Wood Heat: A Heckuva Lot of Work

Original article posted at www.GirlsGoneNorth.blogspot.ca

Before I moved here, a few of my more experienced acquaintances warned my that wood heat was a heckuva lot of work.Wow – heating with wood is a heckuva a lot of work!  For those of you yearning for an off-grid heat source, let me tell you about it.

If you happen to be independently wealthy, the minutiae of wood heat probably won’t affect you.  However, if wood heat is a practical money-saving move, you are in for more work than you might expect.

First - there is the acquisition of the wood in fireplace sized pieces.  I skipped a couple of steps this year because I needed wood that was already split and seasoned to keep us warm. It’s more expensive, of course, if someone else does the splitting, so this is a one-time luxury for us.  My next load of wood will be un-split and I am going to learn to split it myself in preparation for next winter.

Second - your future heat source doesn’t give a flying rat’s tail if you don’t feel well. If you leave it where it’s dumped, you will no longer have dry wood. The dew or frost or possible rain will undo that year of seasoning the wood has undergone. You will have paid for wet wood which won’t burn well.  A wood delivery gets dumped out of a truck in a huge pile in the middle of your yard. I’m currently dealing with a respiratory infection, but the wood’s still gotta be stacked.

Third - nearly each day will find you lugging wood into the house for burning.  Again, the heat does not care if you have hurt your back, sprained your ankle or if you are feeling energetic that day.  Lug wood or freeze.

Fourth - Starting a fire and keeping it going takes practice.  I probably spend 45 minutes per day on my knees in front of the wood stove coaxing the fire to a) start burning, b) continue burning or c) resume burning when it goes out. I didn’t realize that there was more to it than lighting it and tossing a log in every few hours and this was very naive.  However, I’m sure I’m not alone in the assumption – it seems like it should be so simple. It’s NOT.

Finally - kindling is REALLY expensive to buy.  Because of the sheer amount of chopping to get the wood into those little pieces, kindling is labor intensive, and thus, high-priced.  A person in my area is moving his campsite and gave me permission to haul away his kindling.  So, because I’m cheap…er…thrifty…I’m dragging a wheel barrow 1/4 of a mile through a trail (there is no access for my truck), then bringing the loaded wheelbarrow back and stacking it. Also a LOT of work!  This meager looking pile represents 5 wheelbarrow loads full – so two and a half miles with a wheelbarrow, loading the wheelbarrow and unloading the wheelbarrow. There are at least 20-30 more loads to come over.  I don’t mind because free stuff makes me happy and pushing it in a wheelbarrow is way less work than splitting it down to this size.

People rely on the power grid for a reason – it’s much more convenient to have heat at the turn of a dial and lights at the flick of a switch. But somewhere along the line, all of that convenience has caused us to lose our health and lazy and overweight as a group.  We’ve all come to rely on “just-in-time” satisfaction, whether it is our heat, the food in our cupboards or any other number of items we purchase whenever we need them.  Many of us seem to have lost the ability to plan ahead like our ancestors were forced to do.

The benefits of heating with wood are so much more than just a warm cozy fire, but go into with your eyes open!

Original article posted at www.GirlsGoneNorth.blogspot.ca

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published September 26th, 2012
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  • KelliNGa

    If that pic represents only 5 wheelbarrow loads and there are 20-30 more, I think I’d invest in a small cart to pull behind riding lawn mower or at the very least a deer cart…anything bigger than a wheelbarrow. Of course, if you want or need exercise or something for little boys to do…by all means, let them work off that energy with the wheelbarrow :D

  • The Old Coach

    Our ancestors on American farms managed with wood heat, right up to the 1940s in some areas near me.  Many farms burned 15 to 20 cords a year.  Even in summer – they burned wood to cook and make hot water.   Work?  Sure.  You need the exercise.  

