The pros and cons of burning different types of wood for heating

Blog home
10
Posted May 16 2017 by Dane Beckett of Charlton & Jenrick

Burning wood is a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly heating method. Burning wood on a high efficiency stove can create less CO2 than letting the same wood rot on the floor of a forest.

[Of course, wood rotting on a forest floor will provide habitat, food and eventually improve the soil, unlike burning it – but heating with wood is a much more sustainable way to keep warm than any of the viable alternatives, as long as we plant trees to replace those harvested for firewood – Lowimpact.org]

A key element to efficiency and wood burning is ensuring you are burning the right sort of wood and that it is correctly seasoned.

Correctly seasoned wood

Fire wood should have a moisture content of around 20% – too high a moisture content and you will have an ineffective heat output, increases the risks of tar forming in the flue, and potentially increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Having a moisture level of fire wood, which is too low can create excessive flame and heat output, causing the fire wood to be consumed too fast. For maximum efficiency, it is important to check the moisture of your fire wood with a moisture meter.

Different types of wood

Below is a list of various types of good firewood, with the various pros and cons of each. They have been generally listed in order, starting with the most efficient.

Ash (genus: Fraxinus) 

ash-tree

Ash is thought to be one of the very best woods for burning. Ash creates a steady flame and a good heat output. Unlike other wood, ash can be burnt when green, but like with most wood burns at it’s very best when it is dry.

Pros:

  • Creates a steady flame
  • Great heat output
  • Can be burnt when green

Cons:

  • Can produce a slightly thicker smoke compared to other woods
  • Not as easy as some woods to split

Oak (genus: Quercus) 

oak-tree

Possibly the best know wood in the UK for a range of reasons. It is a popular wood for furniture but also it makes great firewood.

Pros:

  • Creates a steady flame
  • Great heat output
  • Burns slowly

Cons:

  • Harder than some woods to split
  • Takes a long time (2 yrs) to season

Beech (genus: Fagus) 

beech-tree

Beech can be identified by it’s pale cream colour with a pink or brown hue.

Pros:

  • Burns very easily
  • Good heat output

Cons:

  • It can spit when burning
  • Needs to be well seasoned

Hawthorn (genus: Crataegus)

hawthorn-tree

Common hawthorn is a deciduous tree native in the UK and across Europe.

Pros:

  • Has a good heat output
  • Slow and steady burn rate
  • Produces little smoke

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to split as straight lengths are rare

Elm (genus: Ulmus)

elm-tree

Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the flowering plant genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae

Pros:

  • Burns very well
  • Slow lasting heat

Cons:

  • May need assistance from another faster burning wood
  • Must be seasoned very well due to high water content

Yew (genus: Taxus)

yew-tree

Yew is a common name given to various species of trees. The name is most prominently given to any of various coniferous trees and shrubs in the genus Taxus.

Pros:

  • Produces an intense heat
  • Produces a pleasant smell when burning

Cons:

  • It is poisonous

Poor firewood species

Apart from the higher performing woods, listed above, there are also woods, which are not ideal fire wood, and you should be aware of, which can include:

Alder – burns very quickly and provides little heat

Elder – burns quickly with not much of a heat output, it also produces lots of smoke

Horse Chestnut – tends to spit a lot and the heat output is far from ideal

Larch – produces a lot of soot deposits, and spits excessively too.

Poplar – has a very slow burn rate and produces a thick black smoke, even when seasoned.

In conclusion

There is a vast range of good woods to use as a heating source in your home. It is open to debate which is the best, but having a knowledge of the ones to consider, and of course the ones to avoid, can really help you, when it comes to finding the perfect wood to keep you warm, in an environmentally friendly, sustainable way.