Seven things you need to know before buying firewood for the first time

By Julia Bayly, Bangor Daily News Staff

Sure, it’s still summer, but cold weather is coming. 

That means for those who heat with wood, time is growing short to plan, order and stack your winter’s supply of firewood. 

Thirteen percent of Maine’s households heat with firewood, according to the most recent data from Maine State Housing Authority. When used properly, it’s an excellent renewable source for heat. 

If this is your first year heating with wood in Maine, here are seven things to keep in mind as you prepare to order your winter’s supply.

Find out what kind of wood you want.

The first thing to know is not all firewood is created equally. Different species of wood burn at different rates and produce different amounts of heat. In general, hardwoods like maple, beech, ash or oak produce a hotter and longer burn. Softwoods like aspen or willow burn fast and give off very little heat. But those fast burning woods are helpful to start your daily fire and get the denser hardwood burning.

Make sure it’s seasoned.

Whatever kinds of wood you get, you want it to be seasoned. That means it has been allowed to dry for at least six months, giving the moisture from the tree’s cells and the sap time to evaporate. Newly cut non-seasoned — or green — wood has a high moisture content. This can be very dangerous because burning green wood can cause the flammable substance creosote to build up on the inside of your chimney. Burning green wood is a leading cause of chimney fires in Maine.

Determine how much you need. 

Before you order your firewood, you need to figure out how much you need to heat your space. That of course depends on what type of wood you will burn, how well insulated your home is and what temperature you want to maintain inside.

Firewood is measured and sold by the cord. In Maine, state statute defines the size and makeup of a cord of firewood. Dealers are required to sell their wood measured in stacked cords or lose cords. A stacked cord of wood measures 4 feet high by 4 feet deep by 8 feet long. Loose cords should take up about 180 cubic feet of space. To give you an idea of what that looks like, the bed on a standard dump truck holds around 270 cubic feet.

A good rule of thumb for Maine winters is two to three cords of wood for every 1,000 square feet of heated space.

But always buy extra.

It’s never a bad idea to order a bit of extra wood in case you underestimated what you needed or the winter turns out to be colder than predicted. Not only will you not risk running out of wood, any unused wood will give you a head start on the following year.

Figure out what size wood you need. 

In addition to how much wood you are going to need, you need to know what size to order. Dealers in Maine sell wood cut and split ready for whatever size wood-burning furnace you have. Or, you can buy the length of wood you need and split it yourself. Another option is buying tree-length wood and cutting it down to size once it’s delivered.

Find a dealer. 

Once you know how much wood you need, it’s time to find a dealer. The best way to find a reputable firewood seller is to ask around in your community. If you are new to an area, locals can tell you which wood dealers have the best reputations for quality wood, fair prices and reliable deliveries.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry maintains a list of firewood dealers around the state.

Know the price.

The average price of a cord of seasoned firewood in Maine right now is $290. But that price is going to vary widely around the state, with some dealers selling wood for $350 a cord.

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