Firewood Buying: Get the Facts!

Information was obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy, and supplemented with local and area data.

When buying wood you must consider the following:

The amount of wood - Wood is sold by a standard unit of measurement known as a cord. A standard or full cord has a volume of 128 cubic feet, measured in a pile as 8 feet long, 4 feed high and 4 feet wide. A full cord weighs about 3000 lbs when dry or two tons when wet. Subtracting air space, the actual cubic footage of wood in a standard cord is from 80 to 90 cubic feet.

Some novice wood buyers get "stuck" with face cords or short cords. Face cords are poles of wood measuring 8 feet in length, 4 feet high and as wide as the lengths are cut usually 12 to 24 inches. A face cord of 24 inch logs is half the volume of a full cord.

A Truckload is a vague description of wood amounts, based on the size of the dealer's truck. A standard pickup bed will hold only 1/3 to ½ of a full cord. When a dealer claims you will receive "about a cord" in a half ton pickup, beware! The "short" amount can also vary 10 to 15 percent depending on the way the wood is stacked.

An alternative to fueling furnaces with wood logs is the use of wood chips and pellets. Easier to store and haul, their main disadvantage is that they require special stoves and furnaces. Pellets are also sometimes difficult to obtain in some areas of the country, however their use in Colorado appears to be on the rise. Pellets and chips can currently be purchased in 40-60 lb sacks or in bulk. Price is determined by supply and demand.

The Species - A species' BTU value is its most important characteristic. Softwoods burn faster and hotter, while hardwoods last longer. Most dealers charge less for softwoods and more for hardwoods.

Ash content varies among the species. For example, oak has about 4 percent ash content to pine's 1 percent. Therefore, a home that burns oak has more ash cleaning and disposal to do. Just as a side note, veteran mountain dwellers find that cooled ash can be used effectively on icy driveways.

Moisture Content - Seasoned wood is preferred over green for burning because its moisture content is roughly half that of unseasoned wood. Seasoned (or dry) wood provides more heat to a home and ignites more easily.

Wood burns best with about 20% moisture content of about 25%, losing only about four percent of energy produced through evaporation. Green wood, however, has a moisture content of at least 60%, losing over 15% of its heating value when burned.

Seasoned wood should have been stacked and stored at least six months.

Degree of preparation - Price of wood depends largely on the amount of "dealer prep" required. Split wood (in lengths to fit your heating appliance) is more expensive than blocked wood, which you must split yourself. Stacked and delivered will cost you, and so will seasoned as opposed to unseasoned.

Wood can be bought in almost any stage, from split0-staced delivered to do-it-yourself cutting from standing trees. How much your time is worth is a big consideration when you're stocking up for the winter.