Firewood! This is a popular topic, and for good reason. It’s hard to find the facts about firewood. People, like yourself, have many questions about firewood, like: How much is a cord of wood? How much does firewood cost? How do I stack firewood? What’s the best firewood to burn? etc…
The list of questions about firewood goes on and on. So, what we did was put together this definitive guide on firewood to answer all of your questions. We truly hope you find this article helpful. We wrote it for you!
Complete Firewood Guide
Fire has been a part of human life for as long as we’ve been around. It’s because of fire that we’ve evolved to where we are today. Despite this, most of us know very little about the basic first step toward getting fire into our homes. That is obtaining the firewood in the first place.
Even after thousands of years of technological advancement, many of us still prefer fire as a means of heating. Perhaps it the pure romance of flickering flames and crackling firewood. Who knows? What I’ve found is that many people have a lot of questions surrounding firewood. So this article is intended to answer all those questions.
To start with, I wanted to find out what are the most common questions that people are asking.
- How much does firewood cost?
- What is a cord of firewood?
- What is the best firewood for heating my home?
- What is the best firewood for the barbecue and smoking meat?
- How do I store my firewood?
- Where do I buy firewood?
- How much firewood do I need to see me through the winter?
If you’re asking any of these questions, you’re going to find the answers here. In searching for the answers to these questions, more questions arose and I’ve sought to answer those too. So, this article is going to cover every aspect of firewood and should leave you with no unanswered questions.
Because money talks, everyone’s first question is what are they going to pay for their firewood. So this is a good place to start.
A Guide to Buying Firewood
Trying to Google “What is the price of firewood?” is going to leave you with more questions than answers. This is because there are so many variables but this guide is going to help you through this and you’ll end up with a good idea of what you should be paying for your firewood this winter.
The first factor that you need to consider is the basic financial principle of supply and demand. In winter the demand for firewood is going to be at its highest. So, planning ahead and buying in summer will already save you a heap of cash. Firewood prices vary considerably depending on your geographical region. In colder areas, demand is always higher and therefore firewood will cost more in a colder area. How far you live from the source of the wood will also affect the price as transport is quite a big factor. Different wood types have different prices – hardwood is always more expensive than softwood. The quantity that you’re buying will affect the price too, it’s always cheaper to buy large volumes.
To get to the bottom of the question of how much firewood costs, let’s break down these factors so you can first determine your firewood needs. How much firewood do you need? To answer this question we need to look at how people measure firewood.
The traditional way of measuring firewood is by using the cord method.
What is a cord of firewood?
The term cord used in the context of measuring firewood goes back to Britain in the early 1600’s. Back then firewood was a basic commodity and people would buy it on a daily basis. In these early days, people were limited as to how much firewood they could buy by how much they could carry. Firewood merchants would bundle together a reasonable amount of firewood for one person to carry and tie it together with a cord. Hence the term cord.
Today the standard measurement for a cord is much bigger and is more like the amount of firewood that you’d transport in a large pickup. A cord of wood is 4 Ft wide X 4 Ft tall and 8 Ft long. The volume of this amount of wood calculates to 128 cubic feet. Though, in reality, you only end up with about 90 cubic Ft of firewood. This is because there are gaps between the logs and this can vary depending on how straight the pieces are.
This unit of measurement has been exploited by some firewood sellers and you must be aware of what you’re buying and from whom. In fact, the Canadian government has recommended that that cord system for selling firewood be abandoned because they don’t feel that it’s reliable.
If we translate a cord of wood into its mass, we can say that a cord of hardwood weighs about 5000 LBS and the same volume of softwood will weigh roughly 2500 LBS.
One of the common sales tricks is to sell wood as a face cord. A face cord is actually the volume represented by a single side of the complete volume. So a face cord is actually only a third of a cord. Sellers will also sell wood in portions like a half or quarter cord. In the end, like everything else, you need to do a little asking around to find a reputable dealer in your area.
When looking for a reliable firewood supplier, it’s a good idea to have some background knowledge. Having an idea of the general firewood price is a good barometer.
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How much does a cord of firewood cost?
We’ve already established that the price for hardwood and softwood is different. If you’re not sure which is better, don’t worry – we’ll cover this later on. For now, let’s see how you can compare firewood prices.
