When I began heating my home with firewood, I was as green as the wood I was attempting to use. Not only did I not know how to choose the right type of wood, but I also had no clue as to how it was sold. This is the dilemma many face when making their firewood purchases. It is now seven years later for me, and I have spent the last four years selling and culling wood extensively for home heating. Here are some tips on how to make the right purchase and getting the most for your money.
The first thing to consider is the inherent dryness of the wood. Even after being split, wood retains moisture and is resistant to being lit. It is often referred to as being “green” when in this state. Green wood is often fresh in color on the inner surface. The bark sticks tightly to it, and it sizzles when placed in a fire. This sizzling sound is the heat being absorbed in the water, which deposits great amounts of creosote in the chimney and leaves little heat. Wood must be split to less than 24 inches and left in the sun for a time before it can become “seasoned’. Seasoned wood turns gray in appearance, is often cracked on the ends, and has bark that is easily pulled off. Another trick to discerning seasoned wood is taking two pieces of wood and knocking the ends together. It should make a pinging sound, as opposed to a dull “thud”.
The type of wood is also important. Refrain from purchasing pine, hemlock, or fir. These are poor heat sources and have a great deal of resin in them. They are notorious for causing chimney fires. The people selling firewood usually know what they have. Ask if it is hardwood. Ask if it is seasoned. Lastly, the type of hardwood is also important. Soft hardwoods such as poplar, willow, birch, and red maple make poor heating wood. Hickory, oak, apple, locust, beech, and sugar maple emit high BTU’s. Ask what type of hardwood it is.
Firewood is traditionally sold in cords. A cord is a measurement of space (4’x4’x8′). As the overall area is 128 square feet, one can easily determine how much a “load” is. A small pickup truck bed is 4’x6’x2′, or 48 square feet. This is approximately 1/3 cord. A large pickup truck bed is 4’x8’x2′, or 64 square feet. This is exactly 1/2 cord. Ask what kind of “load” a person is selling. It makes a difference and will keep you from being shortchanged. There are often several sellers in the area, or advertised in the paper. Compare the prices and sizes. Seasoned wood may cost a little more, but it is worth it.
Ask for kindling, or fire starting material. Local sellers usually have tons of it lying around, and will gladly throw some in for nothing. Ask for small pieces as well as large. Find out the length of the pieces as well. Measure your fireplace or stove. Tell them what length you prefer, and they will tell you what they have. Don’t be afraid to ask.
When stacking the wood upon delivery, be sure to place it in the sun, at least twenty feet from the house. Insects live in wood, and can easily get inside the home if precautions are not taken. Wood will grow mold and decay quickly if left in the shade. Choose an open area and take measures to keep it off the ground. Use pallets or a firewood rack. Any two pipes or boards can be placed parallel and work wonderfully for stacking. Choose an airtight container and put your kindling inside it. Keep it inside or out of the elements. I usually put one or two pieces of seasoned wood on the porch, to ensure a fire in wet conditions.
With a little precaution, burning wood is a most enjoyable experience. There is nothing like wood heat for warmth and light. It can also be a life saver if the power goes out. With a little luck, you can cut down on your energy consumption while nurturing a love affair as old as time: a warm, crackling fire.