Is pine firewood a good choice? Is it safe for indoor use in your wood stove? Read here to find out if you should be burning it inside.
Pine trees are some of the best-known trees around the world. They possess huge economic importance through the timber trade and are easily identifiable due to their characteristic cone-shaped growth form and needle-like leaves.
Pines are softwoods that are naturally found almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. They are found through much of North America, China, South-East Asia, Russia, and Europe and have one of the largest distributions of any conifer family.
But are they a good option for firewood?
The Myth Regarding Pine Firewood
You’ve probably heard that pine has high sap content and therefore when it’s burned, it emits a lot of soot that adds dangerous creosote to your chimney walls. Creosote is a dangerous byproduct that comes from burning wood and stays in your chimney until it’s removed. Creosote build-ups can lead to chimney fires.
Older generations hold tightly to this belief, despite new evidence to the contrary. Studies have concluded that the amount of creosote left on chimneys was a result of low-temperature fires rather than resin-rich fuel sources.
The Truth About Burning Pine Firewood
Pine can be burned in a fireplace or indoor wood stove if it’s properly seasoned. When you’re burning pine, be sure to keep your stove temperature high enough. You can make sure you’re doing this with your woodstove by using a stove thermometer.
Heat Output and Efficiency (in BTUs)
Heat output is often represented in BTUs (or British Thermal Units). There are a variety of pine species with various heat outputs ranging from 15.9 BTUs (comparable to Spruce and Cottonwood) to 21.1 BTUs (comparable to Birch and Larch).
- White Pine: 15.9 BTUs
- Ponderosa Pine: 16.2 BTUs
- Lodgepole Pine: 21.1 BTUs
Because pine has an overall low heat output and burns quickly, it is a good firewood for winter burning in mild climates. But those of us in harsher northern climates can use pinewood to cut our costs and transition into and out of the winter season.
In my drafty farmhouse in Maine, we use approximately 8 cords of wood each year. In early fall and spring, our temperatures can fluctuate drastically, leading to chilly mornings and evenings with warm afternoons. This is where pine shines.
Pine lights very easily. We start a fire with pinewood in the morning to take the edge off. Pine produces heat quickly, but without stoking it doesn’t last into the day causing the house to become too warm. Same for the evening. A pine fire warms us up when we’re all sitting down for dinner or lounging around the living room without too much trouble.
By using pine in the spring and autumn, we can save on how much hardwood we need to use during the more intense parts of winter.
“Some people assume the sticky, gum-like resins in pine firewood cause more creosote residues than hardwood. Research has found this is false. The buildup is more often the result of burning wood at relatively low temperatures. Burning poorly seasoned wood favors creosote buildup because evaporating water cools the burning process.”Paul Pugliese [Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, University of Georgia Extension]
Poorly seasoned wood of any type burned at a low temperature can create a lot of smoke and therefore produce creosote, but there are ways to reduce the amount of smoke produced by pine and other types of wood.
- Arranging your wood with enough space between the logs for oxygen to circulate will produce a hotter, cleaner burning fire. If you consistently build efficient fires like this, less creosote will build up in your chimney because your fires will produce less smoke.
- Open the damper in your wood stove before you light a fire to ensure it will get enough oxygen. Leave your door cracked open slightly at the start of your fire so that air can circulate.
- If your chimney isn’t well insulated, the flue can reach low temperatures. Lighting up your fireplace when the flue is cold will create more condensation and larger creosote deposits. You can easily warm up the chimney by rolling newspaper up to make a torch, lighting it, and holding it up in the chimney.
Regardless of what type of firewood you choose to burn, The National Fire Protection Association recommends an annual chimney inspection and cleaning because they have found that it is the most effective way to reduce the risk of a chimney fire.
How Long To Season Pine Firewood
Seasoning time for pine firewood is at least 6-12 months. For best results, use a moisture meter to ensure it’s under 20% moisture content. You do not want to burn unseasoned wood of any type.
The best place to season your firewood is outside in the sunlight. Stack firewood elevated on boards or pallets so no wood is touching the ground. Pieces that are touching the ground will remain wet. Protect your split wood with a tarp or metal roofing, but be sure to leave the ends or one of the sides open so moisture can escape.
You’ll know your pine is dry when it weighs almost nothing. You’ll also see cracks forming in the ends. Seasoned pine also has a darker appearance than wet pine and it no longer smells sappy.
Is Pine Firewood Expensive?
Heck no! If you’ve ever checked your local classifieds you’d see people are begging you to take their dead and fallen pines. I live in the Pine Tree State of Maine and we are able to source more than enough logs to burn 24/7 all winter long.
We spent the weekend harvesting standing deadwood (mostly pines) for firewood.
If you purchase your wood from a processor, you’ll note that their price for pine is considerably less than hardwood and other mixed softwoods because so many still believe the myths about pine. Because it’s harder to move, they price accordingly.
Pros and Cons of Using Pine for Firewood
As with any type of wood you choose, there are pros and cons to consider. These are the pros and cons of pine firewood.
Pros of Pine Firewood
- The sap acts as a good ignitor, helping you to get a fire started quickly and easily.
- Pine makes excellent kindling to start a hardwood fire.
- Logs can often be sourced for free locally.
- The smell of pine wood in the wood rack and while burning in the stove is quite pleasing.
Cons of Pine Firewood
- Oils and saps in the wood may lead to sparks and smoke.
- Because it tends to be knotty, pine may be challenging to split by hand. We use these pieces in our burn barrel.
- The resin content makes processing a sticky situation.
Now that you know the burn qualities of pine and that the species of the wood itself doesn’t cause creosote, you can decide if pine firewood is right for you.