What to Know About Firewood - November 26, 2008
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Many people are cutting, stacking, and/or purchasing firewood for the coming winter. We heat our passive solar home solely with wood and I feel it has been economically superior to other energy sources available to us. Currently, local wood cutters will deliver a cord of dried and split firewood for between $180 and $300 depending on the location and type of wood requested. Our average wood consumption is 2 to 3 cords per year. This easily undercuts the costs of natural gas, propane or electricity.

Heating with wood is labor intensive, somewhat messy, and requires regular stove/chimney maintenance. I donít mind the labor. Handling the wood is good exercise. The mess is mostly around the hearth and is easily managed. The maintenance can be done by the homeowner or a by hiring a knowledgeable chimneysweep.

Typical firewood species available in our area include juniper (shaggy bark or alligator), pine (pinyon or ponderosa), and oak (Arizona white, Emory, and Gambel). Occasionally, you may find mesquite, ash, cottonwood, elm, walnut, pecan, and others. A cord of wood is 128 cubic feet which is a well-stacked pile 4 x 4 x 8 feet. When purchasing firewood, you should always measure the pile before it is removed from the delivery vehicle. Just measure the height, width and depth in feet and multiply the three numbers to get cubic volume.

Firewood cutting permits are available from the U.S. Forest Service. The prices are different for each National Forest but are generally between $5 and $10 per cord. There are also areas that allow free cutting of down and dead firewood. All woodcutting requires a permit with the exception of small amounts collected around a campsite for use in a campfire. The Forest Service also has rules about where and when the wood can be cut and hauled. These rules must be followed or the woodcutter could face fines and/or prosecution. Call your local Forest Service District Office for details. Woodcutting can also be dangerous, so use well-maintained, sharp tools and work safely.

As mentioned above, there are firewood dealers who regularly advertise and will deliver loads of firewood to your home. In our area, the wood is often sold by the species with some woodcutters selling mixed lots. The wood should be clean, cut to the appropriate length, dry if it is advertised as "seasoned," and delivered promptly in the amount agreed upon. Once a reliable relationship has been developed with a firewood dealer, it is often possible to order a year ahead.

Of the local species available, I prefer juniper based on availability, price, energy output, and the fact that it often comes from areas where firewood removal has improved wildlife habitat and/or watershed values. Juniper is dense putting out lots of heat. It currently sells for about $180 to $225 per cord. Both shaggy bark and alligator juniper have a pleasant aroma when burned.

Ponderosa pine firewood is readily available and is often less expensive that juniper. It burns well, but has less energy output than juniper. In areas where bark beetles have killed timber, landowners may give it away. Pinyon pine has more pitch in the wood giving it more energy, but also increasing the smoke output and creosote buildup in the stovepipe or chimney. Pinyon pine also has a strong, but pleasant aroma.

Oak contains the most energy of all the locally available firewood species. Many people start their fires with juniper or pine, then stoke their fire with oak after it is really going well. This ensures good combustion and minimizes smoke. Oak is often $300 per cord or more. Other hardwood species are similar, but some, like elm, donít smell very good when burning.

Wood pellets have become increasingly popular, but the stove must be designed to use pellets. There is a wood pellet plant in Show Low, Arizona. These are made from biomass leftover from other wood manufacturing activities.

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at cottonwoodmg@yahoo.com and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: November 20, 2008
Content Questions/Comments: jschalau@ag.arizona.edu
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