Make Heating with Wood Easier

Heating with wood can be a real life-saver.

Where I live now (Philadelphia), people pay eight dollars at the supermarket for a little plastic bag of birch to burn for an hour or two during the holiday get-together.

Where I grew up in northern Vermont, wood burning is a different beast entirely, and it can be a beast.  In the bad old days, people had to burn cords and cords of wood to stay alive.  They had to get up several times a night to feed several stoves.  Summer months meant cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking.  However, you can benefit from wood heat without losing your will to live.

indoor outdoor thermometer
Common temps on a Vermont winter morning.

Reasons to heat with wood

Environmental reasons to heat with wood

Many less-informed environmentalists see heating with wood as an unforgivable practice.  However, the actual environmental impact of burning the wood is almost carbon neutral. The carbon released by the burning is the same as the carbon released from a tree rotting on the forest floor.

You do want to make sure that your firewood is harvested sustainably and locally. The machinery and transportation have an obvious impact, but if you are responsible in acquiring your firewood, it is much less harmful than heating with electricity, oil, or gas. Do these urban hippies think that their apartment buildings are heated by positive feelings?


Economic reasons to heat with wood

Heating with wood can range from very affordable to free. Even if the firewood is being purchased and delivered, homes heating with wood spend a fraction of what other homes use.  Depending on the home and location, this could save thousands of dollars a year.  Where I live, hardwood firewood is currently $225 a cord, they will even stack it for another $60. Furthermore, firewood prices are not as susceptible to market fluctuations.   You do not need to cut off your other forms of heat to save big by supplementing your heating with wood.

firewood ends
The savings stack up.

If you are determined, your firewood can be free.  Even where I live finding wood to burn is pretty easy.  I can go to the one of the city’s organic recycling centers (where they dispose of fallen trees) and cut all the wood that I can carry.  By the way, you meet some interesting characters if you go to do this.

Burning wood to prep for the zombie apocalypse

After a long day of fending off zombies, you will want to relax in warmth.  The zombies at the utility company are even less useful than they were before the outbreak.  If your heating methods are less dependent on civilization, you will have nothing to worry about…well…except zombies, medical care, finding food, etc.


Heating with wood need not be backbreaking or inconvenient

If you are having your firewood delivered, heating with wood can actually be pretty easy.  Read the tips below.  A bit of thought and planning makes all the difference.

Key tips for heating with wood

Think about firewood delivery.

Can the truck get the wood to where it needs to be, or will you be doing excess lugging? It is not unreasonable to plan you landscaping, driveway, etc. around firewood delivery.  If you need to tear down a garden shed or extend a driveway so that the truck can get closer to where it needs to be, do it.  It will pay dividends for years to come.

Run a tight ship.

Double check the weather stripping on windows and doors.  Check for drafts.  Use interior storm windows. Window sealing kits and spray foam can go a long way.  A 15-minute fix might save you a ton of work (literally).

Fireplaces are very efficient, but only at wasting wood, time, money, and heat.

If the ambiance is worth it to you, fine, but don’t pretend that you are heating. The warm air is being sucked right out of the house. If you do have a fireplace, make sure that the damper closes tightly and that your are closing it faithfully.  Have you ever noticed how the inside of the dryer is cold because it is connected to the outside?  Your chimney is doing this to the whole house.  A chimney is continuously drawing warm air from the house through convection.  The removed air is creating negative air pressure that sucks cold air in wherever it can. If your fireplace has no damper and you rarely use it, stick a nasty clump of un-faced fiberglass insulation up the flu to stop the flow of air. (Make a sign so that everyone knows the fireplace is not ready for use!)

charming fireplace
I love this fireplace, but it is just for ambiance.

Use the right stove.

During my childhood, we had a beautiful, wood burning cook stove in the kitchen.  It was charming, but for heating it was under-powered, inefficient, and messy.  We replaced that stove with modern stove.

Use a stove that seals up tight, allows you to control the air flow, and has a secondary burn (note the perforated tubes at the top of the burn chamber in the clip below).  The secondary action burns up flammable gases and some pollutants.  You burn more completely and cleanly.  You want the stove to burn hot while taking in little air from the room.  Once it is properly set, the fire will almost seem to be burning in slow motion (see clip below).  Your wood burns longer while minimizing the heat being lost up the chimney.  As an added benefit, the air quality in the home is much better with a modern wood burning stove.

efficient wood burning stove
This stove works great. I leave the electric blower off though, too noisy.


glenwood stove
The old Glenwood waiting to go to a new home.

Close the dampers and doors when the stove is not in use.

A chimney is a tube that convects warm air from the house into the atmosphere.  It will still do this when the fire is out.  Have you ever noticed how cold the inside of the dryer is due to the exhaust vent?  The chimney is doing this to your whole house.

Suffocate the fire over night.

With modern stoves, you can load them up, close the air intake almost completely, and leave them all night.  In the morning, you will have enough coals to get the fire blazing in no time.

Minimize transport.

Store the wood as close to its final destination as possible.  Make the delivery route as easy as possible.  Use a hand truck like the one shown to make fewer trips. Handheld wood carriers are great only if your goal is the brutalize your hands and the door casings.

hand truck for wood
This porch gets loaded with wood in the fall.

Minimize handling.

Don’t handle the wood six times before it burns.  The optimum number of times is zero, which is possible if you can find some chump who thinks this chore is “charming.”  Try blackmailing the neighbor kids into doing your summer stacking.  Rolling carts are excellent because you stack once and then leave the cart by the stove.  If you are loading the cart and then re-stacking next to the stove, you are adding an unnecessary step.

wood stove and firewood

Make Heating with Wood Easier Conclusions

Of course, safety is key.  Make sure that you follow all of the instructions for your stove regarding installation, clearances, maintenance etc…  Burn well-seasoned hardwoods and have your flu cleaned regularly by a qualified technician.  Make sure that you have enough smoke detectors and that they are in working order.

If you put some thought into your system, heating with wood can be a pleasant, economical, safe, and environmentally responsible way to go.

One thought

  1. When cutting extra large trees for firewood, i always cut uphill from my truck, into short rounds. i will then roll these rounds down the hill and up a ramp into my truck. when home, i park uphill from where i stack and split and roll the rounds to the wood pile. short rounds are really easy to split, and the pieces can fit two deep into the stove.

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