Elm As Firewood – Is It Better
Are you using firewood for heating and familiar with elm firewood? If you are, do you still prefer other types of wood for fuel? Did you know that though elm tree firewood is not a popular choice among homeowners, there are also a lot about the elms that makes it a good choice among the firewood options? Before we discuss how elm could fit to be an essential wood fuel for heating up your homes, let’s learn a little about the elms then we go answer the popular question
“is elm good firewood”?
Elm trees are endemic to Europe, some parts of Asia and North America. There are several types of elms but their main genus is Ulmus under the family of trees Ulmacea.
Here are their types:
American elm (U. Americana) can grow up to 120 feet tall and has a vase-shaped crown-like rounded shape.
Smooth-leaf elm ( U. carpinifolia). This type can also grow up to 100 feet tall and has a conical shape much like pine but with drooping branches.
Scottish elm (U. glabra) can also reach up to 120 feet high. It has a characteristic of a dome-shaped crown.
Dutch elm (U. Platii) is another huge growing tree with more spread drooping branches and can also reach up to 120 feet.
Elm trees can grow so tall. But what and where are the elms good for? First, you have to know that elms are deciduous trees but some of them are both deciduous and semi-deciduous. Hardwoods are, in the botanical term, generally deciduous. Deciduous trees lose their leaves when there is the changing of the season like summer into winter. They will again grow their leaves during spring.
On the other hand, some elms are also semi-deciduous and they only lose some of their leaves during the cold season. Evergreen trees keep their leaves all year round and are generally of the softwood type. Because some types of elms fall into two categories, many arborists consider the elms to be more on the hardwood but also a bit of the softwood. Which brings us again to the question is elm for firewood good enough to use for homes and outdoor burning?
How Elm Tree Firewood Can Also Be Ideal Heat Source
When you split elm wood, you can see that it has stringy wood fiber which makes them hard to split with an axe but not a big deal if you’ll use a chainsaw for firewood. It also has wavy rings and these rings will tell you more about the age of the tree. People who sell firewood generally say there are better woods for firewood than the elm firewood. And that is because elm only produces mediocre heat compared to other wood that can produce higher BTU (British Thermal Unit) like oak, hickory, ash, mulberry, beech and sugar maple. These are the top-notch types of firewood that can provide the utmost heat for stoves, furnace and domestic kilns.
However, elm for firewood will do at a pinch if you don’t have other sources to get firewood. If you are using coal for baking, roasting, barbecuing or even for home furnace, the coal affect from the elms is excellent in these aspects. Once the elm firewood burns it turns into coal like ash, it hardens and its ember burns longer. So if elm wood is not an excellent choice for firewood, it compensates itself once it turns into coal like ash thanks to its stringy wood structure.
Elms fall in the least heating source as firewood like pine, birch, sycamore, soft maple and aspen. But though it may not pass other people’s standards for firewood, elm still has a very significant role in our industry. How? Because elm is resistant to decay and splitting and this type of wood is more preferred for manufacturing furniture like chairs, wooden beds, stairs, and even coffins.
Why Are Elm Trees Turned Into Elm Firewood?
If elms are not the typical people’s choice for fuel, why are they being made into elm tree firewood? Elm trees have become common trees in residential landscapes. They are also mostly seen in parks and along streets. And the reason they are chosen to be planted in these areas is that they can produce luscious leaves and can provide good shelters for us and keep the ground cool. Their natural beauty can add appeal to any landscape especially once their canopies begin to spread.
But ironically, elms have shallow roots system. And because of that, their water absorption is higher and you cannot plant anything under them or they get starved with food and water by the roots of the elm. Their shade may also cover the ground under them disallowing the growth of other plants. And because elms have a shallow root system and can grow big, their roots can also grow big and can crack the road pavements nearby. They can even damage walls under them. So once elms become bigger, they are cut and are replaced with younger elms and this is how most elms are converted into elm firewood.
Elms can also grow anywhere and you can see a lot of them in the forests. Below are the burning qualities of elm followed by how much heat elm firewood can put out compared to firewood that comes from other trees.
Is Elm Good Firewood? Here Are Its Heat Qualities
Elm for firewood is not a very popular choice because based on some data, it is almost at the bottom list among the most common firewood chosen by people because of its mediocre BTU rating. BTU can be simply explained as the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one Fahrenheit. So since a home surrounding has an atmosphere that contains water, there must be a certain amount of BTU that should come from the burning firewood to raise the temperature inside a room.
Elm is generally considered a hardwood and the drier and denser the hardwood, the better it can give out heat and burn longer. Unfortunately, elms, as we have said, have stringy fiber and not very compact. In some areas, people prefer firewood that is denser, heavier and takes time to completely burn. Elm is best as a coal and its hot coals can burn longer and produce high BTU. But when it comes to being an elm tree firewood, people still see this wood as an average in terms of BTU rating.
For example, if you compare the BTU of the Live Oak (hardwood) which can give out about 36.6 BTUs followed by Eucalyptus 34.5 BTUs in weight per cord, the elm firewood of any type can give out only about 19.5 to 23 BTU. For most homeowners, they need at least 25 BTUs for heating and much higher during winter.
How It Performs
Elm firewood being deciduous and semi-deciduous doesn’t produce too much smoke. But if compared to other top wood for firewood class like the oak and ash, it still lags in the smoking category. Elm may also produce a lot of smoke if not properly seasoned or kiln-dried. So no matter the type of firewood, kiln dried firewood are the best choice.
