The Best Firewood for our Southern California Lifestyle

1.  Moisture content is the most important factor that separates good from bad firewood. 

2. Rancho La Casa is the only firewood provider in Los Angeles that guarantees the low moisture content of our products. 

3. For most people a high quality mix of hardwoods or - if they need help starting the fire - a high quality mix of soft- and hardwoods will be the best choice. 

The Best Firewood for our Southern California Lifestyle

Who does not like to come home from a walk at the beach on a chilly but sunny November afternoon and then get cozy in front of your wood-burning fireplace?

After the cold wind at Malibu beach, you can feel how the heat radiates from the flames and the wood.  You and your family and friends instantly feel comfortable, cared for, and happy.  The feeling of wholeness, familiarity and friendship permeate from a fire. 

And thus, few experiences are simpler to create yet as gratifying as sitting in front of a crackling fire, watching the wood glow, and smelling the scent of burning wood. 

We want to take you through a little guide on how to create these moments that create memories.

 

Sun-seasoned versus Kiln-dried versus Green

We all agree and probably had the sad experience that sometimes there is a disconnect between the mental image of the fire we want to create and the reality in our fireplace.  Sometimes, things just do not seem to work out, and the fire is not roaring but just a disappointment that might even be hazardous to our health.  There might be a lot of smoke developing, and you simply don’t know how this happened. 

The solution is easy and straightforward: you need to use the right firewood!

If we assume that your chimney has no structural or cleaning issue and that you “preheated” the chimney on a cold evening before starting your fire (more on that in this post here😊), then the only other thing to watch out for is the type of firewood you are using. 

 

Green Firewood

It’s all about the water content!  When you cut a tree that was alive and thriving before cutting, you will have wood with high water/moisture content.  That’s what you call green wood.

Different trees have different natural levels of water content.  Believe it or not, some trees have a water content of up to 120%.  Such trees contain 1 pound of wood substance and 1.2 pounds of water.  Tropical balsa wood (which is extremely light and often used for the blades of wind turbines) can absorb the most water.  Pine and redwood are two other types of wood that absorb a lot of water.  Oak wood absorbs little water since its wood substance is very dense to start with.  A normal water content lies around 60%. 

You don’t want to use green wood for your fireplace.  Even if it is tempting to use your garden cuttings from your trees immediately for a nice fire, don’t do it! 

The moisture in wood is often called sap.  Sap is, to a large extent, water (95-99%) and, in some species, even clear as water (birch) and sold as such for personal consumption. 

When trying to burn wood with a high-water content, a lot of the energy from the fire is used to evaporate the water inside of the wood substance.  The temperature of the fire will not be high, inevitably leading to thick smoke that might affect your health or the health of your neighbors. 

 

Water content of store-bought firewood in small packs

We all know them: every grocery store, DIY store or even gas station has small packs of firewood for sale.  Here is what you need to know before buying them.

  1. They are incredibly expensive! A typical pack of grocery store firewood pack measures about 0.7 cubic feet and retails for anything between $8 (softwood) and $12 (hardwood).  Here at Rancho we sell 1/16 cord of hardwood for $55.  1/16 cord is about 8 cubic feet of wood, thus 11x a typical grocery store quantity.  The same quantity of hardwood bought from Home Depot or Ralphs would cost you more than $120 or double what we charge. 
  2. They are mostly low quality. A survey by the University of Tennessee found that the average water content in grocery store firewood was higher than 60% and, therefore, not only far over the EPA-recommended water content (20% or less) but also a little lower than the natural water content of the wood.  The wood, therefore, is only badly or not at all seasoned. 

Due to these shortcomings, we’ve decided that Rancho La Casa should also offer our top quality, naturally seasoned and low moisture-guaranteed firewood in smaller batches for our local customers.  Here is the link (😊).

 

Kiln-Dried Firewood

Most parts of the US, notably States that have densely forested areas, do not enjoy the same climatic conditions we love here in Southern California: very dry and warm weather for most of the year.

In those wetter regions, kiln-drying is frequently used to speed-dry the firewood.  Firewood suppliers could also keep the wood protected under a roof and wait, but this might take years for some popular firewood types, such as oak or hickory wood.

Firewood suppliers then rather accelerate the drying process by exposing their firewood to high temperatures and low moisture in huge ovens (kilns) built specifically for that purpose.  Temperatures often reach 175F to 250F, and the firewood remains there for up to 48hrs.  That’s incredible if you consider the energy needed to dry the wood.  The University of Pennsylvania estimates that about 0.45% of all man-made CO2 emissions in the US derive from this firewood kiln-drying process. 

Rancho La Casa uses no form of kiln-drying.  We have perfected how we dry our firewood, helped by our Southern California sunshine and the legendary low moisture content in our air.  This is the most natural way of drying (or seasoning) firewood.

 

Seasoned Firewood

So, how do you know that your firewood is well-seasoned, i.e. dry enough to be used in your fireplace?

  • You can check the moisture level with a moisture reader. These devices fairly accurately measure the water remaining in the wood. 
    For most consumers who only buy firewood once per season, this is too much of an effort. 
  • A quick check involves striking two pieces of firewood against each other: wet wood will produce a dull thud, while dry wood will sound hollow.
  • Best choice: you just buy Rancho La Casa Firewood because we give you the guarantee that our moisture content never exceeds 20% (according to EPA guidelines). We give you a price match guarantee to know that you get the best offer possible. 

 

Best Firewood Species

The vast majority of people are looking for these qualities when it comes to their fireplace experience:

  • No or very low smoke development.
  • Nice, long flames.
  • Low sap/resin content.
  • High heat generation.
  • Few or no sparks.

 

Conclusion

Moisture content is the most crucial factor that separates good from bad firewood.  Any well-seasoned (or dry) firewood can be a good source for your fireplace.  That includes softwoods such as pine.  But it just needs to be really well dried out.

How to make sure that your firewood is seasoned long enough?

Rancho La Casa is the only firewood provider that guarantees the low moisture content of our products.  We do this by constantly measuring our firewood.  Before any truck leaves our packing area, we measure one more time.  We even measure after delivery to our customers, so our customers can be certain that they receive firewood dried to a level that will guarantee a pleasant and easy burn. 

The EPA recommends a water content of 20% or less.  Frequently, thanks to the California sunshine, our firewood reaches a dryness of 15%, 10% or even less. 

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