Wood Stoves - Viable Home Heating Source?

Two years ago I wrote a post on how using wood, on a statewide or national scale in lieu of fossil fuels for heat, would leave much of our forests denuded in a short timeframe (basically we are very dependent as a nation on natural gas and oil for winter heat). As summer wanes and we head towards the colder months, some of you 'wood experts' are undoubtedly preparing your winter energy supply. Please consider tonights Campfire as an open thread for those with expertise on heating with wood. Some starter questions and a few article excerpts are below the fold.

Tax credit may pay for wood stoves

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a tax credit of up to $1,500 is available to those who purchase a high-efficiency biomass-burning stove to heat their home.
"That's a pretty big credit because it reduces the tax you pay dollar for dollar so it's better than a 'tax deduction'," said Rita DeLong, who along with her husband Stan, have owned DeLong's Heritage Heating for 30 years.

Stoves manufactured prior to 1991 do not meet the efficiency requirements for this tax credit, which can be up to 30 percent of the cost of the stove. Newer biomass-burning stoves — wood, pellet or multi-fuel stoves — must meet certain EPA as well as IRS standards and come with a manufacturer's certification the stove meets or exceeds the standards required for the credit.

Wood Stoves -- A Viable Home Heat Source?

The environmental sustainability of woodstove use is dependent upon the consumption of wood from sustainably managed woodlots, as the carbon released is reused as the next generation of trees grows. Annual gross CO2 emissions did in fact increase from 12,610 kg (i.e., ~2.5 metric tons CO2/person per year) to 17,330 kg after the installation of the wood stove. But while this gross amount did increase, the net carbon released by the combustion is negligible, the only surplus coming from the harvest and transport. Based on an average growing time of 130 years before harvest for local Ontario tree species, a woodlot or forest 3.5 hectares in size would provide an indefinite supply of wood heat for a household without a net increase in carbon emissions.

In the case study, adding a woodstove to the ground floor of a 3200ft2 home reduced the mean annual gas cost by 60%; from $2260 to $880. The annual cost of the wood fuel for the woodstove amounted to $1330 for 5 full cords (a cord is 8 feet long by 4 feet high by 4 feet wide - 128ft3 ). This was a yearly savings of $50 at market fossil fuel prices of 2005-2007 without taking into account rising fossil fuel prices or the impending carbon tax.

Wood burning creates top cancer risk in Oregon's air, EPA says

Pollution from burning wood in stoves, fireplaces and elsewhere is the top cancer risk in Oregon's air, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis.

Burning wood and other organic material creates a greater risk than even benzene, a carcinogen belched by cars and trucks in the tens of thousands of tons each year, the analysis indicates.

By contrast, the main toxins from incomplete combustion of burning wood -- a class of chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (you can smell them) -- measure in the low hundreds of tons a year from Oregon's residential sources.

"Where can I find a good set of wood stove plans? I want to build my own."

We strongly recommend that you don't attempt to build your own stove. Here's why.

You can't burn wood cleanly and efficiently without a good combustion system, and you can't design and build a one-off combustion system that is any good. One of the reasons why the price of good wood stoves start at about $1000 is because it took a lot of practice, trial and error and bucket loads of money to get them to work properly and to pass both safety and emissions test standards.

Thirty years ago wood burning technology was crude, sort of like folk-technology and anyone with a welder could call himself a manufacturer. It is not like that any more and it is a good thing. A lot of folks got burned, both literally and financially, buying stoves built by people who didn't know what they were doing.

Some starter questions:

What is the latest in wood heating technology? In terms of efficiency/cost/emissions, etc?

Are there inversion or other pollution rules where you live?

Have you tried it? What has your experience been?

What other expertise/links do you have to share about home heating with wood?

(If you've learned from this website on various topics, please consider giving some knowledge back if/when appropriate - group selection in real time...;-)

Great topic Nate, I'm excited for this!

Please, please, this is a foul, rotten idea. I nearly choke here in Australia when I go walking at night or open my window in winter while I'm sleeping. I wake with headaches and a sore throat, and get sinusitis from the smoke belching into the night air from numerous domestic woodburning heaters.

