Burn baby burn: A guide to firewood this winter

By Francesca Emms

Featured in Capital #52
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There’s a lot of debate as to what type of wood is best for your fireplace.

Firewood New Zealand says hardwoods such as gum, manuka and wattle are the best firewood as they burn slower and longer. ‘However, softwoods such as pine, poplar and willow are great for starting fires.’ A popular mixture is apparently pine and tea tree firewood. There is one thing everyone agrees on, that dry firewood is the best fire wood.

The easiest way to get burned (sorry, I had to) when buying firewood is purchasing wet wood. Wood can appear dry but still be wet on the inside. Burning wet wood produces more smoke than dry wood, which releases more pollutants and small particles into the air. It can also cause creosote buildup in your chimney, which may create a fire hazard. Consumer NZ says firewood needs to have less than 25% moisture content to burn efficiently. A small, inexpensive moisture meter is a great tool to have in your pocket if you’re not confident about what you’re buying.

Jason Hague-Smith, owner of Wellington Fireplace, takes great pleasure in matching a customer with the right fireplace. ‘As a child I had passion for fire and construction,’ he says, ‘and that passion has lead me initially to being a builder and then an installer of fireplaces.’ When recommending a fireplace he looks at the style of the house and what the customer visually wants, the size of the home and the height of the ceilings, and of course, what the fireplace needs to do – for example will it supply radiant or convection heating, and does it need to also be a cook top?

When asked about firewood suppliers Jason is quick to recommend Firewood Direct. ‘As passionate as I am about fireplaces, Len is about fire wood,’ he says. In the Akatarawa valley, Len Drabble of Firewood Direct guarantees ‘quality firewood every time.’ His dry wood is ready to burn and can be stored in areas like garages or sheds with little or no air flow. Len delivers throughout the Wellington region (including Wairarapa and Kapiti), but if you have the option of picking it up yourself it’s worth it to get a look at his impressive operation. For the ambiance of a fireplace without the hassle of wood Jason recommends gas. ‘Gas fires offer visual appeal with high efficiency and modern convenience,’ he says. ‘You can turn them on with the click of a button. Some even hook up to your phone or computer so you can turn them on remotely.’ You’re not going to get that special wood-fire smell though, or the satisfaction of lighting and building up a proper fire, nor those glowing embers.

Romantic aspects aside, a wood fire may be the most efficient option. Jason says modern design features allow ‘increased fuel efficiency and maximum heat output with minimal smoke and ash.’ Firewood NZ says that with rising electricity prices, firewood is a great option. It improves the ambience of your home and can also be used to heat water, saving you more money.

FirewoodExperts sayNZ Avg. Cost/m3Heat Out – put kWh/cu.mPrice per kW heat produced*Burn timeType
PoplarVery light when dry, a fast burning softwood$1001,200$0.08Fast burningSoft hardwood
EucalyptusThe wood is dense and is known for burning very hot$1401,270$0.11Fast burningHardwood
PineA great all round firewood for all situations$801,091$0.07Fast burningSoft wood
MacrocarpaIt has a medium heat
output and ignites easily
$1301,150$0.11Slow burningMedium density wood
GumMiddle of the range on the scale for hardwoods$1401,270$0.11Slow burningHardwood
ManukaHot and long burning, great once fire’s going$1801,860$0.10Slow burningVery hard wood
Tea TreeKiwis’ most trusted wood – burns hot and long$1801,860$0.10Slow burningVery hard wood
* prices accurate at publication, 2017


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