Stumpage prices for firewood are what it costs a wood harvester to cut down the trees on a given piece of land. This is calculated on a basis of what volume they will be harvesting. In short, the dollar value for a specified volume of wood ($/cubic Ft). Knowing the stump price for wood in your area is like looking at the Brent crude oil price on the news. It’s not the price that you’ll be paying to your local supplier but it gives you a base point from which you can compare the price of different types of wood.
Stumpage reports are released seasonally for each state and this information is available on the internet. Like observing the oil price, knowing how the stumpage price changes seasonally, will give you an indication of whether you’re being ripped off or not. If this year’s stumpage price is lower than last year’s – you should be paying less than you did last year, right?
When it comes to the retail price in your area, you’ll need to shop around. I’ve done some research into what people are paying around the US for firewood. In general, the price for hardwood is about $350 per cord, this could be anything from $250 to & $450. It can be as high as $650 for some types. Though, I’ve seen great deals being offered for below $200 a cord. Softwood prices average around $200 per cord.
I would be wary of people offering prices well below the average price for your region. It’s a good idea not to just order online unless you’re sure that you’re dealing with a reputable supplier. It’s true that you may find a great deal on Craigslist or the classified section of your local newspaper, but be certain of what you’re actually buying. If you’re going to buy from someone that you don’t know, go check the wood out first and take a tape measure with you to check that you are, in fact, getting a full cord for the price.
Most of the prices offered by established firewood merchants will be for properly dried wood that has been cleaned and cut to size. Getting a good deal privately may mean that you’re getting wet or green wood and it usually won’t be cut to size. Of course, buying wood in larger pieces is a great way to save money as long as you’re buying wood that is not substandard. Investing in a chainsaw will save you on firewood costs year on year. You’ll also be paying more for wood that has been split. You can split it yourself with an ax or you can save yourself the hassle by getting a wood splitter.
So, let’s sum up the factors that contribute toward the cost of the firewood that you buy from a supplier in your area.
- Stumpage Price – The seasonal price of the wood at the primary level of the supply chain will determine what the final cost will be, with all the additional costs and markup added to this.
- Transport – there are two types of transport that will affect the price of your firewood. One is the cost from the area where the wood is cut to the merchant that supplies the wood in your area. The second transport cost is that of transporting it from your local supplier to your home. Most firewood sellers will transport bulk orders for free within a reasonable distance from their depot. If they have to travel further to deliver the firewood, they’ll usually charge extra in relation to the distance that they have to travel. Having your wood delivered can cost anything from $50-$100 and there will be an additional fee if you want it stacked instead of simply off-loaded at the most convenient part of your Stacking the wood could cost around $20 extra.
- Cutting and splitting – Felled wood can come in any size or thickness. Firewood that is used for burning in a fireplace is usually cut into lengths of 16”. If a firewood merchant is going to cut the wood to size, they will charge for this. It takes time and labor to cut wood. Thick pieces of wood don’t burn very easily and it is better to split the wood into usable pieces. Doing this will push up the price in the same way that cutting it does.
- Seasonal Pricing – Wood will cost more during the winter months when it’s colder.
- Geographical region – Colder areas have a greater demand for firewood and this will make it more expensive in these regions. In addition to this, urban areas are usually more expensive than rural areas. In a large city, rentals and property prices are higher and so is the general cost of living. Therefore, a supplier of any commodity will have to charge more in an urban area to make the same type as profit as one who trades in an area that is less expensive.
So, based on this you can expect to pay the highest price for firewood in a large city in a cold area. Large cities in the north will see an average price for hardwood that is cut, split and delivered closer to $450 and softwood at around $300.
How much firewood do you need?
If you’re only using firewood to supplement your heating in the evenings you’ll probably use 2-3 cords through the course of the winter in a climate that is reasonably warm. In a cold climate, you should expect this figure to be more like 3-4 cords.
If you’re heating your home predominantly using firewood, expect to use about 5 cords in a moderate climate and 7-8 cords in a cold climate. These figures are very general because everyone has different circumstances. A well-insulated home will require less heating. Heating a smaller area will also use less firewood. The type of stove or fireplace that you use will have quite a big effect on your firewood consumption. These days, there are many wood burners that are designed to maximize your firewood and drastically reduce your consumption. Shopping around for an efficient wood burning stove or fireplace can save you a fortune in heating costs.