In Australia, Chesterman (1984) carried out chemical analysis on smoke from a domestic fireplace using gas chromatograph and gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry methods. He identified 55 organic compounds similar to those identified in US tests. Quraishi et al. (1984) report similar measurements identifying biphenyl, methyl anthracene, phenanthrene, anthracene, propyl fluorene, fluoranthene and pyrene.

Residential firewood use is the fourth largest category of dioxin emissions: behind prescribed burning, bush fires and cement production, but ahead of coal combustion.(source)

A potential problem, little addressed in the scientific or health literature, is the accumulation of creosote in tank water for households using roof-collected rain water. Many rural households use firewood for heating, water heating and cooking, this creates a potential problem of wood-smoke fallout (creosote) collecting on roofs and washing into water tanks. People in Australia are increasingly collecting water from their roofs, so this is a growing problem.

Emission measurement of wood-smoke in Sweden indicated a high proportion of volatile hydrocarbons from woodheaters were carcinogenic, including benzene, 10 to 20% by weight of non-methane hydrocarbons; and 1,3-butadiene, 1 to 2% (Barrefors and Petersson 1995). The toxic nature of wood-smoke has also been demonstrated in some animal studies. Kou et al. (1997), for example, in studies of wood-smoke inhalation by rats, showed an immediate change in respiration. The authors attributed this change to the increased presence of the hydroxyl radical in the wood-smoke. Respiratory irritants, such as various aldehydes, are emitted from woodheaters and open fireplaces with total aldehyde emission factors in the range 0.6 to 2.3 g/kg from open fireplaces (Lipari et al. 1984). Zhang and Smith (1999) have developed carbonyl emission factors for various fuels, including firewood, used for cooking in China. Biomass combustion produced a wide range of carbonyl compounds, sufficient to cause acute health effects in typical village use.(source)

Lewis et al. (1988) reported on mutagenicity in ambient fine particles in winter in Albuquerque. Wood-smoke was found to contribute more extractable organics and mutagenicity than motor vehicle emissions.

Highly recommended reading:
Review of literature on residential firewood use, wood-smoke and air toxics — HUMAN HEALTH

That would be the point of the last article he posted.

A top-of-the-line wood burner will set you back USD1000 or more, but the additional money is worth it for the extra energy you extract from the wood and the much cleaner emissions.

Most of the woodsmoke from conventional fireplaces and other too-common wood stoves is actually unburned combustibles. By cycling those through a superheated reburner emissions drop dramatically and you get much more heat per cord.

It still isn't perfect, but as long as we are going to burn stuff for heat in winter we might as well do it right.

What still is not clear is what the emissions are from these EPA approved woodburning stoves/fireplace inserts. If a lot of people start using them by replacing their natural gas fired fireplaces or natural gas or oil furnaces, then knowing the impact on air quality is important. What could happen is a lot of people start using them and air quality becomes too much of a health risk, then they could be banned or the government may have to offer incentives to get people to replace them with something else, like ground sourced heat pumps. This would be very cost inefficient.


Doing many different things is cost inefficient, but it is how you make a complex system robust.

Not everyone will choose wood, for many reasons detailed both above and below. Fuel availability is a primary driver. For those who do, it is in everyone's best interest that they have the most efficient systems available.

Health concerns are important, but IF you have to choose between freezing and staying warm, I think the environmental hazards of wood burning will be very low on your list of priorities.

We heat with natural gas. But I recognize that n-gas may not always be there when we need it, especially now that we have entered T1 of The Transition.

We have a modern high-efficiency woodstove for back up, along with two winter's worth of wood (we do use the woodstove occasionally each winter).

I am considering propane w/storage tank as a second backup heat source for "insurance." At least with propane, you have storage on-site (the same is true with fuel oil furnaces).

Wood pellet and corn stoves are nice - but how secure is the fuel supply, how much competition is there for the fuel, and how many layers of middle men do you have to go through to get the fuel?

The pros and cons for each method will vary for each locale. But having multiple sources for fuel to heat and cook is probably a good idea for most of us.

If time permits, I plan on building a giant solar oven around my house (just kidding... sort of).

