Tag Archive | heating with wood


w2w1The annual struggle to complete the woodpile has so far resulted in a stack of about half the fuel we need for the winter.  We burn through six cords of firewood, heating our 1700 sq ft house entirely with wood.  We only use the backup electric heat if the temperatures dip very low or if we will be away for an extended period.

Good firewood has been allowed to dry, also called cure or season, for a good year prior to burning.  Most years we are able to do that.  This past year, the lumberjack (my husband) suffered from more than the usual amount of back pain and was not able to get as much wood on the ground as normal.  Also, the long, cold spring forced us to burn several cords of wood we intended for this year.  We have been cutting mostly ash which burns even when wet.  The ash has had a chance to dry anywhere from three to ten months at this point.

Wet ash will burn with a lot of hissing of escaping steam and not produce as much heat as dry wood.  To get the temperature up in our high efficiency wood stove, we must add a few dry pieces of wood with each load of ash.  The best ready supply of dry wood is dead elm trees.  The poor elms rarely have a chance to get large or old due to the continuing presence of Dutch Elm Disease.  The fungal infection kills elms within a year, filling their fluid transport systems with thick hyphae growth.  Because elm wood is dense and tough, dead trees can remain standing for many years.  After a couple years, the wood is quite dry.

I scout around for dead elms.  The driest ones have begun to shed their bark.  Loggers call dead trees widow makers because the vibrations of sawing them can cause branches overhead to rattle loose and drop on the wood cutter.  Luckily, with elm, the wood is so tough that widow makers aren’t a problem until a dead tree has stood for many years.  We knock down the trees, strip off any remaining bark and split them up with our commercial size hydraulic wood splitter.  The dry, tough wood is very hard to split by hand. Just one good piece of dry elm will bring the temperature in the burn chamber up enough to vaporize the moisture in five or six pieces of half-cured wood.



Thoughts on Firewood at the End of March

Winter WoodpileOur stores of firewood are dwindling.  We burn about six cords of hardwood every winter to heat our home.  The wood is usually cut two years earlier to allow for good drying.  The temperatures have been colder than usual this winter, and maybe we didn’t put up as much firewood as usual.

We have gone through all the supply stacked for this winter and are into the wood for next winter. There is still a good month of heating ahead.  Next winter’s wood is not fully dry.  The logs hiss as the excess moisture is steamed from the wood.  The fire created from incompletely seasoned wood is not as hot and does not burn as well.  Still, better than being cold.

Depending almost entirely on wood for heat helps develop a keen interest in various tree species and the combustion qualities of the wood. We normally use predominantly white ash, which burns hot even when it is green and freshly cut.  For this reason white ash is the caviar of firewood.  It will hiss, but the fire will get hot.

Unfortunately, next year’s firewood is composed largely of maple and cherry.  Over a year ago we cut a huge old sugar maple at the edge of the hay field that was dying.  There were several small pin cherry trees nearby.  Pin cherries grow like weeds around here.  We cut any near the fields so they don’t spread into the hay and grazing land.  The wood is a pretty reddish color and it burns well when dry.  But, neither maple nor cherry combust well green and it takes a full two summers to season such wood.  Luckily, there is some paper birch mixed in.  Paper birch dries quickly and burns hot and fast.  We’ve been adding a little birch in the stove with the wet wood to raise the temperature of the fire.

Here in Maine, with out abundance of trees, half of households supplement with firewood and 14% use wood as the primary heating fuel.  Due to the high cost of heating oil, more homes are switching to wood heat.  Our house has a supplemental electric heating system that is too expensive to use except on the coldest nights or when we leave the house for long periods in winter.  Our wood stove is a high efficiency, low emission model with a catalytic combuster.  The combuster superheats and burns noxious gases mixed with particulates in the smoke before they can go up the chimney.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is developing new rules requiring that all residential wood burners sold in the US meet certain air quality standards.  This will be good for the environment and those of us who breathe air outdoors, but would add as much as 25% to the cost of wood burning heaters and heating systems.

Since a new wood stove already costs over $1000, adding to the expense will only encourage more homeowners to buy older, polluting secondhand stoves.  As part of the rule change, the government should set up a fund to provide grants and low interest loans to people purchasing new wood burners.  That would be an intelligent use of taxpayer funds, so it’s unlikely to occur.

Here is a link to a story about the proposed changes to rules regarding wood heaters: http://www.pressherald.com/politics/Dan_Demeritt__EPA_s_proposed_wood-heater_rules_a_hot_issue_for_Maine_.html?pagenum=full