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Stoke the flames with these fireplace tips

In many parts of the country, its time to fire up the fireplace or woodstove for that ambiance and extra heat.

Heating with wood can save you a lot of money. The Old Farmers Almanac reports that burning one cord of wood can generate the equivalent of 200 - 250 gallons of fuel oil. That could be as much as $800 in fuel savings vs. $200 for a cord of wood if you have to purchase it. This savings is based on using an efficient wood burning appliance. 

So how much is a cord of wood? Firewood is usually sold by the cord which is equivalent to 128 cubic feet, generally stacked in a 4 ft x ft x 8 ft stack. Generally pieces are cut in 12 to 16 lengths so the stack will usually be 3 to 4 rows deep. A "rick cord" or "face cord" is a smaller quantity of firewood - 4 ft high x 8 ft high, but only one row deep. Make sure you understand what you are buying before you commit to buying a cord of wood.

Whenever possible, you will want to buy and burn the most dense of available woods. Oak, Hickory and the likes are dense woods. You can always tell a dense wood by it weight - assuming it is dried to 20% moisture. A cord of good dense wood will produce about 30 million BTU.

Storing and drying of cord wood is of utmost importance. Some firewood you purchase will be ready to burn, others will not. You can determine the moisture content of any type of wood with a simple moisture meter available here. It is best to stack your wood off the ground and keep the top of the pile covered. Do not cover the sides so as to allow air flow through the pile.

Dealing with Wood Ashes: Use extreme caution when removing ashes from a fireplace or woodstove, as embers in the ashes have the potential to start a fire many hours – or even days – after you think the fire has gone out. Place ashes in a metal container, cover with water and an airtight lid, and set outside, away from the house or anything flammable. Never attempt to remove fresh ashes with a vacuum cleaner or shop vac. Once thoroughly extinguished, wood ashes can be placed in the compost pile, sparingly scattered on the lawn (to increase soil pH levels) or used to treat icy patches on sidewalks and driveways.

Converting a Fireplace for Greater Heat Generation: Wood-burning fireplaces in many homes are designed more for show than as a cost-effective way to supplement the home’s primary heating system. According to the website, installing a fireplace insert – a sort of wood stove that fits inside your fireplace – can increase heating efficiency by 70 percent compared to an open fireplace, at a cost starting around $700 per unit. There is also a variety of other, less expensive devices that can increase your fireplace’s heating efficiency, including installing glass doors to reduce heat loss and adding a blower/fan system to force more hot air into the home.

Don’t Skimp on Chimney Cleaning: Even though I’m all in favor of saving money by doing things myself, it’s a smart investment to have your home’s chimney professionally inspected and cleaned every couple of years. Most home remedies for chimney cleaning – like starting a fire and adding rock salt or potato peels to it – are more myth than fact. A damaged chimney or a chimney fire fueled by the residue buildup inside the flue poses a serious fire hazard to your entire home.

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