Unlike most fuels, as long as it is done correctly, firewood can be stored indefinitely, safely, and without degrading. Here, we provide basic information on storing and drying your firewood for the best results.
Once delivered, stack the firewood as soon as possible. The first decision you'll have to make is figuring out where to site the woodpile. You will want to make it convenient, but try to keep it a small distance from your home (30 feet is adequate). Rodents and bugs like to live in and around piles of firewood, so it's best not to store it too close. Check out this fact sheet for more information on insects and firewood. Many people store a small amount in or next to the house that they can draw from as needed and replenish regularly.
The main reason to stack your wood is to allow it to get and stay dry. Most firewood sold is green, or freshly cut, which means it could have a moisture content of 100% or more (100% moisture content means half the weight of the wood is water). In many areas, you can buy seasoned or kiln-dried wood, but you'll pay a premium for it. It's important to burn only wood with moisture content below 20%. Burning wood with higher moisture content creates more smoke, which contains harmful chemicals and particulates and forms creosote on your chimney. It also gives you less heat, because it takes energy to boil off the excess water. That means wasted money.
Try to buy your firewood at least a year before you intend to use it. In most cases, this will give you sufficient time to ensure the wood's moisture content is within a safe range to burn it.
The simplest way to make sure your wood is dry is to look for checks in the end grain. As the wood dries the ends will usually split open up to a quarter-inch (see below). Seasoned wood also has a distinct sound--knock two pieces together and you'll get a crisp, solid sound. Greenwood will make a duller, muffled sound. Over time, you'll gain a feel for telling dry from greenwood.
Graphic of seasoned, checked wood
If you're unsure about the moisture content of your wood or want something more accurate, try using a moisture meter. You can buy a basic one for under $30. Most wood moisture meters have two short probes that are inserted about a quarter-inch into the wood. This will obviously only give you the moisture level at that depth--it could be higher deeper in. To get a more accurate reading, you could split a few pieces and test the moisture inside, as well.
To get green wood to less than 20% moisture takes at least six months. Freshly cut wood will have bound and unbound moisture. The latter is released fairly easily and can get the wood down to 25 to 30% moisture content. Bound moisture, on the other hand, takes much longer to evaporate. Depending on your location--if your woodpile is in a shady spot or near a stream or lake--it may take significantly longer than six months for your firewood to get to 20% moisture content. Certain types of hardwoods also take longer to fully season.
Always stack firewood off the ground--pallets make a good first layer. Loosely stack the wood no more than two layers deep. End caps built up with alternately stacked firewood or using 2x4s will keep the pile together. In the Northeast, it's important to keep your woodpile covered--you'll gain more from protecting it from rain and snow than you would from exposing it to the sun. Metal roofing sheets or plastic tarps make good covers. Just be sure to cover only the top, leaving the sides exposed so that air can flow through.
Heating with Wood resources developed by Guillermo Metz, Energy Team Leader at CCE-Tompkins
Last updated November 4, 2020