Avoid the "How Much?" Hassle When Buying Firewood

By: Monte Penney ">

How much firewood should I buy, and when should I buy it? These are questions that may lead busy homeowners to postpone ordering their firewood. Here are some answers from fireplace experts.

How much: There’s no surefire way to figure out how much firewood you will need for a year, but there are some guidelines for estimating. In 1998, Vermont homeowners who heat primarily with wood burned almost 5 cords; those who burned wood as a supplement to other home heating systems used just over 2 cords; and those who burned firewood only for pleasure used less than half a cord.

What’s a cord? Glad you asked. A cord of firewood is 128 cubic feet of closely stacked wood, including the air space between fire logs. The terms “face cord," “rack," “truck load," and “pile" have no agreed meaning or legal meaning. In fact, Oregon consumer laws ban the use of these terms in commerce! So, a stack of firewood 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and 8 feet long is a cord, as is a stack 2 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 16 feet long.

When buying wood, try to negotiate with the seller in terms of real cords or percentages of real cords. You can also use the examples above to estimate amounts, or you can just look at the amount he is offering and decide if it’s worth the price to you.

When to buy or gather: Firewood needs at least 6 months to season, so early spring is a great time to buy or gather your wood. Any insects living under the bark are dormant and likely to die before fall. Prices are generally down and supplies are good. Try to buy only what you will use in a year. You can carry over some wood into a second year, but it may give off more smoke than recently seasoned wood and it is more likely to harbor insects. You will find that land owners whose property has been logged will welcome you if you ask permission to salvage firewood. Loggers leave behind about 50% of each tree, cluttering the landscape but providing you with free firewood. With a chain saw, safety goggles, and a wood splitter, you can tailor your firewood to the dimensions of your fireplace while you save money.

So, if you just use your fireplace for romance and relaxation, buy a half cord of firewood each spring and let it season until fall. If you supplement a heating system with a woodstove or fireplace insert, buy two cords. If you heat exclusively with firewood, you’ll need about 4 to 5 cords, depending on the severity of your winters.

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