During the 1800s, the burning of wood for home heat was a common occurrence throughout the United States. As wood for heat gradually gave way to coal during the early 1900s, technology rapidly advanced so that both fuel oil and natural gas became the preferred, safe, efficient and convenient fuels.

During the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, interest in home heating with firewood again increased. Firewood prices escalated rapidly, and the development of efficient, air-tight wood stoves, furnaces, and fireplace inserts made wood burning more popular. The 1980s saw an overall reduction in the price of oil and gas, and electricity prices stabilized, so that wood for fuel became less popular.

Fast track to today, the greatest use of firewood is for a secondary heat source. The warm, constant heat provided by a good wood stove or fireplaces with inserts is hard to beat for comfort and, coupled with another type of furnace or heat source (such as gas, oil, heat pump, or baseboard electric), can be a very effective choice for both comfort and cost.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, almost 1.8 million households (1.4%) will use cord wood or wood pellets as their primary residential space heating fuel this winter. EIA estimates another 8% of households use wood as a secondary source of heat, making wood second to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel. In 2015, one in four rural households used wood for primary or secondary space heating, compared with 6% of urban households, according to the EIA.

With Ohio hardwood forest resources and moderately cold winters, we are ideally suited for the burning of wood as either a primary or secondary fuel source.

There are two common ways to obtain firewood. The first is to gather it yourself on land you own or by permission from a landowner. The second is to purchase and have it delivered to your home. Gathering the wood yourself is the cheapest way to obtain wood, but having your wood delivered is the most convenient. Generally, firewood is sold as mixed hardwood only, and it is normally not possible to request a particular type of firewood.

According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio law mandates that non-packaged firewood must be sold by the cord, or by fractions of a cord. Bulk firewood can also be purchased by ton measurements of weight, weighed on a certified scale. Any other unit of measurement, such as rick, rack, face cord or truckload, is prohibited by law.

Consumers can avoid confusing measurements by purchasing wood by the cord, half-cord or quarter-cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet. When a cord is properly stacked, it should be approximately 8 feet long by 4 feet high and four feet wide. When making the stack, the wood pieces must be placed parallel to each other in a compact manner. Consumers should contact the seller immediately if they do not receive the quantity purchased.

Buyers should understand basic firewood terms and rules to make sure the product meets what is being touted.

If firewood is sold as “seasoned,” then it must have moisture content lower than 50%. Unseasoned wood produces only two-thirds of the heat of seasoned wood. In addition, if a seller claims the wood is a specific type, the delivered load must contain at least 90% of that species. Firewood dealers must provide buyers with a sales invoice with the name and address of the vendor and purchaser, delivery date, cord or weight price, amount delivered and total cost.

An ideal mix of hardwood contains ash, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, hickory, maple and black cherry. These types of firewood produce low smoke and spark potential and have a relatively high heat output. Try to avoid except for kindling pine and spruce. They produce sparks, medium amount of smoke, and have poor heating values.

Never stack wood against the house or other buildings. Store firewood outdoors in an open area, as far away from the house as practical, to keep away insects and other debris. Stack firewood off the ground to eliminate serious soil moisture problems leading to wood rot and pest problems.

A simple storage rack can be made by placing two-by-fours on concrete blocks. Stack the firewood on top of the two-by-fours allowing an air gap of at least 10 inches between the ground and firewood. For a cover, one can use a sheet of dark polyurethane plastic type tarp or sheet metal roofing to keep the wood dry. During the summertime, the area under the plastic will build up heat, evaporating the moisture and killing various stages of insects and other pests within.

Bring only enough firewood into the house to be burned immediately. When cold weather arrives, pieces of firewood can be moved nearer to the house for easy access. Firewood should again be stored on a rack, patio or deck instead of on the ground. Firewood stored inside the home over an hour or so may warm up enough for insects to emerge from within or under the bark and start their spring activities early. Also, do not store firewood in a heated garage or basement for the same reason. Never store indoors over the summer. Try not to carry over large quantities of firewood from season to season.

According to James E. Johnson, extension forester, Virginia Tech, the economics of heating a home with wood are difficult to determine because of the variable nature of home heating. The problem becomes one of comparing the costs of heat obtained from various fuels, which include furnace costs, efficiency ratings, heater maintenance, costs of obtaining the fuel, and others. Also, to be considered, but difficult to quantify, are convenience factors such as the comfort of the heat supply, the need for hand-feeding the stove or furnace (with wood) and storage requirements for wood.

As with any heating system, it is critical that a wood burning system be installed properly so that it is completely safe. If you are considering adding a wood heat system, your insurance company should be notified, and they can provide you with a checklist of safety considerations. Each year it is advisable to have a wood burning system inspected by a qualified chimney sweep. Also check and replace the batteries and test any smoke or carbon monoxide detectors to ensure these monitors are operating properly.

Heating yoa ur home either partially or entirely with wood may be a desirable and economically attractive alternative to conventional heating systems. To make this decision, carefully evaluate options and consider all the costs associated with the various systems, as well as the lifestyle restrictions imposed by burning wood.