If you're hoping to curl up in front of your blazing fireplace during the coming cold winter months, you may need to stock up on firewood. Here is a quick guide to the firewood-buying process.
The Drier the Better
All firewood contains some water. Freshly cut wood can be up to 50% water; it will burn, but it produces more smoke and about a third less heat than well-seasoned wood, and -- as the acidic water burns away -- it typically deposits more creosote in the chimney. Firewood that's been allowed to properly dry out (either indoors or covered by a tarp or roof outdoors) for six months to a year is typically about 20% to 25% water, or less.
A Cord Equals 128 Cubic Feet
Many states officially require firewood to be sold by the cord -- a tight stack roughly 4' high, 8' long and 4' deep, or 128 cubic feet -- or by the fraction of a cord, such as a half cord or quarter cord. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, depending on the type of wood, burning a cord of firewood is equivalent to the heat produced by burning 200 to 250 gallons of heating oil. How long a cord will last depends on the severity of the winter weather, the size and number of fires built, and how long they burn. A cord of firewood might last some households several weeks, and others the entire winter.
Be Clear How Much You're Getting
Rather than selling a cord or a fraction of a cord, local vendors may use less-official terms for their quantities of firewood. If the firewood is cut into 16" lengths and tightly stacked, a cord typically contains three rows, sometimes called a bush cord; each row might be called a face cord or rick. And a "truck load" of firewood can be anything from one-fifth of a cord in a light-weight, short-bed pickup; to a half cord in a longer, deeper pickup bed; to four cords in a pulpwood truck. Terms also vary by region, and from seller to seller.
Small Bundles Cost More
Bundles or sacks of firewood that sell for about $3-$10 at supermarkets, home improvement centers, roadside stands and other outlets can be expensive in the long run. A standard cord of basic firewood typically costs about $150 to $300 (or more for a better grade of wood); those small packages contain anywhere from 0.33 to 1 cubic foot of wood, so buying enough bundles or sacks to equal a cord of wood (128 cubic feet) could cost $500 to $1,100 or more.
Know Your Wood
There are two types of wood: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods weigh roughly twice as much as an equal amount of softwoods, burn approximately twice as long, and potentially give off twice as much heat -- and, of course, hardwoods like oak, maple or hickory typically cost more than softwood like pine and fir. For example, Jonesy's Woodyard outside of Denver, CO, offers pine firewood at $200 for a full cord and $115 for a half cord, and Missouri Oak at $490 for a full cord and $260 for a half, with delivery adding another $60-$80 or more.
Firewood can be both a necessity -- to help keep things warm -- and a luxury, providing the fuel for mesmerizing flames in your fireplace on long winter nights.