NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – As home energy costs continue to soar, an affordable solution may already be in your backyard.

A cord of wood, which can cost between $250 and $350, can replace 150 gallons of home heating oil, according to Christopher Martin, the state forester with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“It can definitely offset the cost of home heating oil,” he said.

The wholesale cost of heating oil varies. According to DEEP, the average cost of a gallon in New Haven was $3.412 on Dec. 5 – down from $4.175 on Nov. 7, but still a substantial increase from $2.06 a gallon at the same time last year. The cost of home heating oil trended higher in Hartford, at an average of $3.676 a gallon on Dec. 5 of this year.

DEEP’s state lands program sells firewood to people who obtain a permit for it.

“There is a limited supply, and we usually tie it in with other wildlife habitat projects, or cleaning up of storm debris,” Martin said.

The permits are $30 a cord, with a minimum of two cords. A cord is a stack of wood that is five feet high, five feet wide and eight feet long.

Martin said there isn’t a formal firewood lottery process but that the permit does include the location, the amount of wood and the safety requirements required to obtain it.

When the permits are available, they are limited to harvesting hardwood.

“It is only trees that make good firewood,” Martin said. 

But just because wood is stacked in the backyard doesn’t mean it’s ready for burning. The wood has to be seasoned, first, and anything that is cut needs to dry a year before it is dry enough to be used in a fireplace.

To check the moisture level, knock two pieces of wood together, and then listen to the sound it makes. Dry wood will make a high noise. A lower-pitch noise means there’s still water inside.

Burning wood before it’s seasoned can have dangerous consequences.

“Folks can really get in trouble if they put green wood into their fireplace or wood stove, because it will clog their chimney with creosote and create a fire hazard,” Martin said.

Smoky fires, he said, are no good, and fire that isn’t burned properly can damage chimneys and emit harmful smoke that will hurt both the user and their neighbors.

Knowing which type of wood to burn is crucial. Hardwood will be the safest to burn. And however attractive it might be to stick an old Christmas tree into the fireplace, Martin highly recommends against it.

“Soft trees, spruce and fir, are the most common,” he said. “They are loaded with pitch or sap, and although highly flammable, it is a quick burn that releases a lot of particulate matter, and you’re not going to get much heating value out of it.”

Hickories and oak trees will produce more heat and burn for longer.

When done correctly, he said, wood can be a locally grown, renewable resource that can offset the costs of heating a home for the winter. It also warms a person up multiple times – through the sweat equity of chopping it, stacking it and then burning it.

When chopping on private land, Martin said to know your personal limits and wear personal protective gear like chainsaw chaps.