As the leaves change and the football games commence, many of us are either using or preparing to use firewood as a way to chase away the chill of the season. Fuel wood can be an economical and enjoyable way to heat our homes, but it must be used with a few precautions in mind.

When cutting and hauling firewood, it is important to know how much wood weighs, as well as the load capacity of the truck or trailer hauling the fuel. It is common to see overturned trailers or trucks due to overloading. Common species used for fuel wood such as oak or hickory can weigh as much as 75 lbs. per cubic foot when cut. Compact trucks can hold approximately 30 ft3 and full-size trucks as much as 60 ft3 of wood volume equating to loads of 2250 to 4500 lbs. respectively. Thus, it is very easy to exceed a truck's weight capacity by loading based on volume.

If purchasing wood from a vendor, it pays to know how firewood is measured. Firewood is generally sold using a volume measurement. Terms used to describe the volume of wood are cord, face cord, fireplace cord, and rick. A cord is a neatly stacked pile of wood measuring 4 feet by 8 feet with each piece of wood 4 feet in length.

A face cord has the same general measurements, but the depth of the pile is the length of the firewood logs, not 4 feet, i.e., 4 feet by 8 feet by 20 inches assuming each log is 20 inches long. A rick and fireplace cord are often regarded as the same and refer to one third of a cord, but regional differences do occur. It is important to remember that all these volume measurements are not exact. The size and shape of individual logs, how carefully they are stacked, and if the wood is split all influence the actual wood volume whether purchased by the cord, face cord, or rick.

One should also be familiar with the density of the wood purchased. All species of wood have a similar energy content per unit of weight. The problem is that wood is purchased on a volume basis. Therefore, a cord of yellow poplar will yield far less warmth than a cord of red oak. The less-dense species do have an advantage in that generally they will ignite faster.

Once the firewood is home, it should be dried for optimum burning. Freshly cut wood can easily contain close to half its weight in water. If not dried prior to burning, much of the energy released will go toward drying the wood. In other words, a very cold fire will result from burning wet wood. This can lead to problems such as smoldering and creosote build up in the fireplace. Inefficient burning can also lead to poor draft up the chimney.

When other air exhausting devices are run; such as bathroom fans, kitchen range hoods, or gas-burning furnaces and water heaters, back drafting of the fireplace can occur. Back drafting is the spilling of combustion products into a living space. Resulting problems include smokey rooms, headaches, irritated eyes, and carbon monoxide poisoning. By burning dry firewood (less than 25% moisture content) many of these problems can be avoided.

Drying firewood is as easy as letting the wood sit outdoors but protected from water. Splitting firewood helps expose more wood surface area and speeds the seasoning process. Firewood should not be seasoned or stored indoors for long periods. The moisture from the wood may overload the capacity of the house or garage to vent it. A cord of firewood contains approximately 85 ft3 of wood. If red oak wood was brought indoors at a moisture content of 70%, it can release more than 1400 lbs. of water when drying to 20% moisture content. This extra water can result in increased condensation on the windows as well as mold and mildew growth on wall sections.

In addition, creatures inhabiting the wood may find the wood in your home an attractive place to eat and live. It is therefore recommended that firewood be seasoned at least a year in an outside location that is elevated off the ground but protected from precipitation. Old pallets make a good platform to keep firewood off the wet soil and a tarp works well as a weather shield.

Sitting around a fire on a cold winter's day evokes a very romantic image. By taking a few precautions when procuring and storing firewood, this image can become a comforting reality.