Through the roof

Seasoned firewood prices up along with other fuels

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

Folks hoping to avoid sticker shock with their heating bills this winter might be disappointed if they try to supplement their heating with a wood stove or fireplace.

The cost of seasoned firewood also is on the rise, and there are a lot of built-in hazards to purchasing it, say state officials and those in the business.

The experts predict that the cost of most heating fuels except electricity will rise considerably in Snohomish County. So firewood retailers are bucking and splitting in hopes of a big fall selling season.

One retailer estimated the cost of firewood has escalated about 30 percent in the past four or five years. A few say their prices haven’t changed in five years.

Nonetheless, if you’re getting ready to purchase firewood for the first time in several years get ready to shell out a good chunk of change compared with the last time you bought it.

Many established dealers are quoting prices approaching or more than $200 for a full cord of seasoned wood split and delivered. The cost of a hard wood like maple is higher.

In 1999, dealers routinely advertised their wood for between $175 and $195 a cord.

Dave Goetz of Quality Firewood has been selling firewood for 20 years, and is about as busy as he ever wants to be this time of year.

Goetz said the price of firewood has increased because his costs have also gone up, including overhead like the cost of fuel for his trucks.

The smart consumer can save a bunch, however, by thinking ahead.

The Firewood Company’s John Mack said consumers can buy green wood in the spring and it can be properly seasoned by the time the next heating season rolls around if it is stacked and covered with good air circulation. The savings can be $60 to $70 a cord, he said.

Mack has one of the biggest firewood companies around. It’s on Highway 99, where huge stacks of logs and split wood are visible from the road.

Besides cost, there are other hazards in purchasing firewood, something that might not be readily apparent until you stack or burn it.

"We get a smattering of complaints every year," said Chris Jarvis, spokesman for the Consumer Protection Division of the state Attorney General’s Office. And Jerry Buendel, program manager for weights and measures at the state Department of Agriculture, said the most common problem is a short delivery.

"They end up with less firewood than they paid for," Buendel said.

Even some of the dealers complain that fly-by-night outfits give them a bad name.

There are mom-and-pop operations that fill the back of a truck with wood and park it at a busy location with a telephone number to call.

You might be able to get a good deal. Then again, you might be cheated.

If the wood man is selling you a cord, make sure it’s a real cord. That would be a neatly and tightly stacked pile of wood 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 4 feet high.

That’s 128 cubic feet.

Don’t fall for a measurement like "unit" or "face cord," Buendel said.

The state can act only on complaints when there’s enough information, and his office only handles problems dealing with volume.

If possible, get the seller’s telephone number and write down the license plate number of the delivery vehicle, Buendel said.

Washington law requires wood sellers to provide an invoice showing the seller’s and buyer’s names, and the date delivered. The invoice should also specify the quantity upon which the price is based, Buendel said.

"The big thing is for people to be present for the delivery," he added. Some folks will just leave a check outside for the delivery person to pick up.

Tim Barker of Bone Dry Wood in Woodinville said the seller should show up with the wood stacked tightly enough for the customer to measure.

Another big problem he sees is too much moisture in the wood that’s sold as seasoned. That’s wood that generally has not been split and left to dry long enough.

Barker suggests asking if sellers would be willing to take a post-dated check that can be canceled if the wood turns out to be still wet when a piece is burned in the fireplace.

A lot of reputable dealers will allow you to do that, he said.

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