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A Frugal Fire

Save money by making sure your logs are ready for winter

With the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicting higher heating costs this winter for many types of fuel, you may be planning on using your fireplace more often.

But what crackling flames provide in mood they can cost in money: A fire twice a week in a fireplace with no glass screen can actually raise your heating costs about 15 percent, because a lot of heat is sucked out of the room and sent up the chimney.

See also: A cheapskate's good-smelling energy audit.

Burn seasoned firewood - properly dried out - and save money.

Save money on heating costs by burning wood that's been properly dried out. — Photo by Getty Images

And it gets worse when your wood hasn't been properly seasoned, or dried out. The heat-producing efficiency of "green" firewood is about 30 percent less than with properly dried pieces.

So to really save money with firewood, use these tips to determine whether your logs are ready to burn:

  • Properly seasoned wood is dark or gray on the outside, but when freshly split, it's whitish on the inside and dry. Already split pieces should be dark throughout.
  • Split wood should have cracks on the ends and running through each piece.
  • Dry wood is lighter in weight, and when two pieces are banged together, produces a hollow sound. Wet wood makes a dull thud.

You can expect seasoning to take at least a year, and possibly longer if stacked wood is covered with a tarp, which slows evaporation. It's best to store seasoned, dry wood off the ground, under a lean-to or in a shed. The best-burning wood has been seasoned for two to three years.

Also of interest: 18 ways to save on your utility costs. >>

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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