We Michiganders have been informed that in this coming winter season, we are in for a serious increase (50%) in the cost of heating. When the price of fuel oil or natural gas goes way up, the sale of wood stoves moves in the same direction. A woodstove seems like an attractive energy boost, but carefully consider the economics. A reliable and safe stove can cost over $2000, the installation can cost $500 to $1000 and decent dry hardwood delivered and stacked can cost over $600 for the season.
Now that I’ve put a damper on your wood stove plans, let me reveal that I am a big fan of having a wood stove in the home. I’m a yardener with a little homesteader blood in me. A good stove, properly maintained will provide comfortable heat and emotional comfort for over 25 years giving a good return on that initial investment. During periods of excessively high fuel costs, running a wood stove, properly placed in the home, for 24 hours a day, can reduce heating bills by 30 to 50%. Then if heating costs return to some level of sanity, a lighted wood stove with the door open and the screen attached is that fireplace that everyone in the room will stare at because there is something about watching a fire that is incredibly peaceful.
The secret to saving any money with a wood stove is to find a way to get all the wood you need each year for free. I did just that for ten years, burning four to five cords of split hardwood each year while running the stove full time from late October to early March in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
The requirements for acquiring free firewood are a chain saw, a splitting ax, several splitting wedges, a sledge hammer, and some storage space in the back yard. Youth can be an advantage as well. Also needed is a vehicle such as an SUV or pickup truck to get that free wood back home.
It is amazing how much wood is available in established suburban communities. My modus operandi was to go out on tour after every serious wind storm, snow storm, and especially ice storms. I had two approaches to the process. If I found some good sized branches had fallen in a yard, I volunteered to remove them myself. If a very large tree had fallen, I asked for the wood after the arborist had cut it up. If the arborist doesn’t have to take the tree away, the removal cost is lower. You can get two or three cords of wood out of a single large tree. You should be looking for hardwoods like oak, hard maple, hickory, ash, walnut, locust, apple, or peach which all burn well. Soft woods such as willow, poplar, pine and cedar will have more creosote buildup in the chimney and not burn as long.
I always had five cords of wood stored and drying in the back yard from last year’s forays. The wood I collected this year would be stacked and dried for a year before it went into the wood stove. A cord of wood is a stacked pile of firewood that is 8 feet long, four feet high, and four feet wide. That is two parallel stacks of split wood that is 20 to 25 inches long, however deep your wood stove happens to be. I’ll let you do the math, but you can see that 7 or 8 cords of stacked wood takes up a fair amount of space . These wood piles should be at least 25 feet from the house to avoid any insect problems.
Over the winter months, I split the smaller chunks with my splitting ax or my maul and wedges. It was great exercise and a wonderful way to work off life’s frustrations. When I had a good number of very large chunks, I rented a gasoline driven log splitter which can split a couple of cords of wood in a morning with a buddy helping you.
A very thorough collection of web sites dealing with all aspects of heating the home with a wood stove, go to www.zeal.com and put “woodstove” in the search window.
Jeff Ball, a Metro Detroit free-lance writer, has authored eight books on gardening and lawn care. You can visit his yard care Web site at www.yardener.com, E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.