Firewood: R.I.'s Next Buy Local Campaign

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

It may be late in the season to think about firewood, but local firewood sellers say now is the time of year to stock up and save on next winter's supply. And while your at it, help be a part of the next "buy local" industry, say state officials.

This winter has lacked snow and hasn't been exceptionally cold, but firewood demand was strong for Geoff Mongeon, owner of Above & Beyond Tree Service LLC in Cumberland.

An abundance of roadside and backyard firewood left by tropical storm Irene and the snowstorm in late October didn't seem to quench demand. Mongeon, a seller of premium firewood, sold out of seasoned stock by the first week of December.

Wood has become a popular home-heating option in recent years as oil and propane prices have increased. Sales of wood-pellet stoves also have surged as the stoves and their fuel sources have improved. Tax incentives also make these systems more affordable. In fact, use of wood as a source of heat grew by a third nationally between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

The Northeast provides a generous crop of firewood, and even population-dense Rhode Island yields plenty of timber. "There's an abundance of firewood, for sure," said Catherine Sparks, head of the forestry division for the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Local firewood and lumber is ripe for marketing across the state, much like recent initiatives promoting local farming and seafood, Sparks said. Aborists do a strong business selling wood culled from routine tree care at area homes and businesses. But larger swaths of land also can be properly managed to protect open space and provide recreation, while also offering a renewable resource. 

"If it's done right, it's very sustainable," she said.

Sparks recently met with U.S. Forestry experts and is reviewing potential grants for launching a study of the Rhode Island wood industry, and perhaps a marketing campaign.

"There certainly is an opportunity to keep the wood that we grow in Rhode Island for firewood consumption and even the local lumber yard," said Sparks, who uses firewood to heat her home.

Above & Beyond Tree Service is one example of a small and growing business that benefits from letting nothing go to waste. Mongeon salvages enough wood from his tree-care business to sell more than 150 cords of firewood annually for wood stoves, fireplaces and even backyard fire pits. Wood he can't sell or use as kindling is delivered as wood chips to a local mulch preparer.

Mungeon started his business after eight unfulfilling years in accounting, and hasn't regretted the career change. "It's been a lifelong dream of mine," he said.

Here are a few tips from Mongeon for buying local, sustainable and less-polluting firewood:

Buy fresh-cut wood now and save about 30 percent on the price. It will be seasoned and ready to burn next fall.
Wood needs light and air for seasoning, so stack in alternate directions up to 4 feet in height.
Seasoned wood is gray or black on the ends.
Split wood seasons more quickly and burns cleaner than whole logs.
By October, cover the top layer of a wood pile to keep rain out and prevent moisture buildup.
Be sure to buy hardwoods such as red oak, maple, ash and cherry. Avoid "filler" wood such as pine, poplar and willow, as these can create a fire hazard in your chimney.
To ensure wood quality, buy from a local, reputable firewood supplier. Avoid buying from Craigslist or from unexperienced sellers.
To prevent the spread of disease and pests, don't bring any firewood out of state or to a campground, and don't bring out-of-state firewood into Rhode Island.

    "The smart people buy wood now for next year," Mongeon said. "It's cheaper and it's guaranteed to be seasoned."

    Sparks also suggests buying locally cut wood rather than bundled wood sold in shrink wrap at the gas station or big-box retailer. Store-bought wood often is imported from far-off regions, such as northwest Canada, and carries with it a huge carbon footprint.

    "Right now we've got a lot of local timber and firewood that could help build the local rural economy," Sparks said.