How to Save Money on Firewood
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Heating with wood is a great alternative for self-reliant folks who want to provide more of their own resources. But doing so can be expensive if you don’t get an affordable system set up to burn firewood the right way; likewise, firewood can be pretty expensive if you don’t get creative about how you source it.
This article provides advice for sourcing firewood in less expensive ways, but before you source wood, you’ll need to make sure you have a system in place to burn it efficiently and effectively. You’ll need to make a few initial investments that will save you a lot of money over the long run.
Step 1: Get a Modern Efficient Wood Stove
The first step in saving money on firewood is making sure that when you burn it, you are doing so in the most efficient way. Efficiency means heating more space with less wood, which means you need less wood in the first place.
Is a Wood Stove better than a Fireplace?
We’ve written about the benefits of wood stoves before, but the long and short of it is this – if you are going to heat your home with wood, and if you want to save money on fire wood, a fireplace just won’t cut it. Fireplaces can be nice to look at, but they actually send a lot of heat up the chimney and aren’t as good for distributing heat throughout the house. A drafty chimney can even suck hot air out of the house and send it outdoors – exactly what you don’t want! Fireplaces also allow smoke to permeate into your house, which is not great for your health.
Did you know? With their enclosed oven-like set-up wood stoves can create 3 times the heat of a fireplace, with 1/3 of the firewood. Now that’s a lot less firewood you’ll need to supply to heat your house. Building a top-down fire is also a great strategy for making your fire last longer and burn more consistently.
Do you really need a new woodstove?
Old wood stoves can be beautiful, and they’ll work better than a fireplace, but chances are they are not as efficient as a newer model. According to the EPA, newer woodstoves have more safe and efficient ventilation systems – they use less wood to provide the same amount of heat and are safer for your family. Plus, newer wood stoves offer options for better heat production and may be better sized to heat your space. A hearthstone wood stove, for example, is made of stone that actually absorbs and retains heat – thus heating your space for longer.
Upgrading your wood stove, or investing in one that is highly efficient, can help you save money on firewood. Talking to a wood stove dealer is a great first step in choosing your model. They’ll help you to decide the best placement, what size will work for your needs, and how different models might add benefits to your set-up.
Step 2: Invest in Wood Processing Equipment (Chainsaw & Wood Splitter)
Many of the options for obtaining wood that we will share here will require you to process firewood yourself, so you’ll need the right tools to do it. A chainsaw will be necessary if you are going to take down your own trees or cut down large logs, and a wood splitter will be necessary to turn wood sections into firewood.
We have found the EGO Electric Chainsaw to be a great option for our needs – it can take down a tree, or cut through log lengths with no problem, and we find it operates more smoothly than any of the gas models we have owned. That said, this electric chainsaw is definitely better for a small operation because there are limits to how long the battery will last. If you are going to be doing a ton of cutting and splitting, you may need something that will offer you more than a few hours of life at a time. Chainsaw Larry has some great tips on choosing a chainsaw that will fit your needs.
SAFETY NOTE: Please don’t assume that using a chainsaw will be easy, especially if you want to take down trees. This equipment, and this process, can be quite dangerous. Be sure to invest in the proper safety equipment and if you are new to using a chainsaw PLEASE take a course!
Wood splitters come in a variety of sizes and power options – do your research to choose one that will last you for the long haul. If you only plan to split wood once a year, you may be able to simply rent one from an equipment supply company. But if you are going to be processing a lot of firewood for years to come, you’ll want your own. We have found that there are often used wood splitters available through online sales platforms, so if you have time to keep your eye out you may be able to get a great deal on a splitter someone else is no longer using.
Once you a full-size splitter to cut log lengths, you could also consider a small splitter to create bundles of kindling. We use the Logosol Smart Splitter to cut small pieces of scrap wood into kindling to get the wood stove started.
Once you have this equipment, you can explore the following options for sourcing firewood that will help you save money, listed from least expensive to most expensive.
