Ah, the reassuring sounds of a cozy fire crackling in your fireplace on a cold winter night. Of course, you already know your main defense against an unwelcome blaze is to have a clean fireplace and chimney. But have you ever considered exactly what you’re burning and how you’re storing it?

It’s true — the kind of firewood you have and how it’s stored matters in keeping your fire hot and your house safe. Here’s what you need to know about firewood safety.

Choosing firewood

1. Age matters

Think you can throw any old wood into the fire? Think again. Wood that’s too wet won’t burn well and can cause excess smoke. The trick is to make sure your wood is “seasoned,” meaning it was cut long enough ago and dried out enough that the majority of the moisture is gone. Fresh-cut wood can be up to 45 percent water, while seasoned firewood has a moisture content of half that or less. In general, wait about 6 months after you’ve cut your wood to use it.

Not sure if your firewood is ready? Gadget gurus rejoice: a moisture meter that can help you detect whether your wood is ready to go.

2. Size matters

For the best firewood, choose logs that are relatively uniform in length, which makes it easier to stack, as well as burn. You want them to be about 2 inches shorter than your firebox so they can easily fit. Of course, you’ll also want some shorter pieces to put on top as fire starters.

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3. Species doesn’t matter

Some people swear by certain types of firewood, choosing hard woods like maple and oak over softer types like poplar or aspen, but most of it will burn the same. The key factor in burning potential is its age.

4. Only use actual firewood

Tempted to throw in that old bookcase or other scrap wood you have around? Don’t. Wood that has been pressure treated, painted, or otherwise coated can release dangerous compounds (including arsenic) into the air.

Safe firewood storage

1. Outside is a must

Storing firewood inside is a no-go, even if it looks sooo cute and everyone’s doing it on those home decor shows. Why? It’s simple: bugs. Haul the wood in as you’re ready to use it.

2. Keep it away from the house

You don’t want it in the house, but you also don’t want it too close to the house where it can produce a path for rodents or bugs looking for a cozy place to live or eat. An ideal distance is at least 5 feet from the foundation of the house.

3. Cover it

Make sure your firewood isn’t being subjected to constant rain or snow or else you’re wasting all that good seasoning we discussed above. An enclosed area is best, but if you don’t have one, make sure you protect it from the elements with a tarp.

4. Keep it elevated

Wood that’s stored off the ground is less likely to attract critters.

Safe and smart

about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.