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  • Writer's pictureIan Myers

The Hardwood - Burn It Hot Myth

Quaint as the myth is, like others - it has it's root in our past, causes confusion in our present and no place in our future.

I strongly suspect that the 'nothing but hardwood' thing originates in our not too distant past. I have talked to my mother of when she was a child with a cook stove as the main heat source for the family of 13. They were rock farmers on the Bruce Peninsula. Hand-me-down clothes and shoes. They would raise one pig per year and that was the meat for the year. She would heat up rocks and chunks of wood on the stove then put them upstairs into their ice cold beds so it was not such a shock climbing in. The only heat upstairs was the cook stove flue pipe that would snake through a couple of rooms on it's way up and out of the house. Big solid chunks of hardwood was 'king' simply because there was a chance it would burn longer into the night. In those days you could still buy and burn coal. Of coarse it was out of reach for most poor country folk. On occasion my grandfather would luck into some of the black gold. My mother said that was a treat because it guaranteed warm through the night. I propose that reality to be the genesis of the myth. Back then wood stoves were totally inefficient. Hardwood equalled a longer burn, period. Well, things have changed. Most manufacturers recommend a log that is on average 6inch across. Large chunks will actually inhibit the efficiency of the burn. Stove technology has completely changed. Some, what I call Super- highly efficient wood stoves are designed to have the air turned down to the point that the flames in the box extinguish. At that point it is operating as a coal stove. The heat is released evenly and the smoke from the combustion is burned in the catalyst.

We witness the downside of the Hardwood – burn it hot myth on some sweeping calls. Often it is the reason that people wait years to call us. They are convinced that the protocol is fool- proof. It makes them take too long to call us and from what we see they often damage their stove through over-firing. If you burn nothing but super dry hardwood- please turn down your stove!

At least 2 or 3 times per year I meet people who are clearing trees off their property. I see large piles of trees rotting in the sun. They say, too bad- all softwood.........

All firewood should be fully dried and sheltered for minimum 1 year. The heat release from your wood probably increases by 15 to 30% from wood that is dried 6 months to just over 12 months. Don't take my word for it- experiment for yourself. For accuracy though, I would suggest following the stove manufacturers recommendation for wood size – usually the 6inch average.

I would suggest mixing softwoods into your hardwood pile and not thinking about it again. A modern stove is designed and capable of consuming seasoned softwood along with your hardwood. The only thing to avoid would be pine that is sap laden.


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