Money saving tips when buying firewood
If you think that you could end up spending more than $3000 to heat your home this winter, you’ll probably want to save wherever possible. There’s no need to burn through your cash this winter (excuse me, but I couldn’t resist that pun). There are many ways that you could save money with a bit of planning and making some clever decisions.
- Buy at the right time – Foresight is everything. Simply buying your firewood in advance and not waiting until winter is upon you will save you money. This requires no extra effort and it’s just a matter of planning and providing for adequate storage. Buying green wood that has not fully cured will also be cheaper. This means that you’ll have to store it for some time to let it dry out properly.
- Shop around – Checking classified ads and surfing the internet can pay big dividends. Buying your wood directly from a private seller can cost you half of what you’d pay otherwise. Of course, you’ll need to do your homework to make sure that you’re not paying for an inferior product but it’s well worth the effort.
- Invest in a chainsaw – Cutting your own firewood from trees in your yard is almost free. You’ll only need to pay for the running costs of the chainsaw. You can also get a permit to cut down trees in areas where this is permitted. For a permit cost of around $20, you could get all the firewood you need for an entire winter. Even if you’re not up to the hard labor of cutting down the trees yourself, using a chainsaw to cut your wood to size will also save you some cash.
- Invest in a wood splitter – buying wood that has been split for you, also pushes up the price. With a wood splitter, you can do this yourself with very little effort.
- Invest in an efficient stove – a quality wood burner that uses the heat and burns efficiently will mean that you’ll burn through less wood every winter.
What is the best firewood to buy?
To understand firewood, we need to look at how to measure its value as a source of fuel. Different types of wood will have a different calorific value. This means the amount of energy contained in the wood. What we really want to know is the heat transfer rate of the wood that we’re using. To measure this we use BTU to determine how much heat a wood gives off as it burns and at what rate.
What is BTU?
The term British Thermal Unit (BTU) is used to describe the rate at which heat is transferred. This term is often referred to as the Basic Thermal Unit or Basic Temperature Unit – it’s all the same thing. BTU is the amount of energy that is needed to heat one pound of water in order increase its temperature by one degree Fahrenheit. Maybe this sounds a bit complicated, so let’s simplify it slightly. You can look at a BTU as heat parcel. As you burn a piece of wood you unpack these heat parcels into the room, thereby heating it. The more BTUs that you have in a piece of wood, the more heat it will give off as it’s burned.
Hardwood has the highest BTU value. It is denser than softwood and therefore contains more energy. You could say that the heat parcels in hardwood are packed more tightly so there’s more of them in the same volume of wood.
This means that hardwood will burn for longer and produce more heat over time. Softwood burns faster and releases its heat over a shorter period. Softwood also tends to produce more smoke and will have more sparks flying off of it. This most prevalent in pine that produces gasses as the wood heats up. These gasses become trapped in the wood and then explode, shooting off sparks into the air.
Softwood is easier to ignite and is good for starting fires and heating the room more rapidly. Hardwood is great for keeping the room warm for a long time. So, for most people, a selection of both hard and softwood is a good idea. If you keep your fire going day and night, it would be better to use only hardwood as this will keep going for a long time and it produces better coals. If you’re not going to keep the fire burning constantly, keep some softwood to get the fire going each time.
Selecting your Firewood
Before we look at some of the hard and softwoods that are commonly available in North America, we should look into the moisture content of the wood that you’ll be using.
Green wood describes trees that have recently been cut down. When a tree is green it has a high moisture content (70%-100%). A high moisture content will make the wood difficult burn, produce a lot of smoke and lower its BTU value.
The ideal moisture content for firewood is 20%-25%. It’s important that firewood is left to dry out properly before burning. Hardwoods will usually take longer to dry than softwoods. Curing or drying firewood will take at least a year for most wood types and some hardwoods may take up to two years to reach their ideal moisture content. The conditions under which the wood is stored will affect the drying process. We’ll look into storing and stacking firewood later in the article.
In order to dry the firewood faster and get it the correct moisture level for burning, it can be dried in a kiln. A kiln uses heat to dry the wood rapidly. The heat is controlled and this makes it possible to extract the exact amount of moisture to obtain the best BTU value for the wood. Kiln dried wood will usually be more expensive than naturally dried wood.