(p.s. - thank you Nate/TOD for another fantastic and practical CampFire Thread)

Open fireplaces are terrible. I believe the debate should be about the very low emission EPA approved stoves. Current stove technology has reduced emissions to about 1 gram per hour for particulates, and the much more thorough combustion of gases dramatically reduces the hydrocarbons & aldehydes as they are combusted.

To plead for no wood or biomass as a blanket statement is misleading regarding the environmental impact. Comparing old open-hearth fireplaces to modern wood stoves is like comparing the emissions of an off-road diesel or 2-stroke to a Prius. They are worlds apart but both use combustion.

So what's your alternative recommendation for us in eg. Northern North America? Can we come where you are?

Centralised district heating utilising your fuel of choice.

That covers the city dwellers, what are the farmers and ranchers to do?

Especially considering that if fuel becomes more expensive than people we will have more of them.

Heat pumps (with or without solar support), backup wood or pellets stoves or backup electric resistance heaters. Or a combination thereof.

And there you go, not for everyone but a valuable component of a total energy solution in appropriate areas.


Given the density,or lack thereof more properly speaking,of most residential construction in the US it does not seem likely that steam lines can be laid from central heating plants.Really good stoves or heat pumps run by biomass generated electricity are probably more affordable and practical.Possibly more energy efficient as well?

The pipes do not carry steam but rather water at about 90 degrees Celsius, and if you can afford natgas pipes you can afford district heating. For example, we use district heating in our less dense suburban areas. The only place where they don't work economically is the countryside.

Wood heating is a mixed bag. It's nice to look a fire on a frosty night. The ash can go on the garden. OTOH you have to clean it and feed it. You may have to use a lot of wood if radiant heat is inadequate across the room. If you have free firewood that means tooling around forests with chainsaws in mid winter. When there is no liquid fuel you won't have a ute/pickup to transport the wood back home. Or fuel for the chainsaw.

I'm about to put heavier floor tiles under my wood stove with a raised rim around the edge to keep ash off the carpet. I've been experimenting with ways to redirect warm air flow. If electricity ever became 'too cheap to meter' I wouldn't have go through all this crap. I wouldn't recommend that people who don't have a cheap wood supply even contemplate getting a wood stove.

Incidentally there is a 180 acre wood lot in the ridge behind my place. It is full of slow burning eucalypt wood but it is off limits to me. Some local lads have been using a 6-wheel drive Studebaker truck to get at steeper sections but even that vehicle has become stuck.

Personally, I have tried it and can say that there are several drawbacks to wood heating. Of course, this was old wood stoves and may not relate well to current technology.

1) It is very hard to distribute heat with this kind of heating. You will normally end up with either one room with good temperature and others that are cold, or if you push the heating, you will have one super hot room with correct temperature in the others.

2) It takes continual supervision, i.e. someone putting wood in it at renewed interval. Otherwise you will feel the cold pretty soon. Thus, in the morning, it is generally cold in the house since you went 8 hours without putting a log in it.

3) It is hard to dose correctly the number of logs you should put in the fire. It will often be too hot or too cold in the room you would like correct temperature. Lots of energy is lost if you open the windows because it is too hot!

4) You need to prepare in advance for the winter by buying or otherwise acquiring a sufficient quantity of logs. If you wait till the beginning of fall, prices soar and it will cost you much more. Same if you need to buy extra wood during the winter.

5) It really nice spending the evening by the stove reading a good book!

Automatic Wood Pellet Heating Systems


Note: Wood pellet stoves require electricity to keep the pellet auger turning.

a)any way to jury-rig it? (using solar panels etc?)
b)pellet/electricity availability will be highly correlated (i.e. you'll likely either have both or neither...;-)

I've got one on the low end of power requirements and it uses 140 watts. Then it has this annoying autostart feature (a glow plug) that uses about 400 more for about twenty minutes. I would recommend a wood over pellets, AFAIK the only feedstocks for pellets right now are waste streams from various sources and thus severly limited in volume.

A friend of mine has a larger one without autostart and a 500 watt inverter wont run it.

