The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Tips on Buying Firewood

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

I consider firewood in the "looking for a silver lining" category. Few things are sadder than having a tree die or having to remove a tree. However few things are more inviting than a crackling fire in the fireplace on a cold winter eve. Even though firewood does grow on trees, it still costs money. So, it is important to shop around for the best value.

To get the greatest value from firewood, it should be well seasoned and dry. Green wood will burn, but seasoned or dry wood will burn easier and it has more heat value. Any moisture in the wood reduces the heat output because the moisture absorbs heat when it is changed to steam. To get the maximum heat, wood should be seasoned after cutting and splitting.

If you buy unseasoned wood, you will have to either season it yourself or be satisfied with less heat output. In addition there is a difference in the heat value from various kinds of wood. The harder woods such as oak, beech or apple tend to burn more slowly and put out more heat than softer woods such as willow, birch, poplar or pine.

Of course, the harder woods weigh more than soft woods, but most wood is bought by volume rather than weight so you are paying the same for either one. The standard measurement for firewood is a cord, a stack four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet deep, containing 128 cubic feet. The actual volume of wood in a cord is about 100 cubic feet because of the spaces between the logs. A rick or face cord is sixteen inches wide and represents one-third of a standard cord.

In urban areas, firewood is sometimes sold by the pound or part of a ton. A face cord of mixed wood usually weighs about a ton so you can figure the price accordingly.

Buying wood by the truckload is less precise. Depending upon how the wood is stacked, the amount in a truckload can vary tremendously. If you buy a truckload of wood, you probably should specify the weight or number of cords you will expect.

When you bring your wood home, stack it in neat loose piles off the ground, preferably in sunlight. Plastic sheeting or closer stacking of top pieces will protect firewood from rain and snow.

Firewood put in a shady corner near buildings and surrounded by shrubs and other vegetation deteriorates faster than wood stored in a sunlit location. Wood stored on the ground soon decays, reducing the fuel value.

Store split pieces with split side down. Do not stack firewood against buildings because termites may attack the wood and eventually enter the building.

Storing wood for longer than one year increases insect and disease problems. Periodically check the woodpile for insects. Be especially alert for powder post beetles, bark beetles, carpenter ants, termites and even yellow jackets. For the health of other pine trees, pine trees dying from pine wood nematode should not be stored as firewood. The long horned beetles carrying the disease can emerge from stored firewood. The same is true for birch trees dying from bronze birch borer.

Bring wood into the home only as you need it. Otherwise you may find unwanted insects crawling around.

As you are sitting around the fire thinking about how to change your flower beds, consider joining Master Gardener Phyllis Brussel and me on Feb 19, 26 and March 5 (Wednesdays) from 7-9 p.m. for Principles of Flower Garden Design. In this hands on workshop we will take you through the process to develop a design for your garden space. Please preregister through University of Illinois Continuing Education. Call 217-333-7369 or check out their website.

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