It’s that time of year again: the wind is blowing and cold nights are becoming more common. There’s only one thing to do—start a roaring fire! Before you kick off your fire season, however, you must be prepared. This means purchasing the right firewood! Knowing how to buy firewood isn’t complicated, but there are a few rules to live by to get the best results, so let’s talk not only about getting your hands on firewood, but about how to buy good firewood.
1. Choose Seasoned Wood
No, the firewood you buy doesn’t have to be sprinkled with salt and pepper. By “seasoned” we mean dried. Seasoned wood may have some “checks” or cracks in the logs, indicating a lack of moisture, and if the bark has not been shaved off by the dealer, it will begin to flake off of dried wood (and in fact should be removed prior to burning!). Firewood burns best when it has been properly dried outside, generally for about a year.
2. Get Efficient Wood
Wet logs, or “green” wood, on the other hand, attract mold and mildew, are home to insects and dirt, produce excess smoke when burned and cannot reach maximum heating potential due to using energy to burn off water. Whatever dealer you seek, be sure that the wood is in prime burning condition. If not, you could be looking at pests invading your home (wood roaches, beetles, spiders, rodents) and the unwanted habit of constantly replenishing your fuel source during each burn.
Some species of seasoned wood make for better fires. Knowing how to buy firewood means avoiding inferior “soft” woods, such as the likes of firs, spruces, pines and poplars. These may be easy to handle, but they’ll leave your home cold—with a maximum of 13,000 – 15,000 BTUs per cord, stinky, smoke-ridden and throw sparks all over (both unpleasant and a safety hazard!).
The better bet is to go with one of several “hard” woods. Some of these include ash, beech, red and white oaks, hickories, maple, locust and birch and they ignite easily and burn hotter and longer. Hard woods are manageable because they’re easy to split for use in your stove. Additionally, they give off copious amounts of heat while minimizing smoke output—giving off 19,000 – 26,000 BTUs of heat per cord! Think about it; would you rather be warm and toasty or cold and shivering?
3. Buy Firewood by the Cord
Firewood is typically sold by cords—stacks of logs equal to 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 4 feet high—it’s the universal measure! Reputable dealers will sell by multiples of this and fractions of cords—i.e. half a cord. In fact, according to the State of Maryland, such a practice is required by law, so a dealer you found on Craigslist who shows up with a truckload of loose timber might not be treating you fairly in price or volume.
In addition to knowing that you’ve bought from an ethical business(more on that in our Washington DC Firewood Guide) , buying firewood by the cord also ensures that you can keep track of how much you need and use during the burn season. We usually recommend investing in 3 – 4 cords of wood each year, though this may vary. Knowing these details as well as your own fireplace habits will give you an idea of how many cords you will actually need for a single burn season.
Let’s recap. To enjoy your fireplace all winter, you’ll need 1.) seasoned wood to produce the best possible fire and make good use of fuel, 2.) efficient hard wood to promote warmth and avoid problems like smoke, and 3.) selling firewood by the cord required by law in Maryland. Find a reputable dealer to buy from, it will guarantee you quality and adequate fuel supply. And remember: store your firewood supply in a cool, dry place away from pests or flammable materials to keep it in prime condition for fireplace use! Questions or comments? Sound off below! Happy burning!