My son uses a pellet stove in Mammoth--uses about one bag per day. Costs vary from $6-8/bag and the 2 stores that carry them often run out. They stop carrying pellets in the spring and when they had a late May snow storm, lots of folks were forced to use their propane which is quite expensive. But the stove works great in a house with very little insulation. New wood stoves are prohited.

You also need wood pellets. If the folks go out of business, or run out because of too much demand or too few trees in the area, you have an expensive stove, but no use for it.

Its not the trees, at least not directly. Nobody I know off is selling wood as feedstock material for pellets, its much more valuable for things like paper pulp. Pellet feedstocks are waste from furniture factories and saw mills, if they had to pay anything significant for it pellets would really be pricey. There could be shortages this winter as sluggish as the economy has been (saw mills and furniture shops doing less).

If you live in an area where corn is grown, the answer is a corn stove. I have heated with corn for 5 years now. I tried wood, but it is just too much work and trouble. Wood is cheaper if labor cost and inconvenience do not matter.

Other problems:

1. Constantly have to tend the fire and an uneven heat flow from irregular size pieces. Wood pellet and corn stoves solve this problem. I put small electric blowers in the ductwork left from my old LP furnace to move the heat around the house. My house is small.

2. I have found wood pellets are overpriced compared to corn.

3. Bringing wood into the house brings insects that are in the wood also. Wood is messy and hard to store in the house. Outside it gets wet. I store my corn in large plastic tubs with lids that I keep outside the back door. Every couple of weeks depending on the weather I carry pails of corn from the bin in my pickup to fill the tubs.

4. Wood is often not uniformly dry which can cause problems starting and maintaining the fire.

5. Wood produces more ash than corn for some reason. I have let my corn stove run for a week or more without emptying the ash pan.

The BTUs/lb. for corn and wood pellets are the same. I have never seen wood pellets priced to be cheaper than corn. I would like to see larger corn bins on corn stoves. Even filling twice a day can become annoying, but it's better than chasing after wood every hour or two. And it's nice to be able to leave the house for 5-6 hours and come back to a warm house with the fire still burning nicely.

The main problem with corn stoves is that if the electricity goes out there will be no heat and a lot of smoke for a little while. You must have a back up. Mine is electric space heaters. Generally my electricity is pretty reliable. It does fail 3 or 4 times a year, but outages don't usually last long.

The big benefit of burning corn is that it is quickly newable and readily available in many parts of the country. I use to heat with LP and was motivated to switch to wood and then to corn by LP'a extreme price volitility. Also LP is taxed and the distributor markup is quite high.

Corn burns best if moisture is around 13% or less. The standard for corn is 15% which I find is a little wet for burning. I keep about a 100 bushels in the bin from last years crop for this years heating. It's probably around 10-11% moisture when I burn it.

Some farmers sell very dry corn for heating at a premium. The local elevator keeps a bin of very dry corn for corn stoves during the winter. The local grain elevator is a good place to buy very dry corn if they do this. But I prefer to grow my own because none of it is reported to the tax man and I know it is ready and dry come winter.

I am horrified at the idea of burning corn in a stove. Shocking, sinful, wasteful....

It's more efficient use of the corn than converting it to ethanol. But still, agree your sentiment. There should at least be a method to create substitute fuel pellets from grass / wheat straw / corn stover.

There is, just not very economical. Right now pellets are made from waste that would normally cost the owner money to dispose of, hard for something that would have to be collected from fields to compete with. High ash content is another down side to the alternative sources of feedstocks.

The pellet market is in its early stage if it only use waste sawdust. A significant ammount of the large wood pellet plants in Sweden has recently added capacity for schredding roundwood to get enough raw material and several of the remaining particle board manufacturers have made the same kind of investment. The pulp plants are not too happy about this but the plants tend to be located far apart. And it is anyway a free market!

I agree, a wicked notion, worse than feeding it to cows to make beef. With all the energy expended to grow the corn, literally up in smoke, a 2nd time.

But that's the thing. Peak oil is going to mean peak corn as well. When oil gets expensive, the corn is going to get really expensive too. It will go back to its proper place, if any, as something grown in small holdings by hand for human food.

Instead of an old fashioned wood stove, (with new tech to cut emissions), install a steam plant or a set of thermal couples to convert the high grade heat into electricity or electricity via steam.

