All Burned Up

Dale stacking woodI love heating with the woodstove, as I’ve noted before, it kept us warm and fed us hot meals during the 8-day power outage through the ice storm last year. Especially this year when our finances have been tight, I’ve been glad that our electricity or propane costs haven’t skyrocketed trying to heat our home.

All it has taken to keep our home warm this year is some sweat equity and it has proven to be a lot of work for these former suburbanites.

Besides cutting, splitting and stacking, it’s an ongoing chore each day feeding the woodburning stove and keeping it going, especially when I spend most of my time in The Belle Writer’s Studio where we have a heat pump heating system. I have to remember to go and check the stove in The Little House every 2-3 hours and make sure it is still keeping the house warm.

We burn an average of three wheel barrels full of wood each week, but during the harsh cold blast and snowy days at the end of December through the first of January, the stove was eating the wood much faster. Dale was doing good keeping up with the chopping and splitting each weekend.

That changed last week. Luckily, it turned warmer and we have even been only feeding the stove with little pieces of wood at night to take off the chill. Dale also has more time, which is a positive to his employment situation. There’s always something to be done  at Campbell Town.

He’s been concentrating his efforts on retrieving and cutting up trees that fell during last year’s ice storm, trying to get our winter wood supply stocked for the rest of this year, as well as picking up trees our friends and neighbors have voluntarily downed so it can begin to season for our heat for next winter.

This area lost so many trees during the ice storm and wood became a real overstocked supply. I know a cord of wood can go for up to $150 in the city, maybe even more now that it’s been a few years since we bought it, but people can hardly give it away here. Regularly, we will see ads in the paper for people offering free wood, if someone will only cut it and haul it away. Last week, one of our friends literally begged Dale to come and take what he had already cut from his property.

We’ve learned a few things about heating with a woodburning stove that might prove helpful to someone who will be doing it next year:

  • Even if a tree is downed, the wood doesn’t season well unless it is chopped and split. If you want seasoned wood for next year, you should already be chopping and splitting today.
  • Buy the proper tools. We found our dinky chain saw, made more for small trimming chores in suburbia, was no match for cutting up entire trees. Dale’s dream saw is approximately $500. Same goes for a log splitter, a good one is expensive. While Dale is still agile enough to hand split, he could not get the volume we would need split for an entire winter. Luckily, we have some very good neighbors who have loaned us their chainsaw and splitter this year.
  • Having the flue inspected and cleaned at least once a year just doesn’t apply to fireplaces. We failed to have the stovepipe cleaned this year and can hear the creosote sometimes falling down the pipe. Fires terrify me. Well worth scraping up the $100 or so.
  • Keep some summer t-shirts and shorts handy. If you have a quality stove, it may heat up quicker than you would ever expect!
  • The amount of dust these things generate is amazing. Be prepared to clean often!

If you heat using a woodstove or fireplace insert, can you think of any other tips?

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14 Responses

  1. MarthaandMe says:

    We have a fireplace in our living room that we only use a few times a year. On the days when we do use it, I am amazed at how warm that room gets. We had a big storm a few years ago that left us without power for over a week. Fortunately we were able to get our generator going and use it to run the furnace, but for a day or two we heated just with the fireplace. I love the way a fire looks and feels.

  2. We average 4-5 cords a year and have done this for almost 20 years…thats a lot of wood. We keep our furnace set to 58 and if we want it warmer we build a fire…most years it runs near 24/7 for 5 months..we have what a lot of our neighbors say is 9 months of winter…I have shoveled snow in may and September…and we have watched the fireworks on the 4th inside while a light snow was falling. I’m jealous of you folks further east that have a ready supply of hard wood…we burn mostly pine here in the Rockies…and it runs 150 to 200 a cord. Oak here is 350 to 400. Now an then we get some pinon, which is our “hardwood” it smells great and makes for some nice coals. Timber grown in a high desert is more dense, and burns longer, another favorite in juniper.

    We just got our first (and hopefully last ) propane bill of the season..$600. They last filled us in Oct. and we hope to get through the rest of the winter with this fill. We are looking forward to the Modified Earthship we plan to build on our land in NM…its 5-10 years out but will be 100% off grid and passively heated by solar…no more $$$$ propane bills!

    • I’m wondering, since you have to buy wood to burn, does it really save that much in propane bills?
      Off the grid sounds heavenly. I look forward to the day when we can take The Little House completely solar.

      • If we were not burning so much wood the furnace would be running a lot more…and with propane at $3.00 a gallon…we would be using about $400 a month…we will use a cord in a month..roughly…so our bill is about 1/2 of what it would be…If I could get wood for free…that would be great

  3. Jennifer M says:

    WOW! Who’s the hottie chopping wood?

  4. I love the warmth from our woodstove and knowing if there was ever a power outage we would still be warm. We are fortunate that we get our wood already cut and ready to burn from our son who owns a shed company and gives us all we need for free.
    A tip would be to have a cast iron water kettle
    on top of the stove to keep dry skin at bay.

  5. David N. says:

    Kerri, what kind of woodstove do you have? I have had friends with Scandinavian-style air-tight stoves that could be extremely well regulated, and which lasted quite a bit more than two hours at a burn. Also, though, people living in the North should seriously look at masonry heaters–usually, one burn a day heats the house well–perhaps a second burn on the absolute coldest days there. These also can easily incorporate a bake oven. See for info.

    • Thanks for the info, David. We have a Regency, very nice model. It doesn’t necessarily burn all we put in every 2-3 hours, but I burn it hot during the day when it is really cold so the heat will kind of build up and last throughout the night. I need to go over and stoke it every 2-3 hours. The stove will last a good 7-8 hours on its own throughout the night.

  6. kerri says:

    Wow, that’s great, Alexandra! That’s wonderful of your town to do that.
    I also think it’s such a waste when construction companies clear a site of the trees and push them off into a burn pile!

  7. Alexandra says:

    Yes, I was surprised by the dust.

    Our town has started a neat feature at the dump: on Fridays local carpenters can drop off bits and pieces of lumber and woodstove-owners can come pick them up as what my husband calls “starters.” The supply goes fast. Last week we lucked out with good timing to a carpenter’s drop-off and were able to fill the back of our Volvo.