Why Is Firewood So Expensive?

Lately, everything seems to be going up in price: gas, cars, food, lumber, and even firewood. But why is firewood so expensive? Don’t trees grow everywhere? While firewood is one of the lowest-grade products in forestry, firewood production requires large expenses in harvesting, trucking, cutting and splitting, drying, and even delivering the finished product, and these expenses are on the rise. Producers need to charge a premium to make a healthy profit. Running any business is tough, but forestry businesses in particular come with an abundance of headaches and a great amount of uncertainty. The price of firewood reflects those expenses and hardships.

Firewood Production Is Expensive.

There is nothing particularly valuable about firewood as standing timber. It is the lowest-grade product, and virtually any tree of any species or quality can be used for firewood (although some better than others). In some cases, firewood can even be a waste product of the production of more valuable types of lumber. Regardless of how valuable the standing timber is, the harvest process is expensive and labor intensive. Loggers must harvest trees using heavy, specialized equipment like feller bunchers or cable skidders. Each of these machines has a long list of expenses associated with it:

  • Fuel
  • Maintenance
  • Insurance
  • Depreciation
  • Interest
  • Labor

A certain price is required just to make it worthwhile for the logger to drag the wood out of the forest.

There are times when that is where the story ends. For homeowners willing to do extra processing, firewood can be purchased whole tree by the truck load (Though the trucker still needs to be paid). In many cases, however, consumers demand wood be supplied cut, split and dried, which adds tremendous amounts of work and makes the firewood more expensive.

Firewood can be very expensive if it is kiln dried like lumber.
Kilns used to dry lumber are also used to dry firewood.

To cut and split firewood, commercial producers use specialized firewood processors. Wood is then usually air dried. Though the process is natural, inventory and real estate costs add up as land is necessary to hold and dry wood for around six months, and a great deal of wood must be processed and associated costs accrued before cashflow can begin. Alternatively, wood can be kiln dried, in which case energy costs can be extraordinary. This, however, is more common with larger national producers. Many states have prohibitions against moving firewood across state lines due to the risk of insect infestation. Kiln-dried firewood and lumber can avoid these prohibitions because heat from the kilns can kill any invasive insects. This is why small bundles of plastic-wrapped bundles of firewood (like what is often sold at gas stations) can be so astronomically expensive. They have usually gone through a kiln drying process.

Is Firewood Truly Expensive Compared to Other Heat Sources?

Though prices are rising, and it is reasonable to expect them to rise further, let’s not forget that firewood is still one of the cheapest ways to heat a home and is likely to remain so. While prices constantly vary, firewood is consistently cheaper than heating with oil, propane, or natural gas. Moreover, unlike buying foreign oil, buying firewood puts money back into the local economy and helps promote healthy forest management by helping prevent high-grading practices. That is worth an awful lot.

How to Buy Firewood Inexpensively

There are still ways to limit how expensive firewood is. In short: do it yourself! If you have 10 acres of forest, you can harvest your own firewood sustainably, making the only real cost your labor. Even if you have no land, buy a load of whole tree wood from a local logger and cut and split it yourself. If you cut and split wood in the mid summer to early fall, it will have plenty of time to air dry prior to being burned for the winter. But if you choose to cut your own wood, never forget the age old wisdom:

Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice

Henry Ford
Loads of firewood can be purchased cheaply if you are willing to cut and split it yourself.

Zachary Lowry

Zach Lowry is a seasoned forester with extensive experience managing logging operations and overseeing silvicultural and timber stand improvement activities. He has spent his career in the north woods of Maine working for some of the largest private landowners in the country. Zach is also a landowner himself, and he works on his own property as a forester, landowner, and logger. He is deeply committed to exploring the economics of small-scale forest management, and he is constantly experimenting with innovative ways to maximize the value of his own land while preserving its natural and non-monetary resources.

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