A wood heater can provide an effective and economical heating solution for your home, with the added aesthetic appeal of flickering flames on a cold winter's night.  However, if you're a wood heater newbie, you need to know that not every kind of wood can be used in your new appliance.  In fact, using the wrong kind of wood could damage your heater or even cause a chimney fire.

Here are some top tips and guidelines to help you get it right.

What kind of wood to use

The only type of fuel that you should put in your new heater is seasoned wood.  Wood that has been properly seasoned will generate more heat, will burn cleaner, and will also make your fire easier to start.  You can buy well-seasoned wood from specialist suppliers and garden centres, and if you have trees on your land, you could use your own logs, as long as you season them properly.

Collecting your own wood

When collecting wood on your own land to be used in your wood heater, avoid picking up wood that is still 'green'.  Green wood is still full of water and sap, which means that you can't burn it in your wood heater.  Because the wood is wet, the combustion process will be occupied in trying to dry out the wood, rather than in generating heat.  Green wood also produces a lot of smoke as it burns.  The smoke contains acidic water which forms sticky deposits of creosote ruining the inside of your heater and coating your chimney.  A stray spark could ignite the creosote, causing a chimney fire. 

When picking up fallen wood, look for pieces that are very lightweight and sound hollow when knocked together.  This is a good sign that the wood is dried out and suitably seasoned.  Green wood by comparison is very heavy and makes a dull thud when struck.

Never use offcuts of wood from building projects.  This kind of wood is often treated with chemical preservatives that could release toxic fumes when burned.  

Storing your firewood

Well-seasoned wood should be cut at least six months before it is used for fuel.  This allows sufficient time for the wood to dry out completely.  The seasoning process demands that the wood is prepared and stored correctly if it is to be successful.  A good tip is to split your logs before storage to promote quicker drying. 

You'll need a watertight, purpose-built woodshed in which to keep your firewood.  This should ideally have open sides to allow the air to circulate around the wood and to promote efficient drying during warm weather.  Keep your shed raised up from the ground on bricks to discourage termites and snakes, and to prevent rainwater from soaking the bottom layer of wood.

Another good tactic is to organise your woodpile according to the types of wood you have within it.  Put lighter pieces of wood and sticks to one side of the pile for use during warmer weather, as they don't generate as much heat.  Larger, denser pieces of wood should be kept for the colder months when more heat is required.

In conclusion

Before you use your new wood heater, make sure that you have well-seasoned wood available, as per the above guidelines.  For more advice on operating your new wood heater, have a chat with your appliance supplier or installation contractor.