A few years ago, officials in Canada considered changing the unit of measurement for firewood. In Canada, like here in the United States, firewood is measured in “cords,” but the term often creates confusion because of the different ways firewood distributors label and sell their product (i.e. stacked cord, split cord, processed cord). There’s no such official debate happening stateside, but firewood buyers here are often just as confused as our friends to the north.
So, what exactly is a cord of wood, how much should it cost on average, and how many cords should you keep on hand for the winter? You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers.
What is a cord of wood?
Since some firewood dealers will sell their firewood in varying kinds of so-called cords. It’s good to know what a full, standard cord is so that you don’t get ripped off. A standard cord is a neat stack of wood that has a volume of 128 cubic feet. It measures 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. This includes the air between the wood. The actual wood volume is usually around 90 cubic feet.
Some dealers claim to sell cords “by the truckload.” Be careful with dealers who use this terminology. A full size pickup truck can only hold roughly a little less than 1/2 of a cord.
There are also dealers who sell “face cords” as standard cords of wood. A face cord is an informal term that usually represents 1/3 of an actual cord.
What is the average cost of a cord?
Now that you know what a standard cord of wood is, you should know what it should cost you. The answer isn’t simple as it varies from state to state, dealer to dealer. There are also other factors that affect pricing of the wood including wood species, whether the wood is green* or seasoned**, whether or not you get it pre-split and the time of year you’re making the purchase.
On average, a cord of softwood (cedar, fir, pine, etc.) should cost $150-$300; hardwood (oak, birch, ash, maple, etc.) should cost $300-$500. Expect to pay a considerable amount more if you purchase in the winter.
Dealers will likely charge additional fees for splitting and/or stacking. Our suggestion is to go for these extras. The minimal price increase is well worth it. Having the dealer stack the wood in front of you is the best way to know you’re getting all the wood you were promised.
How much wood will I need for the winter?
There are many factors to consider when asking how much wood you should keep on hand. Some questions to consider include:
- Are you using firewood to heat your home in the winter?
- Are you burning fires simply for ambiance?
- What is the climate like where you live?
- How many fireplaces do you have?
- How often do you plan to use your fireplace?
- How big is your home?
Using an estimate given for a 1,000 square foot home using one wood burning stove almost daily, expect to burn at least three cords of wood during an average winter. Adjust the amount for the size of your home and how many fireplaces you plan to use. And, remember, having too much is better than too little.
Remember when buying a cord of wood:
- A standard cord of wood measures approximately is 4ft x 4ft x 8ft.
- Dealers sell “cords” in all kinds of informal sizes. Be sure to ask the dealer for the dimensions of their cords to see if they match the dimensions of a standard cord to make sure you’re getting enough wood.
- A standard pickup truck can not deliver a full cord of wood in one trip.
- A cord of hardwood costs more than a cord of softwood.
- Splurge on conveniences like delivery and stacking to save time.
- Watch as your wood is stacked by the dealer and don’t be afraid to pull out the measuring tape. It’s the only way to know you were given all the wood you purchased.
*Green - Freshly cut wood with a high moisture content.
**Seasoned - Wood that has been dried out for optimal burning.