The Truth About Homesteading: Heating With Wood

DSCN2932Here it is, 5a.m. and I’m up again.  Now, normally, this is my “get up” time, but today, it’s my “stay up” time.  Along with insight on the work involved in heating your home with wood, I thought I’d share another thing you may not realize about living life on a farm: the perils and PITAs (pain in the arses) of wild animals.

We spent a long day yesterday chopping, splitting and stacking wood to build up our heating supply for the coming winters (chopped wood can take as long as 1 to 2 years to dry enough to burn).  6 hours in all, which was pretty good considering all that we did.  We took down six or eight trees, ranging in diameter from 4 inches to 8 inches or so.  None of them were super tall, so we only had to get the ladder out for one tree.  One thing you should know about heating your home with wood is that there is a lot of work involved for what seems like a little benefit.  But before I get to that, I’d better finish the story about the wild animals.

SO, after six hours of chopping wood, we made a quick run to the grocery store for some snacks, watched a bit of TV, and then hit the sack, exhausted after a hard day’s work, but grateful for more wood in the wood shed.  At 1 a.m. we awoke to the sound of wolves howling nearby.

Now, being woken by this sound at 1 a.m. will scare the crap out of you, let me tell ya.  With our two horses in the paddock and a few dozen horses next door, we got scared real quick at the sound of wolves, who find prey animals such as horses a fine cuisine delight.  Once we turned the outside lights on the howling ceased, and a quick search by Rick of our area and the 80 vacant acres across the street (12 gauge and a commercial flashlight in hand) turned up nothing, thank goodness, but by then I was wound up.  My husband, being a man, simply shut the window to drown out anymore howling and went back to sleep, but as I lay awake freaking out, I heard more noise outside.  Oldest daughter did too, and she met me in the hallway for a quick search again of the yard.  There, sitting on our back step, was a giant raccoon, sniffing at our shoes (we keep the barn/yardwork shoes outside: stinky!).  When he saw me open the window he ran off quickly, and was long gone before I would’ve had the chance to grab a gun or wake Rick.  But suffice to say, there was no going back to sleep for me at this point, so I got all of my week’s freelancing done and am feeling ready to hit the sack again soon, finally.

But first, onto our story.

If you choose to heat your home with wood in your homesteading journey, you need to know a few things.

First: Safety is paramount.  Tree parts can fall quickly in directions you didn’t think they’d go, they’re heavy and have the potential to produce back and other injuries when not handled carefully, and branches can snap back when cut improperly, resulting in potentially serious injury or death.  Not to mention the dangers associated with chainsaws and log splitters.
If you choose to cut your own wood for burning in your wood stove, please research and educate yourself thoroughly on proper safety techniques involved in chopping down trees.

Safety gear is also of the utmost importance, starting with eyewear and head protection, like Rick is wearing here:


Second: know that providing and preparing your own wood for heating is a heck of a lot of work. 
Luckily, since I’ve been eating healthy and exercising regularly over the last two weeks, my energy and strength levels have doubled, making me more prepared for the job we did today. Also, we’ve got a good 3-4 acres of thick woods on our land, so that helps as far as availability goes.

 

 

All six of us worked our tails off, and after 6 hours, we hauled away three trailers full of leaves and brush to the back woods:

SSCN1696This is one of the smaller loads.  Which reminds me of another lesson we learned: gathering wood for heating will be easier if you do it in the spring before the trees bud, or in the fall after the leaves have fallen.  Collecting wood in the middle of summer only leads to more work due to the heavy leaf loads.

 

 

 

 

 

All said and done, after 4 hours of hard work, we ended up with this:

SSCN1697These two piles (see the pile of little logs up top) will probably give us three days or so of heat – maybe less.  So, after 4 hours of chopping and cleanup, and another 2 hours of splitting and stacking, we have heat for 2-3 days.  Before you buy that homestead, make sure you’re prepared for the amount of work that goes into heating your home.  Another thing you should know?  That trailer full or pile of wood you see is bigger than it looks.  Every time we thought Rick surely had to be done splitting, it looked like the pile in the trailer had hardly diminished at all.  Why do log piles seem to be so endless when you’re making them, yet so small when you’re burning them? 🙂

In spite of all the work, I know we’ll be glad we did it when winter comes ’round and we can have a warm and comfy house without paying through the nose for propane or electric heat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of The Truth About Homesteading.   If you haven’t read the first issue, you can find it here. Have an awesome Sunday, my friends!

