By Deb Courson

“Old Man Winter” is hanging on in Montana this year, and folks who depend on burning wood for heat may need to purchase a few extra cords. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering tips about how to use wood supplies more efficiently and safely.

Alison Davis, senior advisor for public affairs with the EPA Office of Air Quality and Standards, says it’s important to check wood for proper seasoning before burning it. Wood needs to be kept dry for at least six months before it is used as fuel, she says. A simple test to see if the wood is ready is to knock two pieces together, she explains.

“If you hear kind of a hollow sound, that means it’s seasoned. You want it to be really dry, because if it’s dry, it’s going to burn hotter, and you’re not spending that heat to burn water out of the wood.”

Davis adds that it’s best to burn hardwood, such as maple or oak. In addition to burning the right wood, she points out that you save money by keeping your fire small and really hot. She also urges people to have their stoves and other wood-burning appliances serviced every year.

“If you keep your chimney clean, that provides a good draft for your wood-burning appliance. Not only does it pull smoke out of the house, but it reduces the risk of a chimney fire, too.”

Davis also is spreading the word about the extension of federal tax credits available through the end of 2011 to help offset the cost of a new, more efficient wood stove.