Best way to store and care for firewood

Treating and storing firewood well will keep you warm and happy.

Rows of stacked firewood. Photo credit: Robert Trickel, North Carolina Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Rows of stacked firewood. Photo credit: Robert Trickel, North Carolina Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Many people burn firewood, either as their primary source of heat or in fireplaces or woodstoves. Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators and hotline staff receive periodic questions about firewood problems, ranging from strange insects running around the house to mysterious sawdust piles on the wood or firewood sticking together. These can be explained as problems with storing wood. This information was common knowledge 150 years ago. Today, it is not.

Seasoned wood

Whether buying or cutting your own, it is important for firewood to age or season for at least six months. When moisture dries out of the wood, it burns more efficiently. Trees that are standing and dead have already begun the process. Smaller branches may have already become seasoned, but the wood in the heavy trunk probably has not. It begins drying more rapidly when it is cut and split.

Stack ‘em high

It is important for wood to not have contact with the ground because it’s more difficult to dry when lying on a damp surface. Stack wood on a pallet or parallel pieces of wood. Using two tee posts at each end of the stacking area gives you a way to go straight up instead of stacking wood in a triangular shape. Make sure some air spaces are left between pieces of wood; packed too tightly and the wood may host various fungal growths. Some of these fungal growths glue the wood to surrounding pieces of wood. Sunlight, wind and warmth are the three factors that are going to allow the wood to dry as fast as possible.

Cover the top of the finished stack with a piece of heavy plastic that laps onto the sides, but does not touch the ground. Weigh down the plastic with pieces of wood so the plastic does not blow away. Then tie rope around the pile. This eliminates a lot of unwanted air circulation. Wood could be moved into an unheated garage when temperatures drop below 50 degrees and insects are not active. It is important that the wood is used up before temperatures rise in the spring.

Short-term houseguests – insects

Ideally, firewood should not be stored indoors for more than about a week. As the wood warms up, any accidental travelers under the bark are roused from their dormancy. In the case of gypsy moths, the egg masses are on the bark hatch. If it concerns you that certain insects living under the bark wake up and go exploring, having wood indoors for a long period of time is not a good idea.

There are a number of possible insects associated with firewood, including powder post beetles, emerald ash borers, gypsy moth larvae, locust borers, elm bark beetles, old house borers and metallic wood borers. With larval insects like emerald ash borer and elm bark beetle, their serpentine trails can be found on the wood directly under the bark. Piles of talcum, powder-like material found between logs are evidence of powder post beetles.

A concerned homeowner once brought in a jar containing dozens of adult locust borers to MSU Diagnostic Services. Since these black and yellow insects are not house pests, he was asked how long firewood had been stored in his house. He indicated he had filled his basement in August because he did not want to go outside to get wood during the winter. The locust borers were unpleasant to have underfoot, but would not damage the house. Don't Move Firewood, It Bugs Me sign

One last comment – don’t move firewood around with you for camping or other uses. This spreads invasive species.

Read more information on firewood at the MSU Extension website, where over a dozen articles are available. Simply type “firewood” into the search box.