Choosing the Best Firewood: Six Tips for Buying & Burning Wood

Winter is Here!

Fireplaces for Ironhaus

Never are we more aware of the winter weather than after the festive holiday season. While the snowy winter and cold provide an idyllic backdrop to our holiday celebrations, January and February bring a heightened awareness of the cold and the winter weather. As I write this, a winter storm named Hercules has gripped Chicago and much of the Midwest. As it moves east, another storm behind it is gathering strength.

We may be dreaming about the warm days of spring, and planning our winter escapes to warmer climates, but winter has decidedly settled upon us for the next few months. Those of us who live in winter climates may find enjoyment in outdoor activities like downhill and cross country skiing, venturing out into the backcountry on snowmobiles, and best of all, warming ourselves in front of a wood burning fire.

Whether you enjoy your wood burning fire on the deck of cozy winter retreat watching the last of the skiers swoosh down the hill before the lifts close, or if your idea of winter involves nesting on the sofa beneath a warm throw, warming your toes on the hearth and reading a book,  you’re using chopped wood to burn.

If you enjoy a wood-burning fireplace, you understand the importance of selecting the right kind of wood to burn. Here are some quick tips for wood burning:

Seasoned Wood

No matter what type of firewood you burn, or where you get it, the most important thing to look for is dry, well-seasoned wood. If you cut it yourself, you’ll want to allow six months of seasoning time for softwood varietals such as pine, spruce, cedar, and fir, and up to twelve months for hardwood types like oak, mahogany, walnut, ash, birch, and maple. If you’re buying wood from a dealer you’ll want to ask, and check to make sure the wood you’re burning is dry and seasoned. Dry wood costs more, but it is well worth the extra expense.


Green wood weighs more than dry wood, and contains up to 50% more water by weight. Green wood produces less heat, as the first heat burned from this wood is used to burn off water before wood combustion can occur. Green wood also produces more smoke and creosote than good well-seasoned wood.

How Wood is Sold

Firewood is typically sold by volume. The standard unit of volume is the cord, which equates to 128 cubic feet of wood and air space. A cord should be evenly stacked, and will typically measure 8 feet across, 4 feet deep, 4 feet high. A randomly stacked pile of wood will contain more air, which means less wood. You’ll want to keep this in mind when purchasing wood.



Ever notice that some wood you burn is smokier than other types of wood? Different types of wood produce different levels of smoke. Low smoke varietals include: apple, ash, red cedar, cherry, chestnut, and some oak varietals. A high smoke producer is Douglas Fir. Most types of wood are somewhere in between.

Stacked Apple Wood:



That “campfire” smell you don’t mind in July and August may not be the fragrance you want to bring into your home in January and February. Apple, cherry, and juniper produce a nice fragrance, while willow produces very little fragrance.

Heat Output

An important consideration in wood for fireplace selection is how much heat you’ll typically get per cord of wood bought. Selecting wood with a high heat output will help you get the most out of your money. Some varietals of oak produce as much as 30 million BTUs/per cord. Here is a short list of popular wood types and their heat producing index in million BTUs:


Availability and Burn Regulations

Your geographical location will determine the type of wood readily available, as well as regulations concerning when, how, and how much wood you burn. To learn more about burn regulations you can visit the US EPA Burn Wise site or check with your local and state regulatory agencies.

Want to learn about wood-burning fireplaces? Live in a moderate climate and interested in extending your outdoor living season? Ironhaus can make a custom outdoor fireplace for your outdoor living area.