"Firewood Stacked Up to Dry Showing Annual Rings"
Image by Horia Varlan

Before purchasing firewood, it's a good idea to do some background research.

Buying Firewood

You've bought the most efficient wood stove available or done a complete maintenance check of your old stove and replaced worn-out parts. You've cleaned out your chimney. You've read your owner's manual and know your stove's ins and outs and the best way to operate it. You vow to burn only dry, seasoned wood. The temperatures outside are beginning to drop and you're ready to sit in front of a roaring fire. So, where can you get some firewood?

The start of the heating season is not the time to buy firewood. Most firewood dealers sell green, or freshly cut, wood, which could have a moisture content of 100% or more (100% moisture content means half the weight of the wood is water). In many areas, you can buy seasoned or kiln-dried wood, but you'll pay a premium for it. It's important to burn only wood with moisture content below 20%. Burning wood with higher moisture content creates more smoke, which contains harmful chemicals and particulates and forms creosote on your chimney. It also gives you less heat, because it takes energy to boil off the excess water. That means wasted money.

It's a good idea to buy your wood at least one whole season ahead. If properly stacked, in an area of relatively low relative humidity, many species of wood will drop to a moisture content below 20% within a year; some species, such as oak, however, can take two years or more of air drying. By purchasing your firewood at least a year ahead of time, you'll be working with firewood that's been seasoned to some extent and you will be closer to always having dry wood at your fingertips.

Before purchasing firewood, it's a good idea to do some background research. Ask other people who burn wood where they've been getting their firewood from and if they've been happy with it. Then call around to different dealers and ask them some questions, including how long ago was the wood split and how was it stored before it was split, what kind of wood is it, where were the trees taken from and what kinds of forest management practices did the loggers practice, and find out if it's competitively priced for your area. Finally, ask them if you can go see where the wood is stored that they'll be delivering or make available for pickup. If they brush you off or won't let you out to their site, you may want to try someone else. Due to liability concerns, firewood dealers probably won't let you wander around their yards by yourself or climb on the wood piles, but they should be open about their operations. Note that many firewood dealers cut wood as a second job, so allow them ample time to respond.

In many areas, it is illegal to move firewood from one area to another, because of the threat of spreading invasive insects that are destroying certain types of trees (for more information, see the links on the left). In New York State, the limit is 50 miles. So, make sure your firewood dealer is getting his wood from less than 50 miles away and never transport the wood further yourself, not even for camping trips.

In New York State, when advertising firewood, dealers are also legally required to adhere to the following:

  • A full cord is defined as a stack of firewood measuring 4ft x 8ft x 4ft
  • A half cord = 4ft x 8ft x 2ft
  • A third of a cord = 4ft x 8ft x 16in
  • A face cord = 4ft x 8ft x 16 or 18in
  • A rack = 4ft x 8ft x 18in
  • A truckload = 9ft x 9ft x 3ft
  • If the word "seasoned" is used in advertising firewood, the dealer must specify how long it has been seasoned and whether it was air or kiln dried.

Heating with Wood resources developed by Guillermo Metz, Energy Team Leader at CCE-Tompkins

Last updated July 26, 2019