Opting for firewood rather than turning on the thermostat in the early winter months is a helpful way to save energy for many homeowners. But how do you know if you’re getting the most out of your cozy fire?

The U.S. EPA’s Burn Wise program provides homeowners with best practices that can cut firewood use by more than 30 percent and keep your home toastier and more comfortable on those frigid nights. Give the following tips a try this season, and learn to burn the eco way.

1. Prepare your wood properly

“Before burning firewood, be sure it is properly dried and seasoned,” the EPA suggests. “Wet wood can create excessive smoke which is essentially wasted fuel.”

If you’re cutting firewood yourself, the EPA recommends following four simple steps to make sure your wood is dried properly:

  • Split: Split wood in a range of sizes to fit your stove, but do not cut pieces that are larger than 6 inches in diameter to ensure proper burning.
  • Stack: Stack wood split-side down and off the ground to allow air to circulate around the wood.
  • Cover: Cover the top of the stacked wood with a heavy-duty tarp to protect it from rain and snow.
  • Store: Store wood for a minimum of 6 months for softwoods and 12 months for hardwoods.

To test the moisture level of your firewood, consider using a wood moisture meter, which can cost as little as $20 and save you loads of money in the long run. Properly dried wood should have a moisture reading of 20 percent or less, the EPA says.

Stacked firewood
Image courtesy of Horia Varlan

2. Source your wood locally

If you’d rather not store wood in your yard for up to a year before using it, another option is to purchase firewood from a distributor in your area. Always remember to shop locally and request only dry, seasoned wood, the EPA suggests.

In addition to cutting down on the carbon footprint of your firewood, buying locally also ensures that you are in compliance with state and local ordinances, which may restrict out-of-state firewood.

“Many states have firewood movement restrictions and/or out-of-state quarantines due to invasive pests,” the EPA says. “For example, New York and Maine have regulations that prohibit the import and transportation of firewood unless the wood is treated under the USDA’s heat treatment standards. Homeowners should check their state and local ordinances for more information.”

3. Learn before you burn: Starting your fire

Starting a fire in your fireplace may sound simple, but there is actually a very specific way to build a strong-burning fire that creates more warmth with less wood. Here are three simple steps to help you do it right:

  1. To begin, start a small fire with dry kindling then add a few pieces of wood. Give the fire plenty of air by fully opening the air controls until it is roaring.
  2. Burn the fire to heat the chimney or flue before adding more wood.
  3. Keep space between the firewood as you add more, and maintain a bright, hot fire – don’t let it smolder.

To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your fireplace, put them into a metal container with a cover and store it outdoors. Never burn garbage, cardboard, treated lumber or plastics as these items can damage your stove and cause serious health issues, the EPA says.

Fire starters
Image courtesy of Michael Verhoef

4. Get the most from your fire: Circulate that toasty air

As most fireplace-users know, the warmth from your fire tends to stay in the area immediately around your wood-burning appliance – rather than circulating efficiently through the home. Take a few simple steps to help hot air spread more effectively, and you’ll notice a much more comfortable living space.

“To help move trapped hot air near the ceiling, run ceiling fans counterclockwise on low speed,” the EPA suggests. “This helps redirect warm air from the ceiling down the walls and into the living space.”

Improving the insulation in your home can also increase comfort levels and prevent your cozy warm air from going to waste. Check out these quick and easy tips from the EPA’s Energy Star program to help you weatherize your home and improve efficiency.

Winter fireplace
Image courtesy of Jake Fowler

5. Maintain your fireplace

“Make sure to have a certified chimney sweep annually inspect your wood-burning appliance and chimney for any gaps, cracks or creosote build-up,” the EPA advises. “A clean chimney provides good draft and reduces the risk of chimney fires.”

If you burn wood to heat your home, the EPA encourages using the cleanest wood-burning appliance possible. So, if you need to upgrade your fireplace, consider opting for an EPA-certified wood heater, which produce less smoke, minimal ash and burn more efficiently than older uncertified models. A properly installed and operated certified wood stove should produce little smoke inside or outside the home.

For even more tips to help you save money on fireplace heating and build a stronger, better and more efficient fire, check out the Burn Wise program’s Best Burn Practices.

Feature image courtesy of Riccardo Cuppini

By Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.