Now that the temperatures are beginning to get colder, we find ourselves retreating more and more towards the indoors. The pleasant evenings on the deck and in the yard have long come to a close this year. If you are anything like me, you are probably beginning to seek out various sources of heat.

Many of us have the usual forms of heat within our homes with gas forced air, electric heat, or a combination of the two. Many of us also subsidize our heating costs by including the use of fireplaces or woodstoves.

Before lighting a fire in one of your receptacles indoors, make sure your chimney is clear of build up. Burning firewood that is high in moisture content produces smoke. The more moisture that is within the wood, the more smoke that is created when burning. This smoke, combined with the evaporating moisture creates damp soot, which clings to the insides of the chimney. After prolonged use of burning damp or green woods, this build-up creates a thick tar-like substance similar to creosote on the inside walls.

When a hot fire is burning, this volatile substance can ignite and explode into a very intense chimney fire. If this fire burns for any period of time, it can cause the integrity of the chimney itself to fail and collapse, thus spreading the fire to the attached portion of the house or other vulnerable areas.

To prevent this from occurring, make sure you always burn wood that have been dried and cured for one to two years after cutting along with an annual cleaning maintenance for your chimney.

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You may recall the profession of the individual in Mary Poppins, who was dressed in black and very cheerful. He was a chimney sweep. Although it is not a job where you find people whistling along with a jovial laugh, it is a necessary job to assist those with wood burning appliances in the homes. Their annual employment to clean you chimney is money well spent to keep a catastrophic fire from occurring during the coldest months of the year.

For under $200 you can have your chimney cleaned every one to two years for complete burning safety. They will arrive at your house and go to the rooftop to open the chimney top and drop a thick bristled wire brush apparatus down to the base of the chimney. With skilled techniques, they will work this apparatus up and down the chimney until all residual soot has been removed for safe burning. You will not be sorry for using their services for piece of mind.

There are two types of wood used for burning indoors, the soft and hard woods. The soft woods are usually found in trees such as spruce, pine, fir, birch, aspen, cottonwood, and willow. These are woods that dry quickly once cut and burn fast, producing good heat. Hard woods contain tree species such as ash, elm, linden, cedar, walnut and oak. These woods take a hotter fire to ignite and burn at a slower rate, while producing a high amount of heat. Wood density contributes to the burning longevity of various wood species.

If cutting and burning elm wood for personal use, make sure all elm wood has been stripped of its bark before curing and burning to prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease to healthy trees. This is also a good practice for other diseased trees that may be cut for firewood.

Wood can be obtained by going out to areas with standing dead trees and cut or ordered through a local supplier. It is best to use firewood cut within 50 miles of your location to keep the spread of disease at bay and to keep the transport costs low.

Usually wood is sold by the cord. A cord contains logs laying in a row 8 feet long by 4 feet high by 4 feet deep. Obviously if the logs are split, they will take up more of the space than uncut logs, so prices may differ a bit, but the splitting work will be already done. A mix of soft and hard woods is the best buy for both starting fires and maintaining them for heat for longer periods of time.

Once you have obtained the wood, make sure that it is stored off the ground to prevent rot from wet soils and in the sun with good air circulation to keep the wood dry. It never hurts to put a light cover over the top to keep the rain or snow from falling on the wood. Remember, dry wood burns the best, the cleanest and leaves behind the least amount of residue in your chimney.

Stock up now on your firewood for many relaxing and warm evenings inside. The winter weather may be more harsh in the coming months, but it is always comforting to know that you can enjoy the warm indoors by a snapping fire, with a bottle of wine, and maybe a little romance to get you through.