Accessibility of the wood burning lifestyle

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Rob_Red

Feeling the Heat
Feb 2, 2021
307
Southern New England
This has been my first season of wood burning for our main source of heat, it ain't over yet but next week we will see temps in the 50's so I figure were getting close to tapering off. This season has been full of many highs and lows.

As a relative newbie I have to say this wood burning thing is pretty dang hard to get into. Our new house was built around wood heat, we have radiant floor heat as a backup but it's expensive to run and never intended to be the main heat source. As someone who appreciates the simple things, likes hard work, and enjoys staying connected to nature, heating with wood was an exciting proposition to me.

So I went out and purchased a new stove. I then proceed to get some wood that was seasoned in a loose pile for a year and quickly learn that half the wood is <20% and half is 21-25%. All of a sudden the Cat is clogging up with fly ash. I then come here and learn about 3 year drying and the amount of cordwood inventory needed to burn low MC wood all season long. I then discover that burning this wood requires frequent cleaning of my Cat.

Like I said wood burning is pretty dang hard to get into. To start from scratch required big investment up front, I had to buy the stove and 6 + cords of wood to start a proper seasoning program, Thank goodness I already have a chimney that works because I couldn't even imagine adding a chimney install with the potential of either over drafting or under drafting in the mix.

This site has been the only quality source of how too information, my customer experience has been pretty lack luster with both the dealer and the manufacturer. Now I feel like I must be crazy for getting into this, My friends and family think I'm "hoarding wood" the problem is now I'm addicted.

Any way.....I can't see any "normal" person being truly successful at this
 

RockCastile

Member
Nov 9, 2015
50
VA
1. As you've already discovered, you've come to the right place for help in getting better at heating with wood.

2. Although there are many on here who have ascended to eagle scout level at wood heating, there is no shortage of folks on the site (me) who often find themselves right where you are in the struggle, you're not alone.

3. Even the eagle scouts went through the struggles at one point.

4. You're exactly right, wood stoves are not so much a heating method you select as a life practice with an adventurous and ongoing learning curve. It does indeed take a certain type of person.
 

MongoMongoson

Member
Feb 6, 2021
207
Wisconsin
At a former residence, I was in a situation where the landlords recommended I get and install a wood stove to heat the place, oil prices were rising, and I could not afford to fill the oil tank more than once per season. That first winter I didn't have a wood stove, and I spent the evenings wearing my Carhartt coveralls indoors and even so I ran out of oil.

The chimney was there, I had a Ranger pickup and a '60's Homelite, and I got an old, leaky, very cracked Hearthstone with a burned out baffle for free. A year later I found an All Nighter Big Moe, like new, for $150 "and get it out of my basement".

At that time, the work cutting wood and the price of the stove paid for itself easily. The Big Moe wasn't too fussy about wet wood, I didn't know enough to care, and I could get all the wood I wanted as long as I cut and hauled it.

I finished school, got a better paying job, and moved to town where I didn't have a chimney. My house was small, and it was so cheap to heat that putting in a chimney would not have paid for itself.... ever, probably.

Later, I got married and we bought a bigger house, and I had always wanted to get back to burning wood. It is a lot of work, but it is just fun. The new house didn't have a chimney, and I figured the cost of having a chimney installed would take like 5-8 years to pay back with reduced heat bills.

This year we pulled the All Nighter out and spent more money on a new stove. So that pushes out our payback period even further, to the point where I don't even worry about it. It's not about the economics of it, for me, anymore. Although I do realize that if we are in a situation where we lost power for an extended period, what we paid for the stove and chimney would suddenly seem cheap. Think about the people in Texas who were put in a pretty rough spot.

For me, it's more about just enjoying the whole process. I'm also lucky to have a wife who actually enjoys stacking wood and bringing it in the house.

To be clear, though, neither of us enjoys it enough to cut, split, and stack wood for other people.

I see it as making sense, economically, for some people. For others, it's a necessity because they are out in the boonies and don't have feasible or cost effective access to other fuels, and some people just like it.
 