41 comments

  1. Nicola says:

    I love this post – my parents have a house which is heated by a fire so I know how much work goes into getting enough fuel to burn. My aim one day is to live somewhere with a roaring fire in the living room, even if it’s hard work. I really admire and envy your lifestyle, though the wolves would have scared me big time. I wonder where they went to? Hope you’re having a good day.

  2. Nice cat!

    Do you use a hydraulic splitter or a maul? I’ve only used a maul in the past but I’ve never heated with wood full time. I think I’d quickly be interested in a splitter if I had to put away a winter’s worth of fuel!

    Do you target specific species of wood for fuel harvest, or just go after trees that are in the way / convenient? I guess I have no idea if 3-4 acres of woods is a large enough reserve for a sustainable harvest for home heating?

    Love this series, thanks for posting!

    • Laurie says:

      🙂 Thanks, Mr. FW! Yeah, we have a hydraulic splitter, thank God. I can’t imagine doing all of this without one – that thing splits logs like a knife in warm butter!! Ideally, oak and other heavy wood types are best for burning, but we just go after what needs to be taken down. Our 3-4 acres of woods are pretty dense, so it’s plenty of reserve for us, plus, we’ve got several large old trees around the house that really should be taken down: those will help with our stockpile as well. One day we’d love to have 50 or so acres, and in that case, we’d shoot for 15 or so acres of woods to make sure we’re sustainable with wood burning for a long period of time. For a smaller type of lot, I’d look for a minimum of 4 to 5 acres of dense woods.

  3. Wow when I read that that amount of work only heats the house for 2-3 days my jaw dropped! Wow that’s a lot of work for that amount of time! I’ll stick to the “wood chop” exercise at my gym and heat my tiny apt with gas. 🙂 Seriously though, I think it’s really cool what you guys are doing. The pay off (I hope) is cozy’ing up to a warm fireplace and the awesome smell of the wood burning?

  4. We heat with wood because oil furnaces are still king here and my landlord couldn’t afford it if he tried. So he has an outdoor furnace wired in and he has someone who watches it in the winter since it is still running a boiler. So he buys the wood not cut and then does it by hand. I can’t imagine doing it straight from your own land, though that is what my grandparents do.

    • Laurie says:

      Interesting, Alicia!! Didn’t know that oil furnaces were still so popular there. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it develops some serious strong biceps. 🙂

  5. Autumn @ The Barefoot Budgeter says:

    I know it’s worth it and there is so much satisfaction in being able to provide for yourself, but wow that is a lot of work. I do enjoy hearing about all of the ins and outs of this lifestyle, even on the less than glamorous days. I dream of the day when I can be as awesome :).

  6. I honestly cannot believe all the work that goes into providing wood to heat your home! Crazy! It sounds like it’s a great workout, though. 🙂 And I hear ya on the wild animals. We live in a very wooded part of New York and the second night in our rental home up here we literally heard a fox (or something like that, but we do have a fox problem) attack something in our front yard (there was a big overgrowth of bushes in our front yard). I was awake the entire night and freaked about what else was roaming around at night around our home. Thankfully you and your animals are all safe.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s terrific on the workout aspect. 🙂 Wow – that’s crazy about the fox!!! The animal thing can get scary, especially for us girls who grew up in the cities/suburbs. I was so thankful that the barn cats had all come home and were safely locked up. The horses, too, seemed unconcerned, which leads me to believe the wolves must not have been too close. So, did you take those overgrown bushes down? I know we took ours down in large part to take away wild animal hiding spaces. 🙂

  7. Will says:

    I’ve cut and split a lot of wood in my day. As long as I get a good workout it makes it alright. That way, we’re saving money on wood and getting a workout as well.

    It’s like riding a bicycle. Sure, it takes more time than driving a car but since you’re also getting a workout – you’re actually saving time. Driving a car and also having to go to a gym takes way longer.

    You should see a log splitter we use sometimes. Looks like something out of a horror film. Since I’m not on the farm to snap a pic I’ll try to find a link…

    Alright this is what we use to split big logs: http://goo.gl/txZ1aI

    • Laurie says:

      I’ll bet you have, Will, and you’re so right about the great workout. LOL, Will, that does look like something directly out of a horror film: funny!!! I think I like our hydraulic log splitter better. 🙂

  8. It always seems to me that wood burns really fast and doesn’t provide all that much heat (although the later, I will confess, may be the product of an inefficient distribution system). Given how much work chopping the wood takes (or how much you have to pay for someone to do it for you) I’ve always wondered if the fire place was worth the effort for heat. Smooching is another matter entirely!