There are a number of ways to check if the firewood that you’re using is correctly dried. The most accurate way is to use a moisture meter. These devices are not too expensive and easy to use. With a moisture meter, you can easily get a reading by pressing the tip of the probe into the wood and get an accurate reading of the percentage of moisture in the wood. This will mean that there’s no guesswork involved.
Without a moisture meter, you can still make some basic observations that will give you an idea of whether the wood will be suitable for burning. Of course, these are not accurate measurements and only give you a basic indication.
- Visual inspection – wood that has had time to dry will usually form cracks or checks on the end grain of the piece. This is not a guaranteed way of determining the dryness of the wood as some dry wood may not form cracks and some wood will crack before it is sufficiently dry.
- Color – Wood will darken as it dries so you can tell by its color how long it has been standing. Of course, you need to have an idea of what the color of the wood is when it’s green and how dark it should be when it’s dry enough to burn. The only way to gain this knowledge is through experience. So it’s a good idea to start taking note of the color of different wood types through their drying stages.
- Weight – A large proportion of the weight of a tree is in the water that it holds. As a tree dries it loses weight. You can tell how dry a piece of wood is by its weight relative to that of a green piece. Again, it will take time to gather this knowledge.
- Density – The wood will become less dense as it dries. You can tell how much moisture a piece of wood has lost by simply knocking two pieces against each other. A wet piece of wood will give a dull thud, whereas dry wood will give a more hollow vibrant sound.
As you can see, without a moisture meter, you’ll only be able to hazard a guess as to what the moisture content of your wood is. If you prefer a more scientific approach, you’ll probably want to use a moisture meter.
Types of Firewood
Firewood is divided into three basic categories – hardwood, softwood and blended woods. Hard and soft woods are natural logs that are cut directly from the tree and are categorized by the type of tree from which they are cut. Blended firewood, like Duraflame, are processed woods that are manufactured to ignite easily and burn longer. A blended firewood will use natural fire enhancers like natural waxes to improve their combustion qualities and prolong the time that they burn for. Choosing blended firewood is easy because they are already processed to produce the best results for regular heating purposes. If you’re going to be selecting hard or soft woods for heating, cooking or smoking meat it’s better to know a bit about them.
Without a good knowledge of trees, you won’t easily be able to tell one piece of wood from another. However, you don’t need a degree in botany to distinguish hardwoods from softwoods – or at least get a good idea of what the wood type is.
Hardwoods are denser and will, therefore, be heavier. A simple test by holding the piece in one hand will let you know whether the wood has a decent weight. The heavier it is, the harder it is.
Hardwood grows slower than soft wood and this allows us to distinguish them from the rings in the grain of the wood. Annual rings are formed by the growth of the tree through the year. The wide, lighter colored rings result from the summer growth. The tree grows the most in the summer months and therefore makes a wider ring during this time. The more growth a tree experiences during the season, the wider the ring is that will form. Because the hardwood tree grows slower, it will have narrower rings than a softwood tree.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular firewood types available in North America. The availability of these woods will vary depending on the area. The trees are listed from the hardest wood at the top to the softest at the bottom.
Ironwood; Rock Elm; Hickory; Oak; Sugar Maple and Beach – Hardwoods with decreasing density from left to right.
Yellow Birch; Ash; Red Elm; Red Maple; Tamarack; Douglas Fir; White Birch; Manitoba Maple; Red Adler and Hemlock – Medium density woods with decreasing density from left to right.
Poplar; Pine; Basswood; Spruce; Balsam – softwoods with decreasing density from left to right.
The firewood that you use will leave a distinct smell and this will affects the general ambiance of your home. For this reason, some people will choose a specific type of wood based on its fragrance. If you’re looking for a wood that is going to enhance your home with a pleasant aroma, here are some of the firewood types that are renowned for their fragrance.
Apple; Cherry; Juniper; Osage – Orange and Red Cedar. Some others that are not rated as highly but are still known for their pleasant fragrance include Basswood; Beech; Chestnut; Coffee Tree; Elm; Maple; most Pine trees and Walnut.
If you’re going to use firewood for the barbecue or smoking meat, choosing a wood with a good fragrance is going to be of great importance. Here are some of the best woods used for cooking. Apple; Beech; Cherry; Hickory; Maple (Red and Sugar); Mesquite and Pecan.