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St. Coemgen

Feeling the Heat
Feb 4, 2016
324
Hungary
www.stcoemgen.com
Any way.....I can't see any "normal" person being truly successful at this

Define "normal".

Because "normal" is often a cultural and temporal issue.

150 years ago, all you described would be completely "normal" for each and every house. To load the fires, with wood or coal, to warm the structure or to even cook.

Meanwhile today, is it "normal" to get a 4 or 5 figure electrical bill due to a large storm? Around most of the planet, outside one specific place (to remain unmentioned), that would today be called "not normal".

Rather, one needs to look at the cultural and spatial issues involved. So, in most of north America, would someone want to do that? To stay warm? To cook food? Because that answer may be quite different in another place on the planet. Does that make one place "primitive"? Or another place "lazy". No on both. Because it is more complicated than that.

Just saying.... Hope this helps. From someone with over 20 countries stamped on my passport. Yeah.... I have been around. :cool:
 
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Woodsplitter67

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2017
2,036
Woolwich nj
To be honest.. I couldn't Imagine not doing wood any more. The whole thing, I don't fined bothersome at all. As stated.. I wouldn't go over someone's house and hangout and split wood, but on the other hand I'm not spending countless hours doing this either. It took me a months worth of weekends to gather,buck,split and stack what I burned this year. I'm not super worried about payback, To keep this house at the temperatures the stove does would cost me alot, and for me to just take some weekends and play with wood and not have a utility bill is well with the time, effort and energy. This also is time spent with my boy... what better way to hang out listen to some classic rock,stack wood and drink hot coco with your kid..
I will get easier for you @Rob_Red For the people on here that are ahead.. WE HAVE SPENT ALOT OF TIME to get there. It's not easy but we'll worth the effort. I have never regretted having this much wood processed as well as waiting to be processed on my property.
 

clancey

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2021
1,716
Colorado
I am just getting into this at a advance age but to tell you the truth if I was younger and thought about all of this I would be out splitting wood too and find it quite relaxing heck I even love cutting up papers and this can be addicted too. Your a lucky person to have a good wife who helps you stack the dry wood---one in a million I would think. But in the meanwhile I cannot gather and split wood at this stage in my life but I can learn about wood stoves and the like and improvise with some of the problems that it might create meaning having proper gauges to measure temperatures and carbon dioxide and draft and the like---see I am learning. But to get back to you wondering about people being normal---I say your more than normal for you are independent and taking care of things. Your trips to the wood gathering are sacred--its God's time as well as quality time with you kids. Who in the world would give up that and try to be normal? If your not normal than I don't want to be normal. I wish I could go out there for weekends and just do what I enjoy to do even if it is hard work--Most of us on this forum know what hard work is and for you it is satisfying just to know that you are tending to business and believe me saving a little money as well especially in the heat bill. I would like to be able to look at all that wood stacked and know that it is paid for and good for you and keep enjoying it as long as you can because there will be a day when you style changes and you won't be able to do it anymore.. I remember taking a trip one time with my late husband rowing from a Island not too far off a coast in complete silence after a wonderful day of Island looking with only us --the best day of our lives...I remember we were rowing back to so called civilization and it was just getting dark and I heard sounds and asked what the sounds were and my husband replied-"Locusts sounds" and I replied "Yea they are eating up the world" and we went silent...Special moments are special so you enjoy being "normal". clancey
 

Rhodie

Member
Oct 29, 2018
42
Pacific Northwest
Normal is a range. A friend and I think it’s crazy her neighbor doesn’t bother to learn the importance of dry wood.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
1,457
SE North Carolina
I hear what you are saying. I’m on the end of my third winter (in the south, with an efficient, down to 35 dF, heatpump where our average December high is in the 50s). I live in the middle of an urban area and drive a mini van. In three winters I’ve burned through 3-5 cords. I really didn’t pay attention. All of which is storm debris from my lot and as far as I want to push my wheel barrow down the street.

