Types of Firewood
Natural gas prices have always been lower in the U.S. than the rest of the developed world but people still opt for alternative energy sources as a way to heat their homes. One of the best, proven alternative energy sources is firewood. Firewood is a very cost-effective heating utility that doesn't pollute to a large extent and the tools you need to get started are easily accessible. Recently more Americans are turning to firewood as a primary heating utility because it’s aesthetic, creates a great atmosphere and the crackling sound of a fire is tough to beat.
Looking to split your own firewood? Check out our guides:
Most woods from the forest can serve as firewood by setting them on fire but only a handful are reliable when it comes to consistently providing your home with heating. The different types of firewood we mention on this page are known to burn the longest and they can easily be kept moisture-free. They also happen to be the best-selling and most widely available options. There are two main types of firewood you can purchase: softwood and hardwood. These two types also branch out into their own individual versions based on the moisture percentage.
The main distinction you have to make is between "green/unseasoned" and "dry/seasoned" firewood. Green and seasoned are essentially the same wood but green is the raw, cheap version with high moisture content (over 50% water) while seasoned is the processed (dried, below 20% moisture) energy-efficient firewood. If you're buying a cord you should pay attention to the green weight and the dry weight. The green weight indicates the weight before the cord is dried. You could technically use green firewood without drying it out but it produces sub-par heat intensity, releases a lot of smoke and burns less. The opposite is true for dry firewood.
Best Time To Buy Firewood
If you're trying to save money the best time to buy is in the late winter or early spring. Prices fluctuate based on demand and the highest demand is always in late fall/early winter while the lowest demand is in early spring. It takes 4-6 months to dry green wood and if you purchase your green wood in the spring, you'll save money due to lower prices and have perfectly dry winter wood available in the winter. Use our stacking guide to help you get started on stacking wood in order to have it ready and moisture-free before the winter season.
Hardwood vs Softwood
If you're about to purchase your first cord of firewood, there are a few minor distinctions you have to make in terms of the different wood types. Firewood can either be softwood or hardwood. Hardwood is the more popular option because it's the kind of wood you need for heating or cooking. Hardwood is also more practical because it burns at a slower pace, heating your home for an extended period and serving as the most cost-effective solution. Hardwood species are very diverse but the most reliable are oak, ash, maple and elm. Softwoods, on the other hand, burn hotter and faster. They are ideal for kindling and frequently used in campfires. They emit more smoke than hardwoods so shouldn't be used for fireplaces or home stoves.
Types of Firewood
The first hardwood on our list is Oak, and it's one of the most in-demand hardwood species. White Oak has always been popular because it's an excellent choice for heating: it burns for hours on end and outputs exceptional heat which makes it ideal for cooking or long-session heating. Oak is a very diverse tree because there are well over 40 different oak types.
Oaks are some of the most beautiful trees with an elegant stretch of up to 150 ft. In most cases they range from 80 to 100 ft. and their diameter stretches up to 6 ft. They can be quite expensive (especially Red Oak) but the heat is exceptional and they make some of the best wood for the woodstove. Plug an Oak log as you're about to go to sleep and enjoy a full warm night. They burn all night and allow you to keep your home at a perfectly balanced temperature.
Maple is more on the high-end when it comes to hardwood heating because it offers an impeccable heat output. It's one of the most efficient and cost-effective hardwood options similar to the Oak because it can burn for extended periods and the smoke output is minimal.
Maple is the ideal firewood if you're trying to minimize your energy footprint because it produces almost zero smoke. If you're lighting a campfire or gathering people around a fire for outdoor activities, Maple is the best hardwood option to keep the air in your immediate area clean. Maple efficiency is unmatched.
This is another reliable hardwood option and similar to the Oak, there are diverse options between the numerous Ash trees. Ash trees can grow up to 100 ft. and their diameter usually stretches up to 3 feet. They have a reputation for being tough to split but the burn quality is top notch. The most reliable Ash tree is White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) which is common in the stretch between New England and Minnesota.
Ash wood is ideal as a primary hardwood because it's going to burn for extended periods and allow you to use smaller quantities to make it through the winter. The biggest advantage it holds over other hardwoods on our list is that it catches fire almost instantly and this makes it the ideal option for fast heating. If you don't want to wait for heating/cooking when you're back home, Ash wood will provide immediate heating for your home.
This is the only softwood that made our list because it's the most exceptional softwood option on the market. Pine has extremely high resin content and it's cheaper than the hardwoods on our list but it burns even faster and smells great. It's commonly used for outdoor fires (not recommended for indoor heating) and it's the best outdoor heating option.
Elm is the last hardwood option on our list. It has decent reliability and produces solid heat but it has a reputation for being tough to split. If you're confident in your ability to split Elm it can serve as a great alternative to Ash or Maple trees. This tree is widely available nationwide.
The firewood options on our list are the most reliable, abundant and highly esteemed options. If you make the switch to firewood you'll be able to create a unique atmosphere in your household and learn a handful of techniques for wood storage/splitting while you’re at it. If you want you can even chop the wood yourself because its great exercise and it will widen your horizons in terms of the different firewood options you have in your area. Read our guides on stacking firewood and cord prices to help you get started.