Firewood For Home Heating

Virginians have found wood to be a desirable source of home-heating energy. During the last heating season, Virginia households burned 1.9 million cords of fuel wood. In terms of volume harvested, sawlogs, pulpwood and fuel wood are the Commonwealth's most important forest products.

Get Your Money's Worth

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is responsible for the regulation of fuel wood sales. According to their standards, all bulk deliveries of firewood for home heating must be measured in cords, or fractions or multiples of a cord. Section 15.2 of VDACS Regulation 115-04-04 specifies that wood for use as fuel in bulk form “shall be advertised, offered for sale and sold only by measure, using the term 'cord' and fractional parts of a cord, or the cubic meter.”

Virginia law prohibits the use of terms such as “face cord,” “rack,” or “pile” when advertising, offering for sale, or selling wood for use as fuel. If the buyer visually inspects a truckload of wood and agrees to a selling price for that load, the term “truckload” may be used. A standard pick-up truck usually holds about two-thirds of a cord.

The Regulation defines a cord as the amount of wood contained in a space of 128 cubic feet with the pieces ranked in rows touching and parallel to each other, stacked compactly. A standard cord measures 8 feet long by 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. The Regulation also requires presentation of a delivery ticket or sales invoice stating quantity and price upon delivery by the seller to the purchaser. Failure to comply with this Regulation is a Class “A” misdemeanor.

The law also requires that the seller present a delivery ticket or sales invoice upon delivery of any non-packaged fireplace or stove wood. In addition to the seller's name and address, the ticket must contain the purchaser's name and address, the date of delivery, the quantity delivered, the quantity upon which the price is based (if it differs from the delivery quantity), and the total price of the amount delivered.

A Cord of Wood

To make sure you receive all the firewood you ordered and paid for, it's a good idea to know the size of a cord: 128-cubic feet. That amounts to a pile of wood stacked in compact rows that measure 4-feet wide, 4-feet high and 8-feet long (4 x 4 x 8 = 128). The pile could also measure 2 feet wide, 4-feet high and 16-feet long (2 x 4 x 16 = 128), or any other dimensions where the width times the height times the length equals 128 cubic feet.

Use a yardstick, tape measure, or ruler to measure the stack of firewood delivered to you before you use it.

Burn Only Seasoned Firewood

It is important to thoroughly air dry, or season, firewood because dry wood burns cleaner, creates less creosote buildup in chimneys than green wood, and produces up to 25 percent more heat than green wood.

Follow these procedures for best results:

  • Split logs larger than 4 inches in diameter. Small pieces dry faster than large pieces.
  • If possible, stack the wood in a sunny, airy location.
  • Cover the top of the pile with tar paper or plastic to keep wood dry.
  • Stack the wood above the ground on a base of bricks or treated lumber to allow air movement under the pile and to prevent wood decay.
  • Keep the firewood stack away from the house to prevent spread of insects to the house.
  • Wood properly stored for approximately six months will have lost as much moisture as is possible in outdoor air drying.

Heat Value of Wood

The available heat from a pound of any wood is about the same (approximately 8,600 BTUs per oven dry pound). Since wood is sold by volume, the weight per cubic foot is important in establishing the available energy in a cord.

In the following table, wood species are shown in order of decreasing weight or density. Note how a dense wood like hickory has more energy per cord than a light wood like white pine.

Available Heat Per Cord (Million BTU *)

Species Green Air-dryed
Hickory 20.7 24.6
Black Locust 20.7 24.6
Apple 20.1 23.9
White Oak 19.2 22.7
Beech 17.3 21.8
Red Oak 17.9 21.3
S. Yellow Pine 14.2 20.5
Ash 16.5 20.0
Red Maple 15.0 18.6
Elm 14.3 17.2
Yellow Poplar 11.5 13.7
White Pine 12.1 13.3

* BTU - British Thermal Unit -The amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Tips on Cutting Wood Safely

The majority of in-the-woods accidents result from unsafe practices while using chainsaws and loading wood. When cutting your firewood:

  • Wear protective clothing including hard hat, goggles, work gloves, steel toe boots. Chainsaw resistant chaps are also available at some stores.
  • Have one or more persons present at all times in case of emergency.
  • Start the chainsaw only on solid ground, never in the air or on your knee.
  • Before felling, check the tree top to see if broken or dead limbs are present.
  • Clear an area around the base of the tree to allow unhindered work space.
  • In felling, notch an undercut through one-third the tree diameter followed by a backcut at least two inches higher than the undercut; leave “hinge wood” between undercut and backcut.
  • Trees lodged in other trees should be pulled down with truck or tractor. Never attempt to walk under a partially felled tree.
  • When limbing, stand on the opposite side of the tree from the limb you are cutting. Cut any support limbs with extreme caution.
  • To prevent kickback injury, never use the tip of the saw for limbing or bucking.
  • Lift with your legs, keeping your back straight.

Fuel wood Cutting and Landowner Liability

By 1980, the issue of landowner liability became important as more people began cutting fuel wood on privately-owned lands for their own use. As encouragement for landowners to continue this activity, Virginia Code 29-130.2 (amended 1983) was enacted. It protects the forest landowner from liability for persons given permission to cut or gather fuel wood on his/her property except when the fuel wood is intended for resale rather than personal use; or when the landowner is grossly negligent or willfully or maliciously does not warn persons of existing dangers.

Nevertheless, landowners who allow others to cut fuel wood on their land are advised to make sure their liability insurance covers fuel wood cutting, and to manage the number of fuel wood cutters on a given area to reduce potential hazards.

Finally, the use of an agreement is recommended as a means to establish mutual understanding between landowners and fuel wood cutters. Points to include in the agreement are:

  • Cutter(s) will assume all risk arising from his/her presence on the land, including responsibility for injuries to persons and damage to property resulting from cutter's activities.
  • Cutter(s) will honor gates, roads and other stipulations set forth by the owner.
  • Cutting is authorized only on or between the dates specified in the agreement.