Is elm good firewood but low in the sparking category? The answer is yes. Elm firewood has low spark tendencies so it’s not a fire hazard unlike some types of hardwoods. Mulberry is a hardwood with about 26 BTU so it gives out a fair amount of heat. However, it can be a hazard if used indoor on stoves because it is a heavy sparker and with this character, it has the potential to be fire hazard in enclosed spaces and even in an outdoor environment. Some forest fires are caused by firewood that are left behind by campers and produces sparks. Nonetheless, any type of firewood should be monitored regardless if used indoors or outdoors.
Who doesn’t want firewood that does smell good when burning? Good examples of fragrant wood are cherries and hickories. And we also believe that if firewood smells good while it burns, it can be the ideal wood for smoking meat and for barbequing. Unfortunately, elm tree firewood is not of the fragrant type. And elm also has a character of absorbing the smell of whatever it is planted near it. For example, if you cut an elm tree that grows near a septic tank, most probably it will smell bad when you burn it as a firewood.
Though elm is not the best candidate for firewood, it can be one of the best in the coaling department. Elm firewood when burned usually forms coals before it gets completely burned up. So aside from not having the risks of being a fire hazard, you can leave it overnight while its coals can stay alive for hours. Again, for those who are asking “is elm good firewood”, not very much because it’s not a very dense type of wood but once it gets into its coaling stage, you can rely it will live up to its ember for a long time. It can even produce longer coals than firewood known for their high heat ratings like birch, aspen and birch. Build-up of Creosote
Creosote is one of the problems among homeowners who use firewood. This is the by-product of firewood that releases chemical compounds in their smoke in the form of tar. These tar forms on the sides of the chimneys which over time can accumulate and can become fire hazards as it becomes flammable as it gets mixed with other forms of chemicals that come from the smoke of different types of firewood.
Creosote can also choke up your chimneys so even though you burn the best type of firewood, you will still get a lot of smoke coming from the chimney. In this manner, you must have a regular cleaning schedule with your chimney and only choose seasoned wood because wet or green firewood are the most probable cause for creosote build-up. You must also remember that sappy woods are the best contributors of creosote and a good example is Pine. Elm for firewood, fortunately, is not a sappy type of wood.
Elm for Firewood Overall Qualities
Let’s summarize now what we have learned about the elm firewood so next time you need firewood for your stove or fireplace, you can easily remember what elm wood can and cannot give you.
Elm has an average BTU output. If compared to other hardwoods, this can be a good choice if there’s a shortage of other wood. However, elm tree firewood is not as costly as the top firewood types.
Elm firewood can put out a bad smell if its tree grows near a polluted area. So be aware of the source. Buy small bundles first to test its smoke smell before buying a full cord.
Elm is one of the best when it comes to coaling. It can even outperform types of hardwood in the coaling category like walnut and ash.
Elm has a stringy fiber that makes it hard to split with an axe. If you use an axe to split it, it will be hard to split an elm log with just one or two chops.
How to Season Elm
We now come to a point on how to season elm firewood. The worst that you can get with elm is if you burn it not completely dried or seasoned. Seasoning in firewood means “air-drying” and depending on the season and type of firewood, seasoning can take at least 6 months to complete but in other cases, it could even take 2 years to completely season some types of hardwoods.
Here are some tricks on how to season elm firewood to speed up its drying process:
Split the elm logs into smaller pieces. Splitting the wood enables the water to evaporate faster from inside and outside of the wood as more surface will be exposed. The wind and heat from the sun will hasten the drying process.
Don’t forget to elevate the elm firewood from the ground. A good way to do it is to put a pallet underneath the stack or if you don’t have a pallet, get some long tree branches and lay these horizontally on the ground. Then put up the first, second and third stack of firewood. For the next stack, lay a horizontal wood again on top of the third stack and stack again and so on. This way, air can circulate around the stack and hasten the drying process.
Stacking the wood in proper areas. This means that don’t stack the wood under the shade of trees or near the buildings for proper air circulation. If you are exposing the firewood stack or if placing it under a shed, make sure you point them towards the direction on where the wind blows.
Elm tree firewood may take time to season it. So while drying it, it may experience a change of weather and environmental conditions like rain or snow. The best thing to protect it from moist is covering it with thick breathable materials like jute to let air continuously circulate. Avoid using thick tarps and plastic because these develop moisture over time.
Uncover the stack of wood when the weather is fine and when there’s a lot of sunshine. So you also have to manage your air-drying process with your elm firewood while helping the natural drying process go its way.
Our last tip is to try to season your elm firewood many months before you need it. Elm tree firewood can also be your reliable fuel if properly seasoned. But if you don’t have the luxury of time for firewood seasoning, there’s always the kiln-dried elm firewood you can buy.
If you choose elm for firewood, you may be satisfied with it especially if you’ll burn it when the season is just getting cold. You will also feel safer leaving it burning overnight as it doesn’t produce sparks. Yes, this may not be an excellent type of wood when it comes to BTU output but in some categories, this is also passable as home firewood. In some states, many people prefer the elm tree firewood because it is readily available, costs a little less than the first-class firewood and doesn’t produce much smoke as well as creosote.
For our next blog, we will be tackling the benefits of using oak as firewood. Oak is also a hardwood and considered among the best firewood as it burns slowly and can release a high level of heat.