Choosing the Best Firewood for You

Choosing the Best Firewood for You
Choosing the Best Firewood for You

If you are looking for firewood for the winter months, you may have several options to choose from, whether you buy wood or split your own.

Keep in mind that the “best” firewood will vary from application to application. If you heat your house with a wood-burning stove, you will want wood with a higher BTU rating. BTU stands for “British thermal unit.” It is a measurement of heat energy used primarily in the United States and represents the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit at sea level. Therefore, higher numbers represent woods that output more heat. (Estimates of the heating potential of different firewoods vary; the figures below are taken from K-State data.)

If, however, you use a fireplace primarily for ambiance and coziness, you can easily use a lower quality wood provided that it has a pleasing fragrance and does not spark.

One wood common in Kansas that you should probably avoid altogether is red cedar. Although it has a pleasant fragrance, this wood does not produce much heat, and it can contribute to hazardous creosote buildup in your chimney.

With that in mind, here are the characteristics of several firewood species common in Kansas.

Ash (Green)

  • 22.8 million BTUs per cord.
  • Easy to split.
  • Easy to start.
  • Steady burn if seasoned.
  • Fairly little smoke.
  • Mild, pleasant aroma.

Cottonwood

  • 15.9 million BTUs per cord.
  • Splits easily if properly seasoned, but very difficult to split when green.
  • Unpleasant aroma unless well seasoned.

Elm

American elm:

  • 19.8 million BTUs per cord.
  • Exceptionally long period of time required for seasoning.
  • Hard to split.

Siberian elm:

  • 20.9 million BTUs per cord.
  • Hard to split, but improves somewhat with seasoning.

Hackberry

  • 21.0 million BTUs per cord.
  • Seasons quickly.
  • Easy to split.
  • Minimal smoke.
  • Low spark output.
  • Mild, pleasant fragrance.

Honeylocust

  • 25.6 million BTUs per cord.
  • Unpleasant to split and handle due to thorns.
  • Long-burning.
  • High spark output.

Maple (Silver)

  • 18.9 million BTUs per cord.
  • Long-burning.
  • Disagreeable aroma if grown near a septic line or on anaerobic soil.

Mulberry

  • 25.3 million BTUs per cord.
  • Long-burning.
  • High spark output.
  • Medium amount of smoke.
  • Pleasant fragrance.

Oak

Bur oak:

  • 24.9 million BTUs per cord.
  • Long-burning if properly seasoned.

Post oak:

  • 25.6 million BTUs per cord.
  • Should be seasoned for a steady burn.

Osage Orange (“Hedge Tree”)

  • 32.6 million BTUs per cord.
  • Slow seasoning process.
  • Hard to split once seasoned.
  • Burns hot enough to damage some wood-burning stoves.
  • Exceptionally long-burning.
  • Very high spark output.

Sycamore

  • 19.5 million BTUs per cord.
  • Hard to split.
  • Should be well seasoned for best results.
  • Low spark output.
  • Moderate amount of smoke.
  • Little fragrance.

Walnut (Black)

  • 21.8 million BTUs per cord.
  • Too valuable to burn unless salvaged from dead or damaged trees.
  • Fairly long-burning.
  • Low spark output.
  • Very little smoke.
  • Pleasant aroma.