Come each February most of my wood is to wet to burn because my tarps have leaked or blown off. I’m guessing we have had between 12-18” of rain since December first. Last month I just set the thermostat to 71 during the day and 67 at night. Electric bill came and it was 40$ more than the previous month. (It going to be a very long time before I break even with cost of the stove, and I never would if I paid someone to sweep the flue once a year.) Had a couple fires after I turned my patio in to a solar kiln for the 3 hours of sun it gets. I did realize that I wore nothing but shorts and T-shirt’s inside for all of November-January and that 71 degrees is not inside short and T-shirt temps.

I now have 6 axes and two chainsaws. I don’t think the wood burning is the reason for the saws I blame the hurricane. Now I need to add a wood shed to my way too long home improvement project list. I enjoy learning new skills. I can haft an axe and sharpen a chainsaw, quickly split 30”+ red oak rounds.

45% of the population does not own their place of residence. I don’t think wood burning is accessible to the average person, that’s why they sell so many gas log sets. Push button, have Fire, no mess. Every time I see the propane truck drive by I don’t understand why people are leasing a 100 gallon tank to run their range/oven and fireplace. I’d love a high end gas range. But that’s normal around here. I do like knowing during an extreme weather event I can keep us warm enough (our record low is 7 degrees colder than Houston’s ) and I have a generator to run other essentials. I have a whole hurricane prep checklist list that I have got to practice 3 years in a row. Need to make the winter weather equivalent.

I don’t see wood burning as a lifestyle, just a hobby that brings enjoyment, warmth, exercise and a very aesthetic fireplace.

Just some random thoughts.

Evan
 

Ctwoodtick

Minister of Fire
Jun 5, 2015
1,577
Southeast CT
I have probably a good 2 to 3 years of would stored. People I know think I am partially insane. However, if I traveled 150 miles north of here, people would “get it“ a lot more. If I drove another hundred miles north, People would be asking what my secret is to getting ahead on the wood.
 
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Woody5506

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2017
881
Rochester NY
The first year is the hardest, in my opinion. My first year wasn't even that long ago, 2016. In fact just this season is my first season of burning truly 3 year seasoned wood, but even up to this season, it just got easier and easier. From here on out as long as I keep up with replacing what I burn each season, I will always have 3 year old wood. It's a lot of work and time to get there, though you could make it quicker if you're buying your wood but I scrounge all of mine.

So yes I do agree it's a big investment up front of time, money, and work. Over time, it begins to pay for itself, the work gets easier and the ease of fires/heating is conducive with quality of wood which you just have to stay ahead of the curve with.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
6,099
07462
After 9 years of burning regularly I'm in cruise mode now, its almost effortless at this point, I have my setup dialed in so well that I only fill my 275gal oil tank every other year which is no big deal for me, house stays warm, I've collected all the required tools to do firewood and have an on going 3 year rotating supply. I now cut / split / stack as time allows, there is no rush anymore. I would say the first 2 yrs are the hardest, but if you work up to get a head things get easier and more or less fall into place from that point.
The best part of it all, is the reputation that you gain, the same people that use to call me a wood hoarder and such now call when they have a tree taken down, so it works itself out at the end of the day.
 
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firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,450
Unity/Bangor, Maine
September: Home begins to get cool and home owner thinks about getting a woodstove. Home owner is excited with the prospect of "cheap" heat and asks wife to buy him flannel shirts as he envisions himself as a modern day Paul Bunyan chopping wood. Home owner goes into nearest woodstove shop and tells them he needs a woodstove -- picks out the one he and his wife think look the prettiest.

October: Home owner realizes chopping wood is hard when all he has is elm. Also is wondering why his woodstove isn't producing much heat. Visions of sitting in front of a roaring woodstove with beer in one hand and crossword puzzle in the other begin to fade.

November: Home owner's wife is beginning to get upset as loading the woodstove results in smelly smoke wafting throughout house. Home owner returns to wood stove shop insisting the woodstove must be defective. Wood stove shop suggests buying seasoned wood from dealer and mentions that it may be a good idea to inspect the chimney for creosote build up. Home owner thinks suggestion is ludicrous -- he is burning wood he cut down in August when he was mulling over the idea of getting a woodstove. Wood must surely be seasoned.

