Buyers of Maine firewood do have options when they feel cheated

Whether delivered loose or stacked, there are strict Maine laws defining the size of a cord of firewood. In this 2018 photo at Rusty Metal Farm, the wood had to be stacked after delivery.| Photo by Julia Bayly

Sarah and Seth Cottrell were relieved to score two cords of firewood after waiting until August to order their winter supply. But that relief turned to disbelief and anger when, after the wood was delivered, they discovered it measured less than they had paid for and much of it was unfit for heating.

Sarah Cottrell said she and her husband paid $275 per cord for the wood, expecting two cords of 18-inch pieces of firewood. Instead, she said they ended up with a little more than a single cord of wood in which many pieces were just 6-inches-long, wet and virtually unstackable.

Scrambling for a source

The Cottrells discovered in August that their regular firewood supplier was no longer in business. By that time, she said many of the well-known firewood dealers in her area were out of wood for the season.

After scouring social media, online ads and asking around, Sarah Cottrell said they located a dealer in Pittsfield.

“Something seemed really off when he delivered it,” Sarah Cottrell said. “It looked really short and some pieces were just little sticks.”

After Seth Cottrell stacked it, he discovered it measured out to just over a single cord.

“We [went] back and forth with the guy,” Sarah Cottrell said. “We [were] really not sure what to do.”

Where to turn

In the case of the Cottrells, the situation may be on its way to a resolution. Late Tuesday afternoon Sarah Cottrell said her husband had spoken to the wood seller who indicated he would be coming back out to their home to correct the problem.

When a solution, however, cannot be worked out between buyer and seller, the state can step in to investigate and mediate.

Sales of firewood in Maine are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The department’s office of quality assurance and regulations investigates complaints relating to firewood delivery.

“When we get a complaint we send out an investigator from our office of weights and measures,” said Celeste Poulin, director of the DACF Office of Quality Assurance and Regulations. “They will go and measure the wood to determine the exact amount that was delivered.”

Firewood complaints are inevitable in a state where more than one million cords of firewood are sold a year, according to the Office of the Maine Attorney General, which lists specific statutory protections for people who purchase firewood.

If, after a complaint if filed, the DACF investigator determines the customer received less than the amount promised and paid for, Poulin said her office will attempt to mediate a solution between the buyer and seller. If no agreement can be reached between the two parties, she said the buyers can take the matter to civil court.

Ask around

Jared Sirois has been cutting and delivering firewood in northern Maine for years and said he has heard stories of people being cheated by unscrupulous dealers.

“It’s a big thing with people taking advantage of folks who don’t really know how to buy firewood,” Sirois said. “There are people who don’t know what a true cord is and will just throw it behind their shed without measuring it.”

It’s not yet clear what happened in the Cottrell’s case, but Poulin recommends asking around about a dealer’s reputation before ordering any wood. Then stick with the ones that have good business reputations.

“Don’t go with the backyard woodcutter or the guy that only sells 50 cords a year,” Sirois said. “And try to order your wood well in advance.”

Know the measurements

State statutes define the size and makeup of a cord of firewood and requires firewood dealers provide their customers with a receipt upon payment.

For example, dealers of firewood must sell their wood measured in “stacked cords” or “loose thrown cords.” They may not list the quantities in terms like rack, pile or truckload.

A stacked cord of wood measures four-feet-wide by four-feet-high by eight-feet long and equals 128-cubic feet of wood. It should be stacked evenly and compactly before measuring.

A loose thrown cord should contain between 115 and 124 cubic feet of wood and that wood should measure either 12-inches, 16-inches or 24-inches in length.

The Maine Attorney General website includes an online calculator for measuring a stack of firewood. 

Protect your investment

The written receipts must include both the buyer’s and seller’s names and addresses, the date of delivery, the quantity of wood delivered, the price of the wood, a description of the wood and whether the wood is seasoned or green.

These receipts, according to Poulin, are very important as evidence in case the buyer ends up filing a complaint against the firewood dealer.

The Cottrells did not get a receipt for their wood delivery and are warning other people to take a buyer beware stance when it comes to purchasing firewood in Maine. 

“We are seeing firewood selling being like the wild west out there,” she said. “We are learning the hard way [and] it seems anyone can sell it and you have to be really careful.”

Poulin encourages anyone who feels they have been dealt with unfairly to contact her office at 207-287-3841.

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