended. Before leaving for the evening or heading to bed, make sure to fully extinguish all of the flames.
Can I Burn Anything in a Wood Fireplace?
If you’ve ever been around a fire, whether it’s in a home or somewhere outdoors, you know how easy it is to toss trash into the flames without even thinking about it. I mean, hey – it’s a quick and efficient way to get rid of trash and it reduces the amount of clean-up later, so why not, right?
Eh, we’d encourage you to think again. Truth is, this is very bad practice when it comes to keeping your fireplace in good shape. The only thing you should be burning in your fireplace is properly seasoned wood. Trash, cardboard, styrofoam plates and cups, untreated wood, wet sticks and logs, and the like all produce more smoke and encourage more buildup to occur in your flue.
All of this triggers a need for more frequent sweepings, and it increases the chances of your system experiencing a chimney fire too.
What Is Seasoned Firewood?
We’ve mentioned seasoned firewood more than a few times, so… what is it, exactly?
When logs are freshly cut, they still contain a lot of moisture. Even if they don’t seem like it on the outside, the wood you burn could still be pretty wet on the inside if you don’t let it season for an adequate amount of time. In fact, most newly chopped wood will contain a moisture content of around 40-50%, and ideally when you burn it, it should be down to about 15-25% – that’s quite a drop.
This freshly cut or green wood is what we would refer to as unseasoned wood, while seasoned wood refers to the logs that have been dried out for months and are ready to burn.
What happens if you burn unseasoned wood?
So, what happens if you throw green logs on the fire? Well, it’ll likely smolder and create a lot of smoke, which in turn leads to more creosote forming in your chimney and warrants the need for more frequent cleanings. And as that creosote builds up, your chances of experiencing a chimney fire and other damage will increase too.
In addition to this, your fires won’t burn as clean or as hot, and you’ll be more likely to end up with smoke in your living space.
How can I tell when wood is ready to burn?
Can you tell if seasoned wood is ready to burn or not just by looking at it? There are some characteristics that typically mean your wood is fully seasoned. If you’re purchasing your fuel, look for logs that are:
- beige in color or pale-looking
- split or cracked on the ends
- darkened on the ends and edges
- noticeably light in weight
- hollow-sounding when smacked together
- musty or “old” smelling
Or, if you want to make good and sure you’re getting what you’re paying for, consider using a moisture meter to get a clear-cut and accurate reading. These range from about $15 – $30 depending on the brand and can be found online or in most hardware stores.
How do I season my own wood?
Looking to cut out the middleman and season your own wood? Great! Here’s how to get it done.
First, be sure to cut your wood to shorter lengths and split the ends of them, too, as this will help the individual pieces dry out even faster. This also ensures they’ll be able to fit nicely into your firebox.
Next up, stack the wood off of the ground, so that the pile is raised up and not more prone to rot or form mold. On that same note, you’ll want the sides of your storage area to be open, so that wind and sun has access to the logs. A raised shed with open sides would be ideal.
Then, make sure the top of the stack is covered to keep rain and bad weather from hindering your seasoning process. If your shed has a sturdy roof, that’ll do just fine. Otherwise, you’ll want to invest in a tarp of some type. (Again, just remember to keep the sides of the stack exposed.)
Once your logs have shown all the signs of being properly seasoned (usually after around 6 months), you should be good to go. We just suggest only keeping a small pile of ready-to-use wood near the home, as these big log piles can be a big draw for pests.
How long does it take for wood to get seasoned?
In most scenarios, wood logs should take around 6 – 12 months to become seasoned, although this can extend to up to 2 years, depending on the type of wood, how thick it is, and how it was stored.
Can firewood get too seasoned?
Or, in other words, can firewood be too dry to burn? Yes, it can. In these cases, it’ll burn too quickly and too hot, which can create dangerous fires that are hard to control, as well as cause damage to your chimney and its components.
What Type of Wood Is Best for Fireplaces?
So, it’s clear that seasoned wood is the way to go when it comes to burning clean and efficient fires, but is there a best type of wood to burn? Hardwoods? Softwoods? Pine, ash, birch, elm, etc…?
Well, some might say that certain types burn better than others, but we like to think they all just burn differently – and that it mostly depends on the type of burn you’re going for.
Softwoods (like cedar, spruce, pine, etc.) are lighter and, while they tend to give out less heat output than hardwoods, they do tend to light up easier. Hardwoods (like maple, oak, and walnut), on the other hand, are more difficult to get going, but once they’ve started to burn, you can count on a strong and sustained blaze.
Either type will work just fine for your fireplace, as long as it’s properly seasoned. Some folks like to vary types of wood strategically, saving softwoods for milder burns and hardwoods for the extra chilly nights. You do what’s right for you, based on what you have access to and what your household prefers.
How Often Should Wood Fireplaces Be Cleaned?
Wood fireplaces produce soot and creosote, so having them inspected and swept out once per year is what any industry expert worth their salt will recommend. This is best practice for keeping your system in the best shape possible, so you can enjoy your fires as safely and as comfortably as possible.
Call Us Out Soon for Unmatched Service
Our level of professionalism and expertise is unmatched, which is why homeowners living in and near Kyle, Austin, Schertz, Spring Branch, Helotes, and more always rely on us. We care about staying informed and educated, ensuring our certifications and memberships are always up to date, and we strive to invest in continued education, empowering us to bring you the highest level of care possible.
There’s no crew better to trust in the area. For chimney inspections, chimney sweepings, chimney repairs, installation work, and more, we’re the team to rely on for it all.
Give us a call at 830-620-9130 or you can request your appointment with us online now. Thanks for trusting us – we look forward to speaking with you soon.