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For people looking to heat their homes efficiently with firewood, it’s a popular question: Which type of wood burns best? Indeed, some types of wood burn warmer and longer than others, but nearly any type of wood will work for a fireplace. When you choose one wood type over another, it’s not a matter of whether your home will be warm, but a matter of how much wood is needed to last you through the winter.

Hardwoods Versus Softwoods

If you are looking for wood that will put off heat for long periods of time, you will want to stock your woodpile with hardwoods. Hardwood logs take a while to be consumed by fire because of their density. However, they create hot coals that will burn intensely for hours. The drawback to hardwoods is that they take longer to become properly seasoned. Some hardwoods take as long as a year to dry adequately for burning — and they can be difficult to ignite.

Common hardwoods are valued for their fire power include oak, hard maple, hickory, birch, ash and beech. Even among common hardwoods, there are some varieties that provide more heat and burn longer than others. Sugar maples will burn longer than red and silver maples; and yellow birch will burn longer than white birch. Black cherry and elm are technically considered hardwood. The softer, commonly used hardwoods do not burn as intensely or as long as other hardwoods.

Softwoods will burn much faster and not as hot as hardwoods. However, they do have an advantage as firewood, in that they only require about six months to thoroughly season. They also are easier to ignite than hardwoods. Among the softwoods, douglas fir provides the most heat value and the longest burn. Other commonly used softwoods include hemlock, spruce and cedar. Many people avoid burning pine because it does not produce as much heat as other woods. Also, it is believed to cause creosote build-up more rapidly in the chimney’s flue.

Finding the Right Mix

In the end, finding the right wood for your fireplace is really about finding the right mix. As mentioned, both hardwoods and softwoods have advantages and disadvantages. The trick to create the perfect woodpile is to use the woods’ advantages to your advantage. Because softwoods ignite and burn quickly, they make for good fire starters. Because hardwoods will burn for a long time, they are great for sustaining your fires. That means that if you have a mix of firewood on your woodpile, you can use your softwoods to create a quick, high flame and then pile on hardwoods to keep your fire burning and providing ample heat for hours to come.