Sustainable Woodlot Management for Home Heating

Reader Contribution by Vicki Mattern
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How big a woodlot would I need to heat my home with wood for the entire winter? 

According to an old rule of thumb in woodlot management, a healthy, well-managed woodlot can yield half a cord of wood per acre per year. But there’s more to consider, says John Gulland, a wood heat expert and MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributing editor. The size of your home, the efficiency of your woodstove, your climate and length of winter, the wood species that grow where you live — these will affect how many cords you’ll need and how large your woodlot should be.

A well-insulated, modest-sized home using a high-efficiency woodstove may need only two cords of hardwood, cut from 4 acres, per season. On the other hand, if you live in a cold location where softwoods are predominant, you will need more wood and a larger woodlot. (Softwoods produce less energy than hardwoods, which are denser.) For a rough idea of how many cords you’ll need to heat your home all winter, check with others in your area who burn wood as their primary heat, Gulland suggests.

In any case, you will want to manage your lot sustainably to maximize your long-term firewood harvest. You’ll foster a healthy ecosystem for all of the species that coexist on your land. According to Gulland, sustainable woodlot management means selective harvesting — thinning dense stands and removing poorer-quality trees — while maintaining the site and soil, and leaving a diversity of seed trees as well as some standing dead trees for wildlife. For more info, see Heating With Wood: Why Wood Heat Is Renewable Energy, and visit Wood Heat, Gulland’s website.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Photo by Fotolia 

Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .

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