Never skip this step, says our expert.
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mudroom wooden log storage bins
Credit: Chris Mottalini

We all dream of those long nights by the fire—inside or out—in the comfortable chill of fall. And since the coziest season of them all is officially upon us, you're likely packing away the tells of summer (the kayaks, the bathing suits, the cooler) and stocking your home with essentials for autumn—firewood included. As you prep your fireplace surround or bonfire pit, be sure to check on your wood stash. Are your logs cured? According to our expert, they absolutely should be.

The reason? Freshly cut logs hold a lot of water—typically half or more of their weight, says Nick Conger, press secretary for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When you burn wood with moisture content above even 20 percent, the fire is harder to start; it gives off less heat (meaning you need more logs); and it's unpleasantly smoky.

It also produces more creosote, a flammable tar that sticks to the interior chimney walls. "After enough builds up, the flames and heat from your fireplace can ignite it, causing a chimney fire," Conger says. Over time, the buildup can even shrink the diameter of the passage, compromising its ability to draw smoke out of your home.

To avoid such issues, buy quality precured firewood (look for kiln-dried), or cure your own: Split, stack, and store logs off the ground, covered with something waterproof, long enough to air-dry fully (roughly six to 12 months); this process is also referred to as "seasoning" your wood. You'll know they're ready when they've become darker, often with the bark pulling away from the core, and when two logs banged together produce a hollow sound.

Styling by Jeffrey Miller

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