How Do I Properly Store Wood?
Effective storage makes great fuel
New owners of fireplaces and wood stoves often store wood wherever it is convenient, whether outside of the house, on the deck, or under a tarpaulin. While buying a fireplace is certainly an exercise in personal preference, and even starting a fire is subject to some degree of individual choice, firewood storage offers less room for personal choice if you want to eliminate or prevent some of the negative effects of improperly stored firewood.
First, the wood must be properly dried or "seasoned". Adequately seasoned wood has a moisture content of less than 20%, which allows it to burn much more effectively than unseasoned wood, which loses some energy just to boil away the water stored inside of the wood. The other undesirable effect of this boiled water is that the chimney temperatures are lower and the smoke stays in the chimney longer, both of which lead to creosote formation, which can cause damaging chimney fires.
The traditional "seasoning" time for freshly cut wood is around six months. This does not mean that all wood which has been lying around for six months is adequately seasoned, however. Although many woodlot owners sell wood with the claim that it was cut "last spring / summer / fall", there may be no guarantee that the wood has had time to sufficiently season, which can be something of a problem for owners of a fireplace or woodstove. The surest way to get seasoned wood is by seasoning it yourself, which requires stacking the wood with some airspace beneath. This can be done by placing wood atop a pallet, a grid of poles or boards, or whatever else works. Depending on your location and climate, you may want to cover the wood as well, to prevent rainwater from soaking into the wood, thereby slowing the drying process. If you don't have the space to be able to store and season your own wood for six months to a year, you may simply have to find a reliable and trustworthy vendor of firewood. If you are particularly concerned, firewood moisture content meters will allow you to test the vendor's claim that the wood has been adequately seasoned.
Storing wood within your home itself may be a problem, particularly if it is insufficiently seasoned. The higher moisture content of unseasoned wood can cause mold formation and lead to insect infestations. As a result, it is a good idea to store enough wood for no more than a day or two of burning inside of your home.
By far the best place to store and season wood if the option is available is in a dedicated wood shed, designed with a roof and loose sides for air flow. With such a structure, wood can be stored for several years without rotting or molding, and it can be allowed to dry. The added benefit of storing wood in this way is the ability to keep more than 1 year's supply of firewood, helping also to insulate against firewood costs fluctuations.