Tips for Smoking Meat
While gas and electric smokers are very convenient and easy to use, many connoisseurs will insist that wood smoked meat is the way to go. Using wood with the right aromatic properties will add a unique flavor to your smoked meat. We’ve listed some of these wood types and it will be up to you, which works best for the flavor that you’re going for. Selecting the best firewood for smoking meat is only part of the process and here are some other tips that will ensure that your smoked meat is the envy of all your friends.
Choose your smoker well. There are many products that are designed to assist in the meat smoking process. You can get an electric smoker, though it will cost a bit. A gas or wood-burning barbecue with a cover, like a kettle barbecue, is the most commonly used method for smoking meat.
There are certain types of meat that lend themselves well to smoking. Brisket and pork or beef ribs are a big favorite but there a quite a few others that are also great for smoking. Turkey, chicken, pork roast, and ham work very well and there are a few seafood delicacies that are excellent for smoking like lobster, trout, and salmon.
Before you start smoking your meat, prepare it correctly. You can marinate for an hour or more with a vinegar or wine based marinade or you can simply use a dry rub. You can get both from almost any store or you can make your own.
The trick with smoking meat is allowing for adequate time. Smoking your meat slowly over several hours is what brings out the flavor. Smoking meat slowly also tenderizes it and if you do it properly, you’ll end up with succulent tender and delicious meat. This means controlling the temperature. For this, you’ll need a meat thermometer. You’ll want to measure the temperature at which you’re smoking the meat and periodically check the temperature at the center of the actual piece of meat that you’re smoking.
A meat thermometer has a probe that you can push into the piece of meat to accurately see what the core temperature is. When you start smoking, you want a relatively high temperature (250°F). When you put your meat onto the smoking coals, the temperature will drop slightly and this is fine. You’ll want to maintain your temperature at 220°F for the duration of your smoking period.
Generally, you’ll be smoking your meat for about four hours but this can vary depending on its size and thickness. Keep the lid closed and check your temperature regularly. You’ll need to add fuel from time to time. You want the temperature at the center of the piece of meat to reach 176°F for a good slow smoke.
Many suggest wetting your wood chips, though this doesn’t make much difference to the flavor or cooking time. Soaking your wood chips first does help to control flare-ups, which helps to control temperature. If you want to soak the wood chips, leave them in water for a few hours. Then wrap them in foil and poke holes into the foil for ventilation.
The final step is to add some moisture to the meat. Once the meat is cooked through at a slow temperature. Glaze it and finish it off for about fifteen minutes at a slightly higher heat. Never let your fire flare up and produce flames.
Remember only to use natural firewood, whether it’s for heating your home or cooking. The wood used for construction or making furniture and compressed woods contain chemicals that are used to treat the wood. When these wood types are burnt, they release toxic fumes that can have a detrimental effect on your health and the environment. The fumes also smell particularly unpleasant and will leave your home with a bad fragrance and can leave food cooked with this wood inedible. Though blended firewood isn’t, strictly speaking, natural wood it is treated with natural materials – making it safe for burning.
If you’re going to be buying a huge pile of firewood in preparation for the winter, you’re going to have to store it properly. If you’re buying green wood, you’ll be storing it for a long time and so you’ll need to take extra care as to how you do this.
For longer term storage, you’ll want to keep the wood covered so that it doesn’t get wet from rain or melting snow. Storing your wood in a shed or under tarpaulin is a good idea. There’s quite a debate about how you should keep firewood covered. On the one hand, you want to keep it protected from moisture in the surrounding environment. Yet, on the other hand, you need to ensure a decent airflow to ensure that the wood dries sufficiently. A shed with good airflow and enough protection from the elements is good. Using a tarpaulin is easy if you don’t have a shed, but you need to ensure that there’s a reasonable airflow. If moisture can’t escape, it will condense inside the tarpaulin and counteract the drying process.
It’s very important to keep your wood at least 6” off the ground. Ground moisture will cause rot and keeping the wood off the ground helps to protect it from borer insects and termites. Bulk storage for your firewood will usually be some distance from your house. For the sake of convenience, you’ll probably want to store a reasonable supply at your house and some inside the room where you’re using it.
