Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lessons learned -- Wood heating

Blogger Mama Pea recently wrote a post on "Getting in wood", which inspired me to write a (slightly cheeky) update on our own heating adventures.

Back in December 2008 (seems so long ago!) I wrote a post on "Winter prep, homesteading-style." In it, I described how we used a combination of an external wood furnace and a Elmira cookstove to heat our home and garage.

We still do, but we've learned some lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Deciding you want to harvest wood from your own woodlot is easy. Actually doing it, especially when the primary tree cutter/harvester/splitter is working 60 hour work weeks, is much harder.

Lesson #2: Buying logs is easier, especially when compared to harvesting it yourself. Or chasing down above-mentioned tree cutter/harvester/splitter.

Lesson #3: Cutting, splitting and stacking those logs isn't as easy as buying them.

Lesson #3b: Finding a kind-hearted friend (yes you, Dr. B), especially one with a heavy-duty wood splitter, a fancy tractor equipped with a grapple and a free weekend, to help you mow through your massive woodpile makes life so very much more pleasant. And warmer.

Lesson #4: If you think you have enough wood to last the season, cut and stack more -- especially if you don't have enough seasons under your belt to base your opinion on. We thought that log order would last us two full winters. Evidently, we were wrong.

This is our woodshed. It's only mid-March. Insert panic here.

Lesson #5: Desperate situations call for desperate actions. Translation: When it's January, minus 30 degrees out and you're rationing wood, buying a cord that's already cut and split is super easy.

Lesson #5b: Especially when you have lots of little hands to help unload it.

Lesson #5c: It's also way more expensive. We won't be doing that again. Guess I'll just have to knit more...

Lesson #6: When you compare the dollar cost of buying wood versus an annual gas or oil bill, bought wood still comes out ahead -- but not by as much as I expected.

Lesson 6b: In the long- and short-term, wood has the feel-good factor of being more sustainable than fossil fuels, environmentally and financially. It also provides us with a tremendous sense of independence, despite having to buy 'processed' wood this year. Put differently, when oil hits $200 a barrel, our home -- and our children -- will still be warm.

Lesson 6c: I'm not convinced our external wood furnace is the way to go. It's convenient, but hungry. We're considering our options. That, too, is expensive.

Lesson #7: The biggest and our most underestimated 'cost' of heating with wood is time: you need lots of time to harvest, cut, split and stack it, plus time for seasoning. In a perfect, or maybe just functional, world we'd be putting up wood for the 2012 or even 2013 winter, not scrambling to get through this one. But with Lucas working as much as he has the past 18 months, it's been a challenge to carve out the time needed to get ahead. Challenging, but not impossible; I know we'll get there.

Lesson #8: Despite all the headaches we experienced this past year using wood for fuel, it's one of the things that I'll truly miss when Old Man Winter finally gets to rest.


Mama Pea said...

Oh. My. Everything you say is so true. When we think of all the wood we have in our woods that would be FREE for the burning . . . but it's not as easy as that. We have no way of getting it in from the woods to the wood working area so for the time being we keep buying those logger's trucks full of the 8' lengths such as you pictured. Plus harvesting our own wood would add even more time to the whole wood preparation routine. All we can do is keep striving to make it as sensible and economical as possible. At the same time, we feel so fortunate to have the CHOICE to heat with wood!

fiona@fionacampbell.ca said...

Well said, Mama Pea. I might have sounded grumbly, but we wouldn't heat our home any other way (except maybe geothermal... but that's UBER expensive!) We just have to get the logistics figured out, that's all. Give us another 10 - 15 years. :)

mtnchild said...

You warm yourself many, many times when dealing with wood - just like Mama Pea said in her post! I've lived here for 9 winters, and haven't had to buy wood yet. The power company contracts with Trees Inc. to keep our power lines/poles standing - I got lucky, they cut down 3 large trees and that, with what's left in my wood shed will carry me through the winter of 2012. I use about 3 cords.

I cannot burn at the moment with my surgery ... I also have to sit on the floor to load up the stove and that is hard on the arthritis (along with the bum)... Good grief, I sound old and infirm!!! I just get a bit stiff all over in the winter ...

What kind of wood are you burning? Mine is Juniper; nice and hot!! and lasts quite a while too.

936000 said...

Oh this made me laugh and laugh-thank you!
I too heat with only a wood stove, so I know where you are coming from. It is always such a nice plan,er dream to have wood "drying" in the yard for next year isn't it? LOLOLOLOL!
Re Yvettes' comment, I too use about 3 cord. I burn a mix of cedar and pinon-love the scent!!!
Thanks again for the needed LOL!

Erin said...

Excellent post! I agree, there's just something about heating with wood that is such a GOOD feeling - I hope to have that feeling in a few years! We are electric heat pump out here,ugh!

fiona@fionacampbell.ca said...

Yvette -- I've heard that quote before about warming yourself many, many times, and it always rings so true.
I would love to burn only three cords -- we went through almost three times that, but we're heating the house and garage. Still, those external wood furnaces eat A LOT. That's why we're considering our options -- perhaps a high-efficiency woodstove on the mainfloor or a wood furnace in the basement?
We burn a combination of hard wood, though at this point, we're burning softwood too!

Calling Ravens -- glad to hear I've got a kindred spirit in the 'dream' department, lol!

Erin -- good feeling is right. And knowing you, when you start heating with wood, you'll have it all cut, split, stacked, organized, cross-referenced, rearranged and catalogued five years out! ;)

Genevieve said...

Thank you for such an informative post. I am planning to put a small wood stove in my home this fall & I am looking into wood options.

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