  • the old human workhorse

    I grow, cut, season and burn all my heating season’s wood here in eastern Canada. Oh yes, it is a lot of work for sure. I do sometimes buy hardwood logs/chunks if last tree harvest was poor in hardwood. A well established and managed woodlot can produce a cord of wood a year on a 30-40 year cycle. So if you burn 10 cords, you will need at least 10 acres + of woodlot at about 30 yrs old or older. Plant every year or coprice your high stumps for replacement growth of future firewood. I did an experiment with an acre of black cherry 7 yrs ago and now have 3-4 shoots of 3-4 inch diameter VS 1.25 inch diameter saplings from seeds. The sprout have the advantage of a very well established root system to feed the new growth. I can harvest the sprouts leaving 2 left on stump to grow even faster and bigger. I love the 3-6″ logs/limbs as this can be done by bucksaw if chainsaw is getting repaired or I am too broke to buy gas. Nice part is no splitting needed to feed an established fire. I also stack the 2″ or less trimmings on old pallets platform for kindling wood as needed. I also return the wood ash back to the woodlot by mixing into goathouse bedding compost to replemish NPK I took out. Most people do not treat their woodlot like a garden and then wonder why it slowly dies or is unproductive. Trees are plants and plants need food also. A cord of wood weighs about a tonne and 2 cyds of semi-dry compost weighs about a tonne. So 10 cords/yr needs 20 cyds of woodash rich compost. This is the same math I use for my food/crop gardens also. I call this “Bio-Accounting”. For every pound removed/harverted, equal amount or more in pounds of compost/biomass is returned.
    Is proper firewood work involve a lot of hard work ? Darn right it does. But a 5-10 acre woodlot /garden will supply you with firewood forever. And because the rich loam soil helps keep trees lush and moit (even in drought years) they are also more fire resistent. Case in point, a old house bunt down in this summer’s heat and very dry season. the well ferlilized trees beside the house and 50 ft away had their leaves and twigs burnt and bark roasted. 2 mths later. All but the ones up against the houes have sprouted some new growth.

  • blackcat

    My friend and I buy a log truck worth of wood every year or so and buck and split it ourselves. This in my opinion is well worth the money vs. the work it takes to go and harvest the wood from the forest. Of course this may not in the future be a sustainable practice and here in  Colorado I am not buying expensive hardwoods but while the option remains I will take full advantage of $50.00 cords. The truck gives you a realistic 12 cords of wood for just under $600. Like the old work horse says having your own wood lot is your best bet but if not it might make sense for you to go in on a truck load with your family/friends vs. trying to drag your wood out of the forest.

  • bluedragonlotus

    You should be careful with the way you store your firewood as well.  Keeping it against the house (especially against woodframe walls or siding) is a good way to damage the siding (moisture can collect) and promote pests in and near your house.
    When possible, store the wood stacked in the open with a tarp or under an open carport so that the air can below through the wood, helping to dry it (better for burning).  Wood piles make great homes for snacks, rodents and insects, so having the pile away from your house should help reduce the chances of these critters getting into you home.  If you’re lucky enough to have a brick or center block wall, then you’re less likely to have pest problems in the home caused by wood stacked against it, but it’s still not a bad idea to keep the wood someplace else.

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      @BlueDragonLotus – excellent advice! Thanks for sharing this helpful tidbit.

  • EastTenn

    I burn at least 10 cords of wood a year. If you add my father and my father-n-law, I am having to cut 25+ cords a year.   I have a few recommendations for firewood gathering.  If you know someone with a portable sawmill, slabs are great and easy to bust up and split.  Second, after a severe storm, look for wood piled up on the curve after the clean-up.  Also, look for places that have been logged. Tree laps are the right size for burning.  Third, I burn alot of pine.  It burns hot but fast but it is easy to find and split and lights quickly. Once it gets going, throw the hardwoods in. It also allows your hardwood to last longer.  Fourth, you do not need to work out in a gym.  Fifth , Make sure you have a good chainsaw and know how to sharpen it by hand in the field. A beat-up 4wd comes in handy too.  Also a good 8lb maul comes in handy for splitting.   However, anything that is huge, I throw in a pile and when I get a big pile, I rent a log-splitter. Also, remember that burning wet and green wood is the number 1 cause of chimney fires.

  • Buck

    Interesting article.  You might want to look into high efficiency stoves, such as Blaze King.  We inherited ours when we bought our rural home.  Once we get it going, it can burn 24 to 48 hours and we can keep it going if we want and never have to start it until spring.  Of course, they’re more $$$.  But, definitely a good idea.
    As for kindling, keep all of the small pieces from splitting for this.  And, again, if you have a good stove, then you don’t need much kindling (besides the shoulder season where you let the stove go out).
    Lastly, I noticed your kindling is a little too close to your house’s siding.  Be careful creating a nice warm home for the critters because their next stop is inside.  ;)

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