I’m a such a sucker for roaring fire.
I grew up with wood heat, and to this day, if I’m in a house during winter without some sort of heat source to stand next to, my soul feels a bit empty.
When we moved into our little prairie house in 2008, it only had a forced-air furnace and that was a serious bummer. Not to mention, the 100-year old house had pathetic insulation and the curtains would actually move when the wind blew. We pretty much froze the first four years of living here, as the furnace could never keep up with the brutal Wyoming temperatures, even when it was running full-blast.
In 2013, we finally bit the bullet and installed a wood stove. The stove crowded our already-miniscule living room, but I didn’t care– my house was warm and I finally could stand next to a roaring fire on the subzero days. So of course, when we did our extreme farmhouse makeover, there was no question in our mind we would have wood heat in the new portion of the house. In fact, we ended up moving the same stove from our old living room into the new living room.
I’ve received a number of questions about the feasibility of heating a homestead with wood, so I figured it was time to answer those questions today. I don’t claim to be an expert in this realm in the slightest, but I’m happy to share our experiences if they’ll help someone in the decision making process. So, let’s dive in.
Heating with Wood: WHY?
I’ll be the first to say that heating with wood isn’t for everyone. There are availability, location, and cost considerations, not to mention it’s a lifestyle choice of sorts. But, here are the reasons we personally chose to heat our homestead house with wood:
Notice I didn’t say ‘free’… Heating with wood still costs money. However, at least for us, heating with wood saves us a LOT of cash as compared to purchasing propane, especially when propane prices spike. Here’s a helpful article that compares costs of various heating methods. In our area, if you want a cord of wood that is already split and ready to go, you can expect to pay around $150/cord. We use around 5 cords per year. However, we prefer to get full logs, which drops our price down to around $100/cord. (More on that below.)
It’s a renewable resource.
I know some of my readers have trees they harvest right from their land… And if that’s you, I’m exceedingly jealous. We only have a few trees here out on the Prairie Homestead, and there’s no way I’d ever cut them down for firewood. However, there are plenty of beetle-killed trees in the nearby mountains (about 1.5-2 hours away) and those make an excellent source of firewood.
Actually, this point should come with a caveat– heating with wood *can* be efficient, as long as you have the right stove. Older models can really burn through the wood and you’ll find yourself using a lot of extra fuel. However, newer stoves do a better job of creating maximum heat with a more minimal amount of wood.
It’s not dependent on electricity.
This was a BIG one for us. Previously when we only had the furnace, I was scared to death the power would go out for an extended period of time. If it were to take the power company several days to fix the problem (which has happened…) we would have no way to heat the house or even keep the pipes from bursting. I hated the feeling of being a sitting duck. With our wood stove, the power could be out for weeks and we’d be just fine. And bonus– I could even cook on the wood stove if I really needed to.
It fits our lifestyle.
What can I say? We’re wood stove junkies… We love a roaring fire, and Prairie Husband even loves cutting firewood and splitting kindling. It fits our philosophy of life, and the slight inconvenience of it doesn’t bother us a bit.
What About the Wood?
My main bit of advice here is to use what is most readily available to you. For us, that’s pine. Like I mentioned above, there is an abundance of beetle-kill trees locally, so that’s what we use. Pine burns a bit faster than some of the harder woods, but it’d be silly (and pretty much impossible) for us to source anything else in our area. (Our pin is ponderosa and lodgepole.) We have yet to make the trek to the mountains to harvest the wood ourselves, but have had good luck with paying folks to bring it to us. Prairie Husband gets a truckload of big logs, uses a chain saw to cut them into rounds, and then his homemade, tractor-powered log splitter to split into firewood. You can usually get pre-split firewood delivered too, but you know us– we like to do things the hard way. 🙂 (And it’s cheaper to get the big logs, anyway.)
Currently, we are borrowing a mobile sawmill from a friend and experimenting with sawing logs into boards for windbreaks and other projects. (You know, because we need more projects…) This yields a lot of scrap pieces which we’ve been using as firewood, which is handy because we currently have a never-ending supply that’s almost free.
We don’t have covered firewood storage, so sometimes our pile gets covered with snow. It’s so dry here, it doesn’t take too long for the wood to dry out. However, if you live somewhere super damp like the Pacific Northwest (where I grew up), it’s probably wise to have a shed or shelter of sorts. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with wet wood all the time, which will make you extremely sad when you’re freezing and craving a hot fire.
We usually keep a large stack of split wood over by our shop, and then fill up this homemade “bunk” to transport wood closer to the house. Prairie Husband made it to be easily picked up by the tractor, so we fill it at the big pile and then drive it over to the back porch. It’s pretty nifty. We prefer not to have firewood stacked next to the house, as it can be a fire hazard.
Is it Hard to Keep a Fire Going?
No, not really. At least not with the stove we have. We opted for a wood stove with a catalytic converter, and it has been very efficient for us. (You can ready more about why we chose this model here.) We fill it full of wood first thing in the morning and then again at night. As long as we adjust the thermostat on the stove properly, it does a fabulous job of regulating itself all throughout the day and the night. Since Prairie Husband and I both work from home, we can tend the fire if we need to, but it’s honestly not needed. I have no doubt if we left for work during the day, the house would still be warm when we returned at night.
What About Back-Up Heat?
As we were doing our remodel, we opted to still install a propane-powered furnace in the house as well. Our reasoning was two-fold:
- We wanted a back-up source of heat for when we are traveling or if we can’t keep the fire going for an extended period of time.
- We didn’t want to hurt the resale value of our home. Not that we plan to move anytime soon, but we know there are a lot of people who might not be too keen on having wood heat as their only option if they were ever to buy our house.
Even though we rely on the wood stove 98% of the time, it’s reassuring to know we have a back-up option if we need it.
Is Heating with Wood a Safety Hazard?
It can be, I suppose, but we feel the risk is minimal when the proper precautions are taken. We keep the stove pipe clean and have made sure the stove has the proper clearances from the walls, etc. (We used corrugated steel for the stove surround, and landscaping paving bricks for the base. And yes, before anyone sends me an email saying that isn’t up to code– it is. We had it officially inspected. Also, our model of stove has heat shields which keeps the back and sides of the stove surprisingly cool.)
As far as having little kids in the house with a wood stove, it’s never been an issue for us. I think a large part of that is thanks to the platform we made for the stove– it raises it up off the floor enough that it’s not as appealing for them to get close to it. And they understand it’s hot and naturally stay away from it anyway– even the little ones.
Do You Cook on Your Wood Stove?
Not really, although I’ve experimented with it a few times. Unfortunately in order to get the stove hot often to even semi-heat the food, I had to have a raging fire in it, and it about ran us out of the house. If it was my only option, I’d use it, but it’s really not designed for that. I do like to set my rising bread dough near the stove, though. That’s pretty handy.
Any Must-Have Accessories?
A cool wood box is always nice– we repurposed this old tinder box that Prairie Husband salvaged while on a construction job years ago. I painted it with milk paint and if it the paint gets chipped from storing the wood, it just makes it look cooler.
We also love this little fan that sits on the back of the stove. It requires ZERO electricity and helps keep the air moving. (We got ours on Amazon– (affiliate link))
So no… heating with wood isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely a fit for us. And when the Wyoming winds are howling and the snow is blowing, you can bet you’ll find me hunkered down by the fire with a cup of chai and a good book. 🙂