GIMME SHELTER- Take a load off: Make firewood measure up

Wes Diggs
Program Supervisor, Weights & Measures, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Q: How much is really in a cord of firewood? I just bought a new wood stove, and I want to make sure I don't get ripped off.

A: According to our standards, all bulk deliveries of firewood for home heating must be measured in cords, or fractions or multiples of a cord. Firewood sellers know exactly how much wood makes up a cord, and they also know that most people don't. Legitimate sellers will deliver a full cord, but some con artists may try to pull a fast one.

For example, they might unload the wood after dark when it's more difficult to determine the size of the load, and then demand an immediate cash payment. Or they might unload when you're not at home, and come back after dark for payment. In a three- or four-cord order, they may deliver a full cord and stack it neatly, then demand payment for the full order before delivering the remaining load, which may not be complete.

To make sure you receive all the firewood you ordered and paid for, it's a good idea to know the size of a cord: 128-cubic feet. That amounts to a pile of wood stacked in compact rows that measure 4-feet wide, 4-feet high and 8-feet long (4 x 4 x 8 = 128). The pile could also measure 2 feet wide, 4-feet high and 16-feet long (2 x 4 x 16 = 128), or any other dimensions where the width times the height times the length equals 128 cubic feet.

Virginia law prohibits the use of terms such as "face cord," "rack," or "pile" when advertising, offering for sale, or selling wood for use as fuel. If the buyer visually inspects a truckload of wood and agrees to a selling price for that load, the term "truckload" may be used. A standard pick-up truck usually holds about two-thirds of a cord.

We suggest you get out your yardstick, tape measure, or ruler to measure the stack of firewood delivered to you before you use it. Also, arrange the timing so you or a representative can be present when the firewood is delivered, pay by check rather than cash so that you have a record of the purchase, and write down the license number of the delivery vehicle. If you determine the delivery to be less firewood than you paid for, contact the seller first to correct the shortage. If that doesn't work, you can contact our Office of Product and Industry Standards to request an investigation.

Firewood is not the only thing you should be left with. The law requires that the seller present a delivery ticket or sales invoice upon delivery of any non-packaged fireplace or stove wood. In addition to the seller's name and address, the ticket must contain the purchaser's name and address, the date of delivery, the quantity delivered, the quantity upon which the price is based– if it differs from the delivery quantity– and the total price of the amount delivered. 

To file a complaint, contact our Office of Product and Industry Standards in Virginia toll-free at 1-800-552-9963.