Rural Survival

 

Wood Heat

Wood heat is great if firewood is close by, ideally on your land. With the ever rising cost of gas and diesel, going further than 4 miles to get wood seems cost inefficient. One would be better served to spend the money instead towards home energy efficiency. See Home Insulation.

A cord is a unit of measurement for firewood that is 128 cubic feet by volume or a stack 4'x4'x8'. Roughly we use between 4 and 5 cords a year to heat a 2400 sq ' home with a medium sized wood stove.

We also use electric oil filled radiator type heaters you can get at Home Depot or Walmart for under $40 in all the bedrooms and bathrooms for supplementary heating when needed. The oil in the radiator retains heat making these thermostat controlled heaters efficient.

When the home is well insulated, any type of wood, as long as it is dry, will be fine for firewood. It does not have to be premium wood with the highest Btu ratings. That makes firewood easier and cheaper to get.


A cord of wood is a stack measuring 4'x4'x8' or 128 cubic feet.

Not every piece needs to be split, if it'll fit in the stove.
Extra Long Wood Stove
Extra long stove for 3' logs mean less cutting.

My belief is if the wood is not on your land, it would be better to have a log truck load delivered instead of going out to get some and save the time, wear and tare on your equipment and yourself. Getting fire wood is a lot of hard work. A log truck load is usually about 12 cords and the cost is typically $1000 to $2000+ depending on the tree species, availability and the distance of haul. 12 cords should last 2 to 4 years depending on how well insulated a house is. Birch, Larch and Douglas Fir are the premium fire wood in our neck of the woods. The logs need to be cut to length, split and stacked out of the weather.

Make sure a log truck can easily get in and out of the place where you want the logs unloaded. The truck will have a self loader behind the cab, a hydraulically operated boom with a grapple to pick the logs off the trailer. 12 cords will take up a significant amount of room, the logs will weigh over 30,000 lbs and some will be over 30' in length. It's a nice comforting sight to see though, offering the promise of warmth for a few winters. An old saying goes "If you're cold, go chop some wood. It'll warm you up now and later."

Firewood for sale usually advertise a cord of wood split and delivered for $150 to $200+. If a cord of wood is being delivered in a pickup truck, you're getting "burned" because it is impossible to safely haul a stack of wood 4'x4x'8', especially at highway speeds. A cord of dry firewood would weigh between 2000 to 3000 lbs depending on the type and density of the wood. Premium firewood implies dense and heavy wood and would have to be delivered on a trailer or at least a 1 ton flatbed. A pick up truck can be modified to carry the weight but the bed simply does not have the volume capacity needed for 128 cu'. The stack would be at least 4' high making the load dangerously top heavy with loss of safe steering due to weight imbalance.

Firewood Ratings an Info.

Jotul Fireplace InsertNice Jotul fireplace insert with a blower fan to significantly increase heating efficiency.

Wood Cook Stove
Wood cook stove, a great asset. Be able to cook and stay warm in winter power outages.

Big Steel Wood Stove
Big steel stove for the basement. Takes big logs for overnighters.
Quadrafire Stove
Super efficient medium size Quadrafire stove. Used as primary heat source for a 2400 sq.' home.

About 10 to 20 acres of trees, depending on age, density and type, should suffice for modest harvesting of 3 to 5 cords of wood a year indefinitely. Harvesting is culling dead trees, downed trees or diseased trees, not healthy live ones. There should be trees at all growing stages from mature seed trees to seedlings and everything in between.

Climate plays a major role in the growth rate of trees and generally wetter the climate faster the trees grow. Here in our particular area of north Eastern Washington State, in Pend Oreille County, trees thrive due to the yearly precipitation rate over 30".

There are 9 types of evergreen trees, including Western Larch which sheds its needles in late fall, plus deciduous trees. 10 to 20 acres of pines in a dry climate will not suffice as a continuous source of firewood due to slow recovery and growth rate.

If there are adequate ground water and precipitation birch can be grown for firewood. It grows fast, pretty to look at as trees or firewood and best of all burns very hot. Birch is the preferred premium firewood around here for its aesthetics and Btu.

Growing white birch is on my list of future projects with the eventual goal of about a 5 acre stand. Birch unlike evergreens decay very quickly after death and need to be harvested green. If cut to length, split and stacked out of the weather in early spring, it should be ready to burn by winter.

Birch is very hardy and easy to transplant. I have gone into the woods and dug up saplings up to 2' tall to plant for landscaping with good results. Pruning and removal of leaves is a must to help the tree recover and to re-establish. When birch is cut down, it regenerates by growing new shoots from the stump area and becoming a clump and by thinning these shoots the clump can turn into 3 to 5 vigorous trees. I have not tried yet but propagation by cuttings should be possible.

Birch Bark
Paper birch bark closeup.
Birch Clump
Birch clump from a stump.
Birch Stand
Birch stand.

"He plants trees to benefit another generation." Caecilius Statius (220 BC - 168 BC)

"He that plants trees loves others besides himself." English Proverb

Information on paper birch from the North Carolina State University Horticultural Science.

Detailed information on paper birch (Betula Papyrifera) from USDA Forest Service, also called white birch, canoe birch or silver birch.

 

 

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