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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Heating Your House with Wood, Part I

Hope survives best by the hearth. - Rick Riordan

There is nothing like the comfort of a warm spot in front of the woodstove. Heating the house by woodstove is a way of life. It creates a rhythm to the day, filling the woodstove on a cold day. It is physical and self-sufficient and real. There is no invisible source of heat keeping things comfortable. The source of heat is obvious, tactile and requires your efforts.

Friends talk about coming to our house when electricity goes out and houses get cold. It is known that our house stays warm on those days and provides a haven to others.

woodstove

The key strategy for heating by woodstove is keeping a supply of firewood at the house. Whether you are splitting your own or buying by the cord, you must always think ahead. Running out of fuel is a problem for any system. Know how much firewood you need for the winter. For our 1600 square foot home in Maryland, it is about three cords of wood. Keep at least a cord more than you need, but ideally, stock a whole season ahead. This allows for green wood to ripen before you will need it. Make sure a sufficient stack of firewood is always at hand to keep your heating system at work.

Gathering Fuel

To chop wood or not to chop wood...It takes effort to create woodstove heat. It is not warm with the flick of a switch or the installation of a fuel canister. Phil used to chop our own wood, but started buying cords of wood when we became parents. We have not prioritized chopping our own wood ever since. However, collecting and splitting firewood is a source of exercise and meditation that many enjoy. A tractor and the wood splitter attachment for it are great for processing logs into firewood. Sometimes Freecycle and Craigslist sites will have postings for free wood. Then all you need is a pickup truck and a strong back. Hardwoods are best for woodstove heat.

Stockpile a wood stack close to the house. For us, that is on the deck. The deck keeps it convenient and, most importantly, dry. We have a ramp on the side of the deck, so a wheelbarrow full of wood can be pushed onto the deck. My husband even fills the tractor bucket with wood and drives it so close that the bucket reaches over the front steps. Then he can stack wood onto the deck straight from the tractor bucket. I do not recommend stockpiling wood in the house right next to the woodstove, as that’s a fire hazard.

Every heat source has its benefits and challenges. I like that heating by wood is tactile, dependable, and local. It is also comforting to gather around the fireplace or woodstove on a cold winter day. Rick Riordan’s character, the Greek goddess Hestia, sums it up: “Hope survives best by the hearth.”

Coming Next: Heating Your House with Wood, Part II with challenges and tips.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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