December: Home owner hires chimney sweep who tells him the chimney was almost completely plugged which is most likely reason for smoke in the home. Sweep asks if home owner has been burning well seasoned wood. Home owner begrudgingly buys wood from internet ad offering "seasoned wood." Woodstove still not producing much heat.

January: Smoke begins to spill out into the home again. Frustrated home owner takes to the internet for help when wife says either she goes or the woodstove goes. Home owner discovers very friendly and helpful folks at hearth.com who suggest he inspect and clean the chimney if needed. Chimney sweep returns and tells home owner the chimney is partially plugged . . . again. Home owner returns to internet and insists he has been burning seasoned wood. Hearth.com members advise him on how to properly determine moisture content of wood. Home owner discovers wood moisture level is still pretty high. Members suggest burning pallets, compressed wood logs or checking around for truly seasoned wood and mixing in with the less seasoned wood if necessary.

February: Home owner's fires are better with more heat and no smoke on reloads. However, home owner discovers unsettling fact: Spring is still several weeks away and wood supply has dwindled to only a week or so of heating.

March: Home owner vows to improve the situation. Begins processing wood now and/or buying "seasoned" wood now . . . and promises self that he will get more wood than he needs so he can have left over, more seasoned wood for future years. Home owner is also now hopelessly addicted to hearth.com and feels compelled to check website daily.

--

In all seriousness . . . many of us started off the same way as you. Some of us had slightly better or worse experiences depending on the quality of the wood and amount of wood squirreled away for that first year. Most folks learn from the experience and realize that the best way to burn wood for heat is to get ahead by processing or buying wood well in advance. For many of us that first or second year is a furious burst of energy expended on getting ahead . . . but after that . . . it's more or less just maintaining what you have which I can often do simply by working a few hours here or there on a free weekend, after work, etc.
 

Ctwoodtick

Minister of Fire
Jun 5, 2015
1,577
Southeast CT
September: Home begins to get cool and home owner thinks about getting a woodstove. Home owner is excited with the prospect of "cheap" heat and asks wife to buy him flannel shirts as he envisions himself as a modern day Paul Bunyan chopping wood. Home owner goes into nearest woodstove shop and tells them he needs a woodstove -- picks out the one he and his wife think look the prettiest.

October: Home owner realizes chopping wood is hard when all he has is elm. Also is wondering why his woodstove isn't producing much heat. Visions of sitting in front of a roaring woodstove with beer in one hand and crossword puzzle in the other begin to fade.

November: Home owner's wife is beginning to get upset as loading the woodstove results in smelly smoke wafting throughout house. Home owner returns to wood stove shop insisting the woodstove must be defective. Wood stove shop suggests buying seasoned wood from dealer and mentions that it may be a good idea to inspect the chimney for creosote build up. Home owner thinks suggestion is ludicrous -- he is burning wood he cut down in August when he was mulling over the idea of getting a woodstove. Wood must surely be seasoned.

December: Home owner hires chimney sweep who tells him the chimney was almost completely plugged which is most likely reason for smoke in the home. Sweep asks if home owner has been burning well seasoned wood. Home owner begrudgingly buys wood from internet ad offering "seasoned wood." Woodstove still not producing much heat.

January: Smoke begins to spill out into the home again. Frustrated home owner takes to the internet for help when wife says either she goes or the woodstove goes. Home owner discovers very friendly and helpful folks at hearth.com who suggest he inspect and clean the chimney if needed. Chimney sweep returns and tells home owner the chimney is partially plugged . . . again. Home owner returns to internet and insists he has been burning seasoned wood. Hearth.com members advise him on how to properly determine moisture content of wood. Home owner discovers wood moisture level is still pretty high. Members suggest burning pallets, compressed wood logs or checking around for truly seasoned wood and mixing in with the less seasoned wood if necessary.

February: Home owner's fires are better with more heat and no smoke on reloads. However, home owner discovers unsettling fact: Spring is still several weeks away and wood supply has dwindled to only a week or so of heating.

March: Home owner vows to improve the situation. Begins processing wood now and/or buying "seasoned" wood now . . . and promises self that he will get more wood than he needs so he can have left over, more seasoned wood for future years. Home owner is also now hopelessly addicted to hearth.com and feels compelled to check website daily.

