Staying Warm; Firewood

Amanda and I read a haunting piece on AlterNet recently entitled 5 Pieces of Advice for the New Paupers. The whole piece is worth reading, but the part that informs today’s post is about the necessity of finding a reliable way to keep warm: “You won’t even want food much after a while. You’ll want heat itself, not the chemical middleman. You are going to realize that cold is the most frightening thing in the world. In older English dialects, ‘to starve’ meant ‘to freeze.’ You will see why.” Ooh. Gets your attention, doesn’t it? It got ours, and consequently, we have been unusually attentive to finding ways to stay warm.

regency-f1100We have purchased and will be installing in the barn a Regency F1100 wood stove. It’s a little oversized for our little 600 square foot living space, but it’s the smallest advanced wood stove (burns more completely, needs less wood, pollutes less) we could find, and it’s equipped with a heat shield that allows us to hug the wall with it, freeing up more of the middle of the room for living. We bought it from the closest dealer we could find, Professional Chimney Services in Columbus, GA. Because of a special offer, our stove comes equipped with an accessory we doubt we’ll use often, an electric fan to force air through it and improve the heating efficiency. Ken and Traci at Professional Chimney Services have fixed us up with all the fittings they say we will need. Amanda and I drove over to Columbus in our semi-trusty pickup 1-Ho; the stove and all the fittings fit easily in the back of the truck. We plan to install the stove ourselves, being ever so careful when we actually penetrate the roof! We have had a low-tech wood burning fireplace for 30 years, and over that time I have stacked, unstacked, and restacked armload after armload of firewood. I wanted to figure out a way to minimize that, so Amanda and I have designed and built 12 firewood pallets. We fashioned them of treated pine and used steel pipe nipples to hold them together. Each pallet holds about 1/4 cord, and we’ve now filled 6 pallets, or about 1 1/2 cords. Lest anyone convince you otherwise, let me just stop and point out that a cord, a real cord, is a LOT of firewood. In technical terms, it’s a pile of solid (split) wood 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high, or 128 cu. ft. Fill up a full-sized pickup (no toolbox) level at the brim, and you

may have 1/2 a cord. Our hope is that once we cut and split a stick of wood (we try to cut everything to about 17 inches) and stack it on a pallet, we won’t touch that stick again until we take it off the pallet to put it in the stove. All the moving around, and there is some moving needed, will be with the help of Tractor. We will keep one working pallet and two full storage pallets under roof at all times, so we always have plenty of dry wood ready to go. Until it’s time for a pallet to come under roof, our intention right now at least is to leave it out in the sun and rain. Another digression: we’re quite proud that we have cut, split, and stacked 1 1/2 cords of firewood using our gasoline-powered chain saw and our gasoline-powered hydraulic splitter. I learned not long ago on the PBS series Frontier House that a family of frontier settlers in Montana in the late 19th century needed four cords of wood to get through the winter, all cut with a hand-powered crosscut saw and split with a splitting maul. I stand in awe of the kind of discipline and energy that must have required. We honestly don’t know how much wood we will burn in a season. We know we will be in a well-insulated space (unlike those frontier settlers) and that the winters in Elmore County are relatively mild, and all the modern wood stoves (including ours) burn with an efficiency the frontier settlers could only have dreamed about. So we assume we will burn a good bit less than four cords in a winter. We’ll let you know how that turns out. We have numbered our pallets in sequence, 1 through 12. We have filled 6 so far, and hope to fill the others during the Spring and Summer, even as we continue to work on the interior of the barn. Most of our firewood is oak and hickory, but we have included some sweetgum, maple, and dogwood too. No, we didn’t cut down dogwoods for fuel; all these trees were either dead or had to come down for the barn. The manufacturer of our stove says it will burn pine just fine, and we’re planning to put it to the test. Pallets 4 and 5 each have a good bit of pine, so when we get to them we will find out how pine burns. We won’t add any more pine until we see how we fare with the pine we’ve already cut. We have opted not to add a propane heater in the barn. We will add 2-4 incandescent heat lamps on the suggestion of our friend Daryl Bergquist. Daryl pointed out that, at 250 watts, they are relatively cheap to operate, particularly for the short bursts for which we plan to use them. We will put one in the bathroom (Earl Butz would be proud), and we will place one over the bed. Not sure about any others at this point. The other thing we’re doing to keep warm is that we have placed four casement windows on the south side of the apartment. We don’t yet know how much of a difference this will make in the temperature of the barn, but we know we like to sit there now in the winter time and soak up the sunshine, so we have high hopes.

5 thoughts on “Staying Warm; Firewood”

  1. Hello

    I’ve burned a lot of wood over the years in my wood stove. Here in Ontario (Canada) sugar maple, oak and beech are really good but pine is great, especially for getting the fire started! I cut most of my wood with a chainsaw but use a splitting maul to chop it up. That’s good exercise and heats you up really well when you’re doing it even on a cold day!

  2. Thanks William,

    My brother is convinced the pine will smoke us out and that we’ll quickly abandon it. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to hear from you that it’s working well for you.

    You’re absolutely right about the benefits of splitting your firewood by hand. One day, perhaps . . . One day.

    Peace.

  3. Found you on The Oil Drum. Nice read here.
    I live in Alaska and dry softwood requires repeated stoking and won’t last overnight, but for your latitude and home size I can’t imagine you’ll use more than a cord a year.
    But for those of us who live someplace colder, reading about your firewood handling system is wonderful. Write more with images.
    Cold Camel

  4. The main concern I would have with pine would be coating the chimney or flue with soot. Heavy buildup will eventually create a fire in the stack and that’s something you don’t want.

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