Storing your firewood need not be an ugly affair. There are many firewood storage racks that you can buy that will help you store your wood neatly and they are quite attractive to look at. Firewood storage racks have support at the sides that help keep the wood neatly stacked and easy to access. Some firewood racks also have a cover to protect your wood from rain and snow. These racks are convenient and don’t cost much, so I’d recommend getting one or two. You can also get firewood trolleys and carry slings that make things easier.
Stacking your firewood correctly is important. You should always stack wood that has already been cut and split as this will allow it dry evenly. All the bark should also be removed, you want the wood to be exposed and bark reduces the energy release when burning. You want your pieces of wood to be of an even length and width. This will not only make it easier to stack them but also ensure that they dry at the same rate.
Stack your rows of wood by alternating their position by 90°. So you’ll place one row with the tips facing you and the next row with the tips facing left to right. This helps to keep a good air gap between the rows – you always airflow between your wood pieces to help with the drying process. Another reason why you need to place your pieces at alternate angles is to improve the stability of your stack. If all your pieces face the same way they will tend roll off one another, causing the pile to collapse.
Tips for building the perfect fire
Before you start, you need to make sure that your fireplace is clean and safe. Leftover ash at the bottom of your fireplace will restrict the airflow and your fire won’t burn too well. A small shovel, brushes and dust collection pan are handy to keep at your fireplace. There are sets that you can buy in wide variety of styles that won’t look out of place in your living room.
Your chimney also needs to be kept clean to ensure good airflow and creosote buildup is dangerous as it can ignite without warning. Creosote forms when the gasses emitted from burning wood condense. The flammable oils suspended in these gasses collect and form a tarlike substance that sticks to the walls of your chimney. Creosote is what causes chimney fires and this is the most common safety hazard associated with fireplaces.
You can call a professional chimney cleaner in to keep the fireplace safe but it’s quite easy to do it yourself. The simplest way is to burn a creosote remover in the fireplace periodically. You can also get DIY tools that make it quite easy to manually remove the creosote buildup yourself.
Building a fire properly is a very basic skill that people have perfected a long time ago. These days, one can get many types of fire starters that make it incredibly simple to get the fire started. Using either a liquid or solid fire ignition aid is easy but they often don’t smell too great because they usually contain accelerants like kerosene, though there are some that use natural accelerants that don’t give off a foul odor.
Whether you’re going natural or use a chemical fuel to assist you, kindling always helps. Small splinters of wood and dry twigs ignite quickly and help to produce the initial flames that get the larger pieces going. Collecting kindling can be a very messy and time-consuming process and there isn’t always a good supply around your yard. There’s no need to worry about this because a kindling cracker is a very cheap item to buy and it’s simple to use. With a kindling cracker, you can split dry stumps into small pieces that burn quickly and easily without the need for foraging around for kindling.
The most important part of getting a good fire going is to provide for good airflow. Most chimneys have a flute to control the airflow up the chimney. A venturi effect is created as hot air rushes up the chimney. As the hot air is sucked up, it creates a vacuum at the bottom which draws in fresh air to feed the fire with the oxygen it needs. When you start the fire, you want the flute opened to its maximum position. If the fireplace has any air vents at the bottom, you’ll also want these to be open. This will give you the best airflow. Once the fire is burning and you want slow it down, you can close the flute and any other vents to slow the airflow and cool the fire. This will also make your wood last longer.
Before you can get the venturi effect going, you need to generate the heat needed to make this possible. Initially, you’ll usually want to blow air into your fire to assist the process. Doing this by filling your lungs with air and blowing, isn’t going to be very effective and will probably leave you feeling light headed and faint. An old-fashioned bellow is the simplest device to help with this. These are manual air pumps that you use by hand to pump air into the fire. They are cheap and readily available. A fire starting kit is worth the money and they’re inexpensive. They include a small bellow and everything else you’ll need to get you going. If manually pumping a bellow isn’t your thing, there are also a lot of electric options available.
Pay attention to how you stack your fire because this has a big effect on the airflow. You want plenty of space between your wood pieces, packing them tightly will restrict the airflow and choke your fire. Using green or wet wood will produce a lot of smoke that will also choke the fire. So always use properly dried wood.
Learn more by reading : How much is a cord of wood and more firewood facts?