How to Find Free Firewood and Use it to Heat Your Home

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What you need to know to find free firewood and get it ready to heat your home this winter.

Close-up of woman's hands holding cup as she sits in front of wood burning fireplace

Using a wood-burning fireplace or wood stove to heat your home doesn’t have to cost you lots of money. You can find free firewood if you know where to look. With the right tools, a little planning, and good manners, you can scavenge wood of all sorts. You might even score enough to sell and make some money, too.

Online Sources of Free Firewood

Craigslist, Facebook’s Marketplace, and are all great places to find free firewood. Many times, homeowners who’ve trimmed or felled trees have no use for the downed wood. They don’t want to pay to have it hauled off, though. Spring is the best time to look for such listings since that’s when most people prune trees and shrubs. Don’t forget your own tree trimmings are also a great source of free firewood, too.

Local Storm Clean-Up

Severe storms often knock down branches or whole trees. This is a great time to locate free firewood since many people will literally leave it on the curb for pickup. Or they’ll post notices on a church or community bulletin. Where I live, ordinances limit the size of things we can leave for garbage collection. So, people cut it to fireplace-size logs and leave them out on trash day. Not all areas have such requirements, though, so you may have to cut the wood yourself. (More on the tools you’ll need below.)

Tree Companies

It’s worth calling tree surgeons or companies in your area to see if any give away firewood for free. Call your power company, too. Many times, they have tree services that remove branches threatening power lines. If the tree company wants you to pay for it, you can still get free firewood if you’re willing to make a trip to the dump. All you have to do is wait until the end of the day when the company drops off the trimmings. Be sure you check with your local dump to make sure it’s okay to take discards. (Related: Where to Find Free Garden Mulch.)

National Forests

Many people don’t realize that national forests will let you harvest firewood. You do need a permit, though, but the cost is minimal. (Around $5.) If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the participating states, it’s an excellent way to get almost-free firewood. Depending on where you live, you can also get free Christmas trees, too.

Construction Sites

Real estate developers often clear all or most of the trees on a lot before construction. That downed wood needs a place to go. Sometimes, they’ll have a burn pile on-site, but many areas ban such practices. Whether they burn it or not, developers are often happy to give away the downed wood. It’s a good idea to ask before you haul it off

Free Wood Pallets

Wood pallets make excellent firewood if they’re not made of pressure-treated wood. Small stores and garden centers are the best sources for free wood pallets. (Larger businesses have contractors who pick up used pallets.) Check Mom & Pop hardware stores, garden shops, pet stores, and corner grocery stores. Don’t just grab any pallets you see sitting out, though. Use your manners and ask first.

Tips for Bringing Home Free Firewood

There are a few things to consider before you start searching for firewood. Besides knowing woods to look for and avoid, you’ll need the right tools and a place to store what you’ve found.

What Type of Firewood to Look For

If this is the first year you plan to heat your home with firewood, it’s good to know which type burns the best. Hardwoods like maple, oak, ash, and fruit trees burn the longest and hottest. Softwoods like fir, pine, balsam, spruce, cedar, and poplar burn well. But, they cause creosote buildup in your chimney, which can dangerously clog it. (You can buy creosote-cleaning logs but should also have your chimney inspected annually.)

What Type of Firewood to Avoid

You don’t have to search hard to find free firewood, but there are some types you shouldn’t use to heat your home. Burning some of these types of woods produces hazardous fumes. Others burn so hot or produce so much creosote that they can damage your fireplace or wood stove.

So, for your safety, don’t burn:

  • Painted or varnished wood, trim, or other wood by-products
  • Pressure-treated lumber
  • Engineered materials like plywood, particleboard, and MDF
  • Hardboard or other compressed paper products

Hauling Your Firewood

If you’ve got a pickup truck or trailer, you’re in luck. Otherwise, you’ll want to lower the seats in your car to make room. Either way, put a tarp down to protect your vehicle before loading the wood. If you’re hauling it in an open pickup bed, cover it with a tarp to keep debris from flying out.

What Tools You’ll Need to Cut Firewood

Once you’ve got your free firewood home, you need to get it ready to burn. This process involves cutting it to size and may also include letting it dry out (or season) before it’s ready to use.

Many times, scavenged firewood is too big to fit in your fireplace right away. You’ll need to cut long pieces into 16-inch lengths, a process known as “bucking”. This is easy enough to do with a chainsaw or, if you’re up to it, use an axe.

You’ll also need to split thick logs into smaller pieces. Firewood should be no more than 6 inches in diameter, so you may also need to cut it into quarters. Do this with an ax if you’re willing to hardness your inner lumber-jack. Otherwise, a hydraulic wood-splitter is worth it if you plan to heat your home with firewood for years. (You can even make money offering to split wood for others.)

How to Store and Season Firewood

“Green” wood refers to freshly-fallen or cut trees that still contain a lot of moisture. Green or wet wood doesn’t burn well and produces a lot of creosote. It also produces carbon monoxide that puts your family at risk.

So, if you’re sourcing free firewood and your supply is green, you’ll need to season it before burning. Seasoning wood refers to the process of drying it out. Seasoning wood takes six months in dry, warm areas and up to a year in cold, rainy locations.

To season wood, put it in a log rack bark-side down. Racking logs lets air circulate on the cut ends and sides, so it dries faster. Turn the top layer bark-side up to protect the stack from rain. If your log rack includes a covering, use it, too.

Plan ahead for wood you’ll need to season. Racking it in the Spring usually means it will be ready to use by late autumn. To use free firewood to heat your home right away, look for pallets and other wood that’s already dry and ready for use.

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