Buying wood for your fireplace? Don’t get scammed

WASHINGTON — One of the biggest scams this time of year is the firewood scam, and the best way to make sure you don’t get burned is to get out your tape measure.

The most common way to sell firewood is by the cord, or fraction thereof, and in many jurisdictions it is the only legal way to sell firewood. But what’s a cord?

It is 128 cubic feet of firewood.

If you’ve been buying firewood from the same source every year, you probably know your source is legit, but what about the guy with the truck that shows up at your front door on a Saturday morning, or the trailer that’s selling firewood on a suburban roadside?

You need to know you are getting what you are paying for.

“A cord in regular English is a stack that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and 8 feet long; or 2 feet wide, 4 feet high and 16 feet long,” Elaine Lidhom at the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services told WTOP.

“That sounds like something too technical to care about, but it’s one of the sure ways to make sure you get what you are paying for,” she said.

One of the tricks of a firewood con artist is coming and unloading when you’re at work, and they won’t stack it. Most homeowners won’t go to the trouble of properly stacking up that pile just to measure it.

There is lots of fraudulent money to be made in shortchanging firewood consumers.

In Virginia, sellers are prohibited from using terms like “face cord,” “rack” or “pile;” and if your firewood source does, that is a red flag that they are probably ripping you off.

Legitimate firewood vendors are also required by law to play by certain other rules.

“They are required to provide a delivery ticket or sales invoice as proof of purchase, and we always recommend paying by check so you have a record of your purchase. If you give him cash, it’s his word against yours,” Lidholm said.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also said to measure it before you use any of the firewood, ideally while the delivery person is still there. And, write down his or her license number for your records.

Your recourse if it comes up short, at least in Virginia? Contact the Office of Weights and Measures and file a complaint at 804-786-2476. An inspector will come to your home and follow up.

Or, maybe just spend a few seconds or the next three hours watching this popular internet fireplace.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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