    • Laurie says:

      I think it depends on a lot of things. If you have to buy the wood or pay someone to chop/split/stack, yeah, I’d say it wasn’t worth it, but in our case, we’ll save tons of cash, so definitely worth the effort right now.

  9. jim says:

    Laurie,
    I loved this article – thanks! Reminded me of the days when we used to split wood – oh I have turned into such a wuss. Now I just flip a switch. I always thought I’d hate a gas fire place, but you’ve now reminded me why I don’t (although you still don’t get the same thing as a real wood burning fireplace). As for the wolves – ha! Been there and done that. Now all we’re contending with are coyotes.

  10. Amy says:

    I love these posts, Laurie!

    Holy cow that looks like a lot of work!! I have so much respect for what you’re doing. And I may be wishing we did a similar thing once we get our first propane delivery this fall…

    • Laurie says:

      Tell me, Amy!!! We are going to fill up in a week or two, just to get those lower summer prices, and then hope it lasts through the winter with the wood as our primary heating source.

  11. I was fairly young when my family owned and lived on a farm, but I can remember being 7 and trying to help my dad chop wood. It was so much work for him. The only heat source we had was a wood burning stove, so he didn’t have many other options, but looking back on it, it really was A LOT of work.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Kalen, that is interesting. I always think when we’re chopping wood about those who heat with wood because they have no other choice. That makes it a totally different ball game.

  12. “Why do log piles seem to be so endless when you’re making them, yet so small when you’re burning them?” My Dad always used to say the same exact thing. He had a wood burning stove for years, he moved about three years ago and doesn’t anymore, but always complained about the same exact thing. I’d imagine the whole process makes you awfully thankful to have that provision of the wood while also saving money during the winter. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny, John!! You know, there is something gratifying and secure feeling knowing that we’ve got a wood stove and all of that wood back there to burn if need be. And the money savings helps too. 🙂

  13. FI Pilgrim says:

    Laurie, this takes me back to my childhood a bit. 🙂 I come from a family of 7 children (I’m the oldest), and we grew up in a small 1920’s-era farmhouse. My dad installed a wood-burning stove in the middle of the house and that’s what we used for heat all winter.

    We knew that each fall we would have to cut down approximately 10 trees in order to get 14 trailer-loads of firewood, which would heat our home for the winter. We live in the southeast so our “winter” is really only around 3 months long.

    Anyway, it was a TON of work, just like you describe, and most Saturdays in the fall consisted of wood cutting and college football for us. I’m not anxious to get back to that schedule either…

    Thanks for the story, and the memories!

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, FI Pilgrim – interesting!!! I am always in awe of families that raise their kids that way, and it’s obvious that you’ve gained a great work ethic and sense of responsibility in the process. Thanks for sharing your story – I appreciate it!

  14. That sounds like a ton of work, but pretty good exercise, too. I had no idea how much wood it would take to heat a home for three days — yikes! But good on you guys for getting a big head start on the winter!

  15. james says:

    Dude, brought back many memories of cutting and splitting wood as a boy. When I left home and my parents sold the house there was about 6 cords of wood split and stacked for the new owners. I still have the muscles to prove it all these years later.

    But, seriously, you should look in to building a rocket stove. It will give you more heat with less wood! Just do an internet search and you will find more information than you can use.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny about the muscles: reminds me of my uncle who was a gymnast in high school: he’s still got serious muscles at 70 years of age! Thanks for the tip on the rocket stove: sounds like we wouldn’t be insurable with one. 🙁

  16. Ms. LoL says:

    My parents have a wood burning stove and it is the most amazing, inviting feeling in the winter. (And where they live it gets VERY cold and snowy.) It is centrally located, too, so they almost never have to use the propane furnace. I will admit, though, that we had a gas one when I was a teenager and I loved to just run that thing until it felt like summer inside. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      That’s our goal this year, Mrs. LOL – minimal to no usage of the propane furnace. I can’t wait to sit in front of a warm and cozy fire. 🙂

  17. I loved reading this post Laurie! My Aunt and Uncle heat their home entirely from their fireplace and insert, and I can’t believe how much work goes into it. The utility company actually came out this summer and took down a bunch of branches (it’s so rural that they get out about once every 20 years), so my uncle was pretty pleased to get someone else to cut the wood for him!

    • Laurie says:

      Interesting, Ryan!! Yes, we’ve been the recipient too, of others’ unwanted wood/trees. What a great blessing that is!

Comments are closed.