We've compared prices for 3 types of firewood, explain what to consider when you buy, and what to do if you think you've been sold short. Plus use our firewood calculator to compare types and prices of firewood and work out which is the best value for money.
What to consider
When to buy
Spring and summer are the best times to buy firewood. Why buy so early? For wood to burn well and cleanly it needs time to dry. You can buy "unseasoned" wood and store it (in an area where air can circulate) ready for use when the cold weather arrives. If you leave it till later you may have to buy dry firewood – and pay more.
Type of wood
Softwoods and medium-density woods like pine and macrocarpa dry in around 6 to 12 months but burn rapidly. This means regularly adding wood to keep a cosy blaze going. "Old man pine" is from trees aged 30 years or more. It's denser than ordinary pine and contains more resin, so it burns for longer and puts out more heat. Macrocarpa tends to spark so isn't suitable for open fires.
Hardwoods such as gum and manuka make a better fire as they have greater heat content and burn slowly. But freshly felled hardwoods can take up to 18 months to dry.
How much firewood do I need for winter?
It’s best to buy in larger quantities – many suppliers will provide free delivery to a local address but only for orders of at least 2 cubic metres. To keep a woodburner going most evenings and weekends through winter you’ll need at least 10 cubic metres of wood.
Get a dated receipt with the supplier's name and address, the type of wood, quantity delivered and price.
Stack the firewood under cover or against a sheltering wall, and leave enough gaps for drying air to pass through.
Only burn dry, well-seasoned wood. Green wood cools the fire, creating smoke that adds to air pollution.
Not sure if your wood is ready to burn? Firewood should have less than 25 percent moisture. You can test it by throwing a small piece onto hot glowing coals. If it catches fire on the top and sides within 1 minute, it's dry enough to burn well.
If you're buying wood to burn straight away, ask if it's dry. Green, wet firewood will not be "fit for the purpose" under the Consumer Guarantees Act – it won’t burn properly and will clog up the flue.
The Nelson City Council is running a “GOOD WOOD” scheme of preferred firewood suppliers. These suppliers only sell seasoned firewood in winter – and they sell unseasoned wood only if there’s enough time for it to dry before winter. A similar scheme is being set up in Canterbury.
Woodburner or open fire?
Modern woodburners are cleaner-burning and more efficient than open fires. An average woodburner is about 70 percent efficient, which means it transfers around 70 percent of the heat to the surroundings. With an open fire you'll be lucky to get 20 percent.
If a woodburner is permitted in your area, it's a pleasant way to reduce your electricity bill. Some models can be fitted with a wetback, to preheat water for the hot water cylinder, giving further savings.
Comparing firewood prices from different suppliers can be a problem. While it's not illegal to sell landscaping products or firewood by description, how much is in a sackful of this, a trailer-load of that, the back of a ute of the other?
We recommend buying bulk materials by a known volume - that is by the cubic metre for firewood, mulch, top soil and other materials.
A cord (equivalent to 3.6 cubic metres) is not a legal measure, although some suppliers we contacted for our survey still use it.
Firewood is sold as a "thrown measure" unless specifically stated otherwise. This means that the quantity of wood is measured as if it was thrown into a container, and not as if it was stacked. Stacking it will reduce the volume by about 1/3 (3 cubic metres of thrown wood is roughly equivalent to 2 cubic metres stacked).
Known volume is more exact, but accuracy is not guaranteed. How do you know that the scoop of firewood dumped on your trailer is the volume you are charged for?
It is illegal for a supplier to say a scoop equals a specified volume unless the scoop's volume has been certified. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs' Measurement and Product Safety Service (MAPSS) will approve and certify that a firewood trader's vehicle holds a stated cubic metre volume. We recommend you buy firewood from such a trader.
There is also a certified 1 cubic metre measure. It was jointly developed by MAPSS and a Christchurch landscaping and garden supply business. The container is also certified to accurately measure smaller volumes of 1/3 and 2/3 of a cubic metre.
If you believe you have been sold short, complain. If you get nowhere, contact the Measurement and Product Safety Service of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. They have offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The ministry has powers of prosecution.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs' website has more advice on buying firewood and garden & landscape supplies.
Price per 4m³ ($)
|Other North Island centres||360||350||290|
|Other South Island centres||340||320||285|
Guide to the table
Prices are midpoints from a survey of 58 suppliers during November 2013. GST and local delivery are included.
Calculator and buying tips
Use our firewood calculator to compare types and prices of firewood and work out which is the best value for money.