--

In all seriousness . . . many of us started off the same way as you. Some of us had slightly better or worse experiences depending on the quality of the wood and amount of wood squirreled away for that first year. Most folks learn from the experience and realize that the best way to burn wood for heat is to get ahead by processing or buying wood well in advance. For many of us that first or second year is a furious burst of energy expended on getting ahead . . . but after that . . . it's more or less just maintaining what you have which I can often do simply by working a few hours here or there on a free weekend, after work, etc.

Well said, this post should be up under common newbie woodstove issues. Hit the nail on the head.
 

WoodBurnerInWI

Feeling the Heat
Feb 2, 2020
275
Madison, WI
I actually think this whole thread could be bookmarked or linked so that people new to the site can read through it. Lots of real world discussion here about what it takes to be a wood burner. Everyone should be aware of the good and bad that comes with wood burning. There's going to a mess in the house from the logs, there's going to be bugs, there will be smoke, you will have to clean and maintain things. Realize that wood burning does take a commitment to be successful, even if you're someone who just buys pre cut wood. That wood still needs to be well stacked in a proper location and for all purposes should sit for a minimum of one year. Tools at a minimum for any wood burner should be at least one good chainsaw, 2 good splitting axes of different sizes (like a maul plus an ax), at least 2 wedges plus all applicable safety gear. Eventually someone may want to upgrade to a pro chainsaw, or a wood splitter, and that's fine but do so only if your wood needs require it. I put up 10-20 cords of wood every year if I can to keep a 3-5 year rotation going. And wood burning can most certainly happen in an urban/suburban setting. I'm only on .23 acres in a neighborhood and yet I can comfortably fit over 20 cords of wood in my backyard without making it look like I'm a hoarder lol. Being a full or partial time wood burner is very much doable if you plan things out well.
 
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Bad LP

Minister of Fire
Nov 28, 2014
1,781
Northern Maine
I must be stupid. Really stupid.

Chain saws, fireplace insert w/liner, 2 wood stoves in the basement that turned into a single wood boiler, two tanks with a crap load of pipe and pumps, splitter, tractor with logging winch and chipper, wood shed that's too small so I need another plus spare parts for all the above.

Now one can say the winch and chipper are luxuries but I needed the tractor no matter what so we will only carry 25% of it to wood burning.

Can any sane person alive tell me how close to 40K is saving me money on heating the house? I turn 60 next month. What was I thinking?
 

clancey

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2021
1,716
Colorado
Don't worry about it BdLP because I am 75 years old and trying to start this new adventure and I am too old to even hold a piece of equipment that you mentioned. But you had a adventure all these years and you are still going at it and still learning especially about the different assorted newbies like me. At least you got a real good education about all of this for you do know you need your tractor and that is good for other things as well. Your crying over spilled milk and "Yes it was worth it" for it made the quality of life that you have which has been "good". Me on the other hand is very worried about my first burn no matter what stove I wind up with and I wonder how accommodating these wood sellers are for small sections of lumber and I am just learning this-----I wish I could split my own wood but those days are over but your future more relaxed life is just ahead so just keep plugging and enjoy...I come to the conclusion that none of us are sane...maybe I will change my mind again. All the postings are nice and I am enjoying jumping in once in awhile. Thanks clancey.
 

fvhowler

Burning Hunk
May 4, 2018
112
Heart of NC
I've enjoyed reading the different perspectives of wood burning. While I've burned wood off and on for 30 years, I got real serious about 4 years ago. My wife and I are empty nesters, the kids have moved on and we just built a new house. We are still working 50 hour/week jobs but I can now see myself being retired and a lot of it involves firewood. It's almost a year around effort, especially while still working fulltime. I've never purchased firewood so I scrounge for free wood or cut wood on my land. My heatpump in south central NC rarely runs as I burn basically 24/7 mid-November through mid-March. I think you have to find enjoyment in every aspect of operating a wood stove from cutting wood to cleaning the stove pipe. In my neck of the woods, few people burn wood like I do and many don't understand why go to all that hassle. I tell them they are missing out on a most rewarding hobby or lifestyle (however you want to describe it). It makes me happy in many ways from splitting wood, stacking firewood, sitting by the wood stove in the evenings to paying my electric bill. When we built our house, I intentially added a wood stove as I knew I would burn wood... alot. Still, I had no idea I would become so hooked on the entire process that the wood stove would become my primary heat source...but here I am.
 

