Heating Your Home With Firewood: The Basics
In the dead of winter, there's nothing more comforting than the warm glow of the fireplace. Not only does it provide heat and light, but it also brings a sense of security and comfort. For many, wood burning is the best way to heat their homes. It's economical, environmentally friendly, and provides a level of self-reliance that few other forms of heating can match. If you're new to wood burning, this article will teach you the basics of how to get started.
Is heating exclusively with wood complicated?
When it comes to starting on the independent journey of heating exclusively with wood there is quite a bit to learn. This article will be a brief summary of starting on the path to heat independence and I'll write more in-depth articles covering the finer points down the road.
As with everything, there is no "one size fits all" option when it comes to heating with wood. Every house is different, every budget is different, and I'm writing these articles hoping to help you figure out which path is right for you.
It's up to you to choose how in-depth you want to go, and how deep you want to dive into this wood heat. Some people use it as the occasional Saturday evening fire with the family and some folks literally live or die based on how much wood they have.
Like I said above - this article will serve as a general intro to the world of heat independence. It’s a simple road map to getting started with a few pointers on how not to get murdered by a tree falling on you.
Sourcing Your Wood
The first thing you need to do is find a source of wood. If you have your own land, that's the best place to start. You can cut your own wood and buck it into logs yourself, or hire someone to do it for you. If you don't have access to your own land, there are usually plenty of sources for wood near where you live. Check with your local tree service, firewood dealer, or even ask a neighbor if they have any wood they're looking to get rid of.
On the off chance you own a few pieces of heavy machinery or a truck with some time to spare, I've had neighbors offer me free downed trees so long as I can clear them off their land. Tree removal and land clearing are pretty pricey endeavors so offering to do it just for the opportunity to take the wood for free is a huge win for both you and your neighbor. Sometimes sweat equity is the best form of investment!
Once you have your wood, the next step is to prepare it for burning. You'll need to split the logs into smaller pieces. This can be done with an axe or a log splitter. Once the logs are split, they need to be seasoned, or dried out. Seasoned wood burns more efficiently and produces less smoke than unseasoned wood. To season your wood, stack it in a dry place - and allow it to sit for at least six months.
Processing firewood is pretty simple - so long as you don't get crushed by a tree...
How To Process Your Firewood
1) Find a suitable hardwood tree. You don’t want any kind of softwood as they burn poorly and don’t provide any real, lasting heat. They also create too much creosote, which is the black gunk that clings to the inside of your chimney and causes chimney fires. All wood produces some amount of this - it's the reason your chimney should be cleaned regularly by you or a chimney sweeping service.
2) Fell said tree with an axe, saw, or combination of both. With this step, it is critical that you DO NOT get squished. Always have a clear path away from the tree and always pay attention to what you're doing.
3) Once the tree is on the ground use a saw or axe to buck (cut) the log into lengths that will fit into your fireplace, wood stove, or wood boiler.
4) Split that wood into firewood that will fit into your wood burner - during this step I also like to split a round or two down into kindling so it can dry along with the other firewood. Here are a few of our favorite wood splitters:
5) Stack the wood and let it season (dry) for 6 to 9 months. It's best to stack it on an elevated platform in a sunny area. Remember that wood piles will attract insects, rodents, and other pests so it's best to have your wood stack away from where you live and bring wood from that stack into the house when needed over the winter.
Building A Fire
Now that you have your wood ready to go, it's time to build a fire. The first thing you'll need to do is gather some kindling - small pieces of wood that will catch fire easily. Next comes building the fire. There are many ways to do this so spending some time on YouTube will be a worthwhile investment in your wood heating journey.
Depending on what your wood heat setup looks like different methods will work better or worse for you - so do some experimenting.
For instance - when I start a fire in my fireplace I lay out some bigger pieces of firewood as a floor to build the fire on top. This base of "bigger" wood will catch the smaller coals from the wood above it when it burns and catches these bigger logs on fire. Creating a longer-lasting and more consistent burn through the night. I then build a small log cabin (think Lincoln logs) using my kindling - at the center of that I usually put down a bed of newspaper. On top of that log cabin, I put some smaller pieces of firewood and I'm good to go.
I light the newspaper, which ignites the kindling, which starts the smaller firewood, and as the coals fall the larger base of wood lights up and the fire is good to go.
From there it's just adding a few logs at a time as the fire dies down.
An important thing to note is that at least in a fireplace you never want a roaring fire - that can be very dangerous. A perfect fireplace fire is often underwhelming when you look at it, however, you can rest assured that it's putting off enough heat to keep you cozy.
Wood burning is a great way to keep your home warm, but it's important to use caution. Always make sure your fireplace or wood stove is properly ventilated and never leave a fire unattended.
With a little practice, you'll be an expert at wood burning in no time!
Thanks for reading! I hope this article was helpful in getting you started with wood burning. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Keep your eyes peeled for deeper dives into this subject in the future, until then - Happy heating!
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