Monday, December 8, 2014

A few ideas about wood heat

Home heating oil prices have gone down significantly over the past few months but if you are heating a house big enough to use over a thousand gallons a year, it is still pretty pricey-especially if you're heating domestic hot water with oil as well.

For that reason many people-me included-have been supplementing their heating with wood burning stoves that either use ordinary firewood or more recently wood pellets.

The down side to wood pellets to me is that you have to buy them and during power failures, the stoves are of no use unless you have a powerful battery backup.  For that reason I and many others use a conventional wood burning stove.  This makes even more sense if you have access to and time to gather your own wood.  It's basically free heat.

I have been lucky enough to have a consistent source of firewood available to me.  I have a truck to haul it, a chain saw to cut it and a log splitter to split it.  Sure, all these things cost money but the first two I'd have anyway just by being a property owner.  The log splitter was a gift to me.  So over a period of almost 40 years that I've been burning wood, I passed the pay-back mark a long time ago.

However there are many people who are not so lucky.  For those  people who for whatever reason have to purchase their firewood rather than gather it on their own there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what you can expect to get from a firewood dealer.

In this area firewood can be as high as $220 a cord.  If you're burning say 3 cords a year, that's a pretty big ticket so you best know what you're doing.  Here are some tips for buying firewood.

1.  Do you actually know what a cord of wood is?  An honest cord of wood is 128 cubic feet of tightly stacked wood.  The usual configuration is a stack measuring 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet.  Obviously, there are other ways to make 128 cubic feet but this is the way that saves the most space.
Very often wood dealers drop the wood in a loose pile in your driveway or somewhere close for them to back up to so try to be home when the delivery comes.  That way you can judge the quantity by how it's stacked in the truck.  If it's a standard pickup without higher sides added, you're probably getting cheated.  However you do it, do the math and see what you're getting.

2.  Ads that claim to offer "seasoned" wood are often misleading.  Seasoned hardwood needs to be split, stacked and kept dry for at least a year.  It's easy to tell if wood is seasoned.  It should be cracked and darkened at the ends and darkened along the grain.  Wood that has been laying around unsplit for a year is not seasoned.  I've split oak logs that were two years old only to find them as green as ever inside.

3. In the above paragraph I refer to hardwood.  That doesn't just mean wood that's hard to the touch.  It's wood that comes from a deciduous tree as opposed to a conifer such as pine, spruce or hemlock.  Hardwoods are trees like oak, hickory, ash, maple, birch and others-anything that loses its leaves in the fall. They are the best burning, high heat output fuels producing the least amount of creosote.  They too are fairly easy to identify but if you can't, impose on someone who can to inspect your delivery.  You pay a premium for hardwoods and that's what you should be getting.

Burning wood can save you a lot of money but it is not without its down side.  It requires space for storage;  a lot of handling; it can be dirty causing more dust than usual in a house and it can dry out a house far more than central heat.   In fact you should have a decent filtration/humidifier set up in the room where the stove is located.  Finally depending on your setup it can produce hot/cold areas in your house. But if you're willing to deal with these things you can save a bucket of money. 

The other component to all of this is the kind of stove you have.  That will be the subject of another blog. In the meantime I would suggest you take a very close look at the Vermont Castings line of wood stoves.  My Resolute is shown below but more on this later. 

Good luck.

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