Option 1: Supply your own Firewood (if possible)
It may seem obvious that supplying your own firewood is a great option for saving money on firewood. But be careful with this option. If you only have a small wooded area on your property you would likely use too much wood for your forest to keep up with your demand without being overly depleted. Even a larger tract of woods can be damaged if you take too many trees each year. Consider working with a forest planner and come up with a forest management plan to determine how much wood you can take on an annual basis to see if it will meet your need. Chances are, your own woods may only provide a supplement to wood you’ll need to obtain or purchase elsewhere.
Even as a homeowner without a large tract of woods, you may be able to use wood from trees on your property that fall down or need to be removed. This isn’t something you can plan on, but can supplement your supply. Be sure to talk with a tree company and ask if your tree can be cut into sections and left for you to use. Obviously, you’ll want to start by using trees that are dead or dying or need to come down for other reasons.
Option 2: Keep an Eagle-Eye out for Free Firewood
Not everyone heats with firewood, and yet people have to have trees on their property cut down regularly. Joining community “buy nothing” groups or community e-mail lists can be a great way to keep your eye out for folks who have wood up for grabs. You can also ask friends to let you know if they are having a tree taken down and would be willing to let you take the wood. Keep in mind that arborists may have a side business selling wood from trees they remove, so they may change their cost if you want to keep the wood from a tree on your property. Be straightforward about these costs to avoid any surprises.
Getting in touch with arborists is another option for firewood sourcing. If you can strike up a friendly relationship with someone who regularly cuts down trees, you just may set yourself up for a ready supply of lower-cost firewood.
Remember – not all wood is good firewood. You don’t want wood that is diseased, rotted out, or soft (softwood like pine should not be burned in your wood stove). You’re looking for nice quality hardwood (thing maple, hickory, oak).
Option 3: Consider Purchasing a Pile of Full-Size Logs
By full-size logs, I basically mean tree trunks that have had their branches removed and are cut to about the length of a logging truck (you’ve probably seen these driving down the road). Some folks will sell these logs by the truck full for a portion of the cost of processed firewood. You can then do the work of cutting them down into long lengths and splitting to make small logs, thereby saving yourself a ton of money on firewood.
This spring, we purchased a load of logs should equate to roughly 7 cords of firewood. We paid $900, which means we paid about $150 per cord. In our area, processed firewood runs from $250 (green) to $350 (seasoned), so we paid about half-price for our wood. We’ll put our own time and effort into processing it over the course of the spring and summer and eventually well have enough wood to heat our home for about 2 years.
Don’t underestimate how much work it will take to process 7 cords of firewood. Once you have all your gear assembled, we estimate it takes us about 30 minutes to take one big log, cut it into log lengths, and then split it into firewood. Then you have to move it to where you are stacking and build your pile. Multiply that by the 40 or so logs you get in a delivery and you’re talking about at least 20-30 hours of work to turn that big delivery into firewood. So this method definitely helps you save money on firewood, but it is probably the most labor intensive.
Option 4: Buy Green Firewood you can Store for Next Year
If buying firewood becomes your only option, plan ahead an buy “green” firewood when it is plentiful (likely during the summer). This is wood that has been cut recently and is not yet ready to burn. This wood needs to be stored for at least a year for it to be dry enough to burn inside. For that reason, firewood providers will often sell it for a cheaper per cord cost (they don’t have to store it). If you can pick it up the green firewood yourself, you may also save on delivery charges.
You’ll need a dry, covered spot to store the wood while you wait for it to be seasoned (like a shed or a raised pallet with a tarp). Make sure the wood can get good air circulation and some sun to avoid moisture or mold growth. If you get into a cycle of buying ahead you can routinely buy next year’s wood this year and likely save $50 – 100 per cord.
No matter which option you choose, all of these strategies will save you money over paying full-price for processed and seasoned firewood. Start with the option that seems most reasonable for your situation right now, and gradually increase your capacity to be more self-reliant when it comes to firewood. Pretty soon, you may find that you love the process of cutting and stacking firewood and you want to do more!