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"Dry firewood quickly in solar Virginian dryer/mini-greenhouse"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of a Virginian solar firewood dryer and seasoned firewood.

Dear Jim: A storm toppled three large trees nearby. I have an efficient fireplace and I would like to use these trees for firewood. Is there any way to season firewood quickly so I can burn it this winter? - Mike Y.

A: Don't try to burn green (unseasoned) firewood in your fireplace, especially if it is an efficient design. High-efficiency fireplaces usually restrict the amount of combustion air so less room air is lost. When burning green wood, much creosote is formed which can lead to a dangerous chimney fire.

Once you get a hot fire burning with seasoned firewood, you can burn about one green log for every two seasoned logs you add. Make sure to split the green logs into small pieces and don't choke the combustion air down too much.

The best way to determine when hardwood is seasoned is to knock two logs together. If you hear a ringing sound, instead of a dull thud, they are probably ready to use. For softer woods, inspect the ends of the logs. Many checks and cracks, running radially out from the center, indicate seasoned wood.

If you do not have an existing supply of seasoned wood to use, you will have to rapidly dry at least some of this wood from the three large trees. Building a solar wood dryer is the best method to season wood in a month or so.

The purpose of a solar design is twofold: 1) heat the wood to drive out the moisture, and 2) create natural thermosiphoning air flow around the wood to carry the moisture away. The mass of the wood will hold the sun's heat into the evening so the drying process will not stop at dusk.

Of all the designs available, a Virginian solar wood dryer is your best choice. This is a large, versatile design to season enough wood to get you through the coldest months of the year. During spring and fall, it doubles nicely as an effective mini-greenhouse for starting and growing plants.

This type of firewood dryer is basically a large plywood box with a clear sloped front and many air vents. To lower its cost and have minimal scrap, use standard lumber and size it in increments of four or eight feet. If you have an existing unused storm door for the clear front, make it this size.

For adequate air flow, cut inlet vent holes, later covered with screening, low on the sides near the front. Cut outlet vent holes high on the sides near the back. Either make sheet metal vents or purchase roof vents for the top section. Position these top vents so they catch the prevailing breezes.

Build two large doors in the back panel. When stacking wood inside, place long wood strips between each layer of logs to separate them. This provides even air circulation around all the logs.

Write for (instantly download - Update Bulletin No. 436 - instructions and materials list for making a Virginian wood dryer/mini-greenhouse, firewood selector guide, wood heat evaluation worksheet, and fireplace safety tips.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 436 - do-it-yourself instructions and materials list for making a two-door Virginian wood dryer/mini-greenhouse, firewood selector guide listing low/medium/high heat content wood types, wood heat evaluation worksheets to determine if wood heating is cost effective for your home, and safe wood burning tips.

Dear Jim: I have been looking at new gas water heaters. Some of them say they included heat trap fittings at the top. What are these fittings and are they worthwhile to have on a water heater? - Bob R.

A: Heat trap fittings are worthwhile to have in a new water heater and most new models will include them. They don't look different than ordinary fittings, so ask about them.

Heat trap fittings are basically just one-way check valves built into the inlet and outlet fittings in the water heater. Without them, hot water rises up into the copper pipe above the water heater, cools off and flows down again. This continuously wastes energy and cools the tank.

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