Tom Kerr writing on self-reliance

I’ve heated with wood every winter for nearly 20 years, and—even if a blizzard knocks out the power grid—I stay cozy and comfortable.

Wood is an affordable alternative to electricity or fossil fuels.

The standard measurement for firewood is a cord, which equals 128 cubic feet of neatly-stacked pieces. And one cord of hardwood, which you can collect for free or buy for around $225, generates roughly the warmth equivalent of 200 gallons of home heating oil—which would cost you $450 or more.

The going rate for a cord of firewood depends on where you live and how much demand and availability there is. But generally speaking, if you live where firewood usage is rather common, you can expect to pay from $175 to $300 per cord for split hardwood.

Try to do business with dealers who respect the environment by observing good forest management practices. They’ll harvest their wood from dying and damaged trees or those that have fallen during a storm.

Just remember that a cord measures four feet high, four feet wide, and eight feet long. To simplify the process, use a sheet of plywood as a guide. Plywood typically comes in sheets that are four feet wide and eight feet long. If you stack firewood tightly on top of a sheet of plywood until the stack is four feet high, you’ve got yourself a full cord.

I know a fellow who built a three-sided container. The sides are made of fence railing and the base is plywood. When someone delivers his firewood he has them stack it in that container until it’s four feet high. That ensures that he’s getting his money’s worth when paying for a full cord.

Most dealers don’t separate wood by species, but when you place your order they should give you a general idea of what type of wood you’re buying. For the most part, you’ll want to purchase only hardwoods—or perhaps cords of hardwood with a very small percentage of medium-density wood included. If oak is the predominant firewood of choice in your region, for example, try to become familiar enough with it so that you can easily identify it.

Some firewood sellers offer free delivery by integrating that cost into their prices, or they tack on a $25-to-$50 surcharge. The same goes for stacking the wood for you. But that cost can be a real bargain by saving you hours of strenuous work.

The last time I ordered a load of wood they brought three cords and dumped it in my front yard. I spent the entire weekend moving and stacking it, which was an exhausting project. But I could have paid those energetic teenagers an extra $50 or so per cord to do that for me. Then again, stacking firewood is a ritual that can be very satisfying and naturally therapeutic—and if I have time I prefer to do it myself.

On a cold night you can put an extra-large, heavy log in your fireplace or woodstove and that hefty slow-burner will keep the embers glowing overnight.

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