xterra

Member
Dec 9, 2015
27
PA
Once a wood burner, always a woodturner. My old man and his next door neighbor, both in their 70's, are still skidding logs with the tractor and splitting just for something to keep them occupied. They have enough $ between them socked into hernia surgeries that i don't know if they will break even, financially.

But- the house is always warm. No doubt about it.
 

Caw

Minister of Fire
May 26, 2020
1,009
Massachusetts
But- the house is always warm. No doubt about it.

This is the thing. Yeah there's the money,, tools, time, etc....but once you get used to radiant wood heat there's no going back. It's so inviting and relaxing. 68 degrees forced hot air/water vs. a wood stove just isn't the same.

I'm in a t-shirt and shorts right now watching TV with the kids and it's 69 degrees in here. If we had the heat pump on I'd for sure be in a sweatshirt. My wife was leery of all the work at first but now she's addicted to the warmth and will never go back. ==c
 

Grizzerbear

Minister of Fire
Feb 12, 2019
1,162
SW Missoura
Woodburning is like reaching back in to history to me. We all have something that we enjoy doing in traditional manners like buying a paperback or hardcover book rather than just reading it over a kindle, or gardening and canning your own vegetables rather than just getting them at the grocery store. Maybe writing a handwritten letter and sending it off in the mail instead of via email etc etc. Its one of many fading arts imo. Woodburning is intimate. You put all the hard work in to source the wood you need and to get it ready for the winters ahead and when time comes that you burn that wood and you see and feel the warmth from essentially the sweat and toil from your own hands from years past......it's hard to top that feeling for me and can't be had from any other heating method that is just bought like electric or gas. As far as normal, and I know you were being sarcastic.....what is anymore.....be yourself.....if you like it keep at it. My friends think I'm crazy for having so much wood on hand but they have old smoke dragons...as most people that burn in my area do....and haven't been enlightened on the benefits of truly seasoned firewood and a modern EPA stove. It's taboo to them lol. It is tough the first couple years. I've been there as have probably the majority of folks here. Look at the time you have now as time to prepare as everyone has stated, getting three years ahead on your wood supply is key. Your woes three years from now will be something to look back on and laugh at.
 

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
1,216
Palmyra, WI
for it made the quality of life that you have which has been "good"
but once you get used to radiant wood heat there's no going back
Nearby here there is a historic settlement "Old world Wisconsin" - a several hundred acre outdoor museum with trails leading to a dozen mid 19th century farmsteads. Most have the layout of having a "parlor", with adjacent rooms and a kitchen wing. The wood stove was a lot of times the center piece in the parlor, with chairs and activities "radiating" from there. My son is taking over the old farmhouse in the family here. It has the same type of layout (upright with a wing, minus the stoves, which were taken out years ago). He asked the other day about - so how much obligation am I looking at to heat this place. I showed him the propane bill from this last January, and the conversation more or less ended there, and shifted to, so what does it take to get setup with a freestanding stove or boiler. The wheels are turning. Try everything once, hold onto the good.

I was going through the estate the last few months. Found the original sales receipt, owners manual, a set of old tools, some chain links, for dads 1958 Mall 12A chainsaw. What an archaic old beast. He'd bought it new down at the hardware store for $275. That was a lot of money, at a time when there was little to go around (around $2500 in today's dollars).
 
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Bad LP

Minister of Fire
Nov 28, 2014
1,781
Northern Maine
This is the thing. Yeah there's the money,, tools, time, etc....but once you get used to radiant wood heat there's no going back. It's so inviting...

Well except for radiant floor heat. It just begs for you to take off your shoes and sometimes lay down with the dog cause he's no dummy either!! :)