ACAR Shares Tips on Buying & Storing Firewood

By: Seth Task
President, Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS®

It is important to have a good storage system for firewood; otherwise it will rot before you can use it.

Whether you burn fires as a supplemental heat source for your home or strictly for ambiance and pleasure, it is important to know how to properly buy and store firewood. For homeowners looking to fuel a traditional masonry fireplace, fireplace insert, or wood stove, the goal should be the same: to get the best quality firewood for the best possible price.

How much to buy  
Homeowners who intend to heat their homes through the use of a wood stove naturally will require more firewood than those who burn only the occasional fire for pleasure. For instance, someone living in northeast Ohio, who burns firewood as his or her primary heat source, may require up to five cords of wood to get them through the season. In contrast, a weekend-only fire builder can likely get by on as little as a half-cord. For the casual but steady fire builder, one cord of wood should easily last through winter.

Measuring a cord of wood
A cord of wood is defined as a stack of cut firewood that measures 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, or any other arrangement that equals 128 cubic feet. The individual pieces must be stacked side-by-side rather than the looser crisscross style.

Seasoning the wood
Freshly cut wood is composed largely of water. Not only is this “green” wood difficult to ignite, but also when burning, it can lead to a dangerous buildup of creosote, the cause of chimney fires. Properly “seasoned” firewood is wood that has been cut to length, split, and allowed to air dry for at least six months until the moisture content dips to around 20%. Dry wood will appear grayish in color and the pieces will begin to exhibit splits and cracks on the ends. Compared to freshly cut wood, seasoned wood feels light for its size.

Though seasoned firewood is the only choice for immediate use, green wood should not be completely ignored. Experts agree that if you have the room to store it and the time to dry it, buying green firewood can save you up to 25% compared with seasoned wood.

Hardwood vs. softwood
It is a common misconception that burning soft woods, such as pine and cedar, leads to dangerous creosote buildup. As long as the firewood is properly seasoned, it can safely be burned in a fireplace or stove regardless of species. However, that does not mean that all wood is created equal.

Tree species differ widely in the amount of heat they produce when burned. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and madrone produce almost twice the heat compared with softer woods, such as spruce, pine, and basswood. Fires built with hardwood not only burn hotter, they last longer, meaning the wood pile will not deplete as quickly. Homeowners can expect to pay a premium for 100% hardwood, and should be aware that purchasing cheaper “mixed-wood” loads that may contain little actual hardwood.

Storing firewood
Homeowners should consider storage long before the firewood delivery truck appears in the driveway. A cord of wood takes up a significant amount of space, and if not properly stored your investment will quickly begin to rot. Firewood that is not stowed in a protected space like a garage or shed needs to be six inches off the ground. Firewood racks or simple pallets work well. If exposed to the elements, the wood pile should be at least partially covered with a waterproof tarp. Experts caution against storing the wood too close to the house for fear of inviting pests.

Average prices
Expect to pay $75 to $150 for a half-cord and between $150 and $350 for a cord of hardwood delivered and stacked. To save some money, a person with a large truck may elect to pick up his or her own load at the wood lot.

To verify the quantity, species, and condition of the firewood, it is wise to arrange the delivery for a time when you are home. Inspect the wood for type and condition before it is unloaded, though quantity can only be accurately measured after it is stacked.

Maximize your fireplace efficiency
It is true that a traditional wood fireplace can never rival the energy efficiency of a wood stove or even a fireplace insert, but there are ways a homeowner can trim heat loss. Fire-resistant glass doors not only reduce the volume of heated home air that escapes up the chimney, they help radiate heat back into the room. Similarly, a thick cast-iron fireback is an old-fashioned device that absorbs and emits energy in the form of radiant heat. Check the fireplace damper for leaks and always tightly seal it when the fireplace is idle.

Invasive pests
Experts strongly encourage homeowners to buy only local wood (wood from within a one- or two-county range) to prevent the spread of pests like the Asian long-horned beetle and emerald ash borer.

And remember, when it is time to buy or sell your home, contact a REALTOR®, a member of the Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS®.


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