Buying, Storing, and Burning Firewood

When the weather turns cold, fireplaces and wood burning stoves are a great way to provide our homes with an additional source of heat and a warm and cozy atmosphere. Before you buy your supply firewood for the upcoming season, here are a few things to consider.


Buying Firewood

Buy Local

Buying firewood from a reputable local source promotes good forestry. Moving firewood long distances can introduce harmful insects and diseases that can weaken and kill local trees (e.g. emerald ash borers, gypsy moths, Dutch elm disease, and Oak wilt).

Plan Ahead

Spring is a great time to buy firewood. If you're willing to buy "green" wood and store it yourself until it's fully dry, you may be able to cut the cost by as much as 30%. Also, if you wait until fall to buy firewood you run the risk of having to settle (and pay) for whatever the dealer has available.

Look for the Species of Wood

Not all types of wood burn equally. It all comes down to density. Denser wood burns more slowly and has a higher heating value. In general, hardwoods (wood from leaf-bearing trees) are generally denser and can have up to twice as much heat value per cord as softwoods (wood from needle-bearing trees). Softwoods are typically easier to split, and although they may burn hot, they also generally burn a lot faster.


Know Exactly What You're Paying For

The price of firewood is generally based on the following factors:

  • The quantity of wood ordered. The standard unit of measure for firewood is called a "cord", which measures 4 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet long. Whenever possible, order wood using this standard. You may also see firewood for sale by the "face cord" (8 feet long, 4 feet tall, and only as deep as the wood is cut), "ricks" (non-standardized piles), or "pick-up loads" (which can vary in volume depending on the size of the truck).

  • The cut size of the wood. Most wood is cut between 16 and 18 inches in length. If you need a special size to accommodate your firebox, expect to pay more.

  • Whether the wood is "seasoned" (dry) or "green". To be considered "seasoned", fresh cut wood must be allowed to air dry for at least 6 months or more before being burned.

  • Extra services. (e.g. delivery, stacking, splitting, etc.). Depending on where you live, these services may cost extra.

  • What the local market will bear. This can be related to the abundance or scarcity of local wood resources, current price of heating oil, etc.

Note: Not all species split equally as well either. This is worth knowing if you plan to split the wood yourself to save some money. Denser wood is generally harder to split. Oak, for example, has a high heating value and makes a very good firewood, but it can be difficult to split. Pine has a low heating value (burns hot, but very fast), and is easy to split.

Storing Firewood

Avoid storing wood next to the house (or other buildings)

Wood piles are havens for insects, but there's no need to turn your house into one. Store your firewood in a location that is convenient for bringing it indoors, but one that is far enough away from buildings to keep insects outside.


Keep firewood elevated

Wood touching the ground will quickly start to decompose. Keep your pile several inches off the ground by stacking the bottom rows on wood pallets or 2x 4s.

Keep air circulating

If you're stacking multiple cords, leave at least 6 inches of air space between them to allow for maximum drying.

Bring in a little at a time

A large plastic storage bin with a lid provides a nice transition (and insect buffer) from the woodpile to indoors. You can buy them in sizes as large as 45 gallons - the perfect size for storing a week's worth of firewood in the garage or under the basement stairs. When full of wood these bins get heavy, so look for styles with wheels and get help when moving it. Keep the lid on to keep traveling insects inside the bin and keep your children and pets safely out.


Burning Firewood

Have your chimney inspected annually.

Before the onset of chilly weather, have your wood burning stove or fireplace cleaned and inspected to make sure everything is in proper working order.

Burn "seasoned" wood

"Seasoned" (dry) firewood, is wood that has been cut and air dried for at least 6 months prior to being burned. Seasoned firewood has a lower moisture content than green firewood, so it ignites easier, burns cleaner, and delivers heat more efficiently than green wood. It also smolders less and deposits less creosote on your chimney. To determine whether or not the wood you're burning is seasoned, look for the following signs:

  • The ends contain shrinkage cracks from the drying process and have a dark gray or weathered appearance. The bark may also be loosely attached to the outside.

  • When you bang two of pieces of seasoned wood together they make a clear-sounding "clink" rather than a dull-sounding thud.

  • The wood feels light, but still solid. It ignites quickly, and no water is visibly exiting the wood while it burns.

Don't overload your firebox.

A large, hot fire might seem like it will heat your house better, but it won't. You'll only end up wasting wood, and possible cause dangerous cracks to form in your chimney tiles that can lead to a house fire. Never burn garbage, large amounts of paper, or construction debris. They can produce toxic fumes, and leave dangerous deposits on your chimney.

Burn smart

Good fireplace habits can decrease your home's fuel consumption while maintaining a comfortable level of warmth. Make sure your firewood gets enough air to burn properly. Always use a fire screen, and close the damper when the fire is out to keep warm air from escaping up your chimney.

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November 5, 20100 found this helpful

Also be careful of some of the wood sold at the big boxes. You don't know how long they've been sitting in the back. I'm allergic to mold and put a bundle of wood in my cart and instantly felt a reaction coming on, maybe others won't be as sensitive, but check the wood to make sure.

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November 5, 20100 found this helpful

Excellent information! This should be very helpful, especially for people who are new to using fireplaces or wood stoves!

I would like to emphasize your tip about not burning trash. Don't put anything in your fireplace/stove that doesn't belong there. My mom threw an old Ouija board in our wood stove once & darn near burned the house down! There was a big whoosh, then it sounded like a freight train. Sparks were flying & the stovepipe turned red all the way to the 10 ft ceiling! I had to get on the roof with a hose to be sure the roof didn't catch fire. We used to tease her that all the spooks in the Ouija board were mad, but it was probably the compressed sawdust & glue it was made of!

Also, if you have a wood stove, please use a tall 3-sided screen at all times, especially if you have children or animals. Both will get to playing around & run right into it if it's not blocked. And one Fall, our cat (who'd been used to getting on the stove all summer), jumped onto the top of the stove while the screen was moved & severely burned his paws.

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November 6, 20100 found this helpful

Good tips here. We only burn hardwoods in our stove, never pine. While a stove can keep you toasty in cold weather always keep an eye on it, especially when first starting a fire when flues are open. Make sure the fire is not roaring right before bed time. Follow the instructions. Better to be safe than sorry. Also notify your insurance co. When putting in a stove. Many states require permits, with the fire dept. Checking out the work. Keep in mind a regular fireplace when lit will suck much of the "heat" up the chimney, which you have paid for, be it electric, oil, or gas heat.

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November 6, 20100 found this helpful

I learned a lot from reading this! Thank you for posting. I just bought a house with a woodburning fireplace, so it was a timely article.

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February 9, 20170 found this helpful

I don't get the "don't burn pine " comments. Just clean your pipe more often. I used to live in Alaska, for 41 years, and that's about all there is to burn up there. You have Spruce or Birch, both softwoods. I now live in Missouri and burn Oak mainly, but found that i had a much hotter house in Alaska. It would cook you out of the living room. The wood always burned great and I went a year without cleaning pipes and had no problems. Maybe the HOT fires kept the pipes clean. My 2 pennies worth..DAN

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