Then use the electricity generated to power a battery that runs it the rest of the time.

I researched a lot before buying my stove. It requires no electricity to run and uses real wood, not the manufactured pellets. It is also EPA certified and emits only 1.26 grams per hour. That is tiny! Once at temperature it burns clean and you can't see smoke out the chimney.

The model I got is an insert that fits into the horrible masonry fireplace my 1960's vintage home has. http://www.quadrafire.com/Products/Wood_Burning/Wood_Model.asp?f=3100Iact
The added advantage is that all that masonry heats up and warms the whole house. The top has a large cook surface too. What more could you want? We use it for backup heat, and to be honest here on the Colorado front range it rarely got cold enough to use it. I got a forest logging permit for about $20 and harvested a cord of pine beetle killed lodgepole pine. I prefer hardwood, but the local source & cheap price was hard to pass up.

I've had this stove for almost 5 years now and it has had no maintenance issues. It is amazing to see how it folds the flame path back upon itself (four times, hence the name) which produces more visible light & flame than any other stove I have seen.

I'm very happy with it.

May I recommend to all those interested in Wood Heating/Bio-mass heating, you consider a masonry heater

The technology for Masonry Heaters was developed approximately 300 - 400 years ago when maximizing the thermal energy generated by burning wood (which started becoming scarce in Europe) was important.

A masonry heater will take one charge of wood to "radiate" (as opposed to convecting) heat for up to 24 hours.
Like the sun, radiant heat warms objects (very little stratification) v warming air (resulting in stratification).

The mass of masonry acts as a heat sink - slowly releasing an even heat (depending upon temperatures outside) for up to a day.

The burn is so clean, that most neighbors don't know you're having a fire.

Because of these and other characteristics, a masonry heater uses a significantly lesser amount of wood for space heating when compared to conventional wood stoves.

If anyone would like more info, please feel free to contact me - terryatsunnysolutionsdotus

Meh - They're no more efficient in combustion than a modern stove with a secondary combustion system. My stove is placed in an old cooking fireplace (a "walk-in" fireplace), so it is surrounded on three sides by thick stone walls. The stove burns very efficiently, and the stone stores a lot of heat. You could duplicate this pretty easily by building a masonry wall by a stove. The difference is that you can get a good stove for less than $1000.

What kind of burn efficiency are you talking about?

The good masonry stoves are hard to beat, and throw a minimum of their heat up the chimney, since there is direct contact with the stonework, unlike what you describe.


The burning efficiency of a Tulikivi varies between 85 and 95 %. So you will use 9 times less firewood compared to open fireplaces and 30 to 60 % compared to regular woodstoves.

My family has had two good masonry stoves built for homes we made.. I wouldn't compromise on that decision without some very convincing reports.

I've wondered about this: if the minimum heat is in the exhaust, does that mean creosote builds up in the chimney faster than if the exhaust is hot? Is the effect noticeable?

If the secondary combustion chamber is sized/laid out right, it's just the opposite. You've already burned off the compounds in the smoke that would have deposited creosote in the 'chimbley' (as I'm reminded I have to say it up here in New England) .. you also don't have the kind of heat going up the chimbley that would ignite creosote Into a chimbley fire. The mass-ey Masonry Furnace absorbs much of the heat, and reradiates it slowly over a few days.. so you don't open windows during a burn because the house is suddenly TOO hot, either- as can happen with some wood-heat setups..

We had no issues with creosote, but I don't know if subsequent owners have used the system correctly (Short, Hot burns) -

My large stove is constructed such that the only intake air comes up from the bottom in a tube through the firebox, which goes to a manifold over the firebox. This has small holes that allow the heated air to shoot down over the fire. When it is burning hot you get jets of fire at these holes as they ignite with the hot gasses from the fire. The exhaust must then go out the very front edge, up and over the air manifold and along under the top plate of the stove. When it is operating properly the air inlet is very small (less than 1 square inch), and the chimney is not all that hot (there is very little volume moving through it). You cannot see much smoke when it is burning like this, and with 6 large logs in it it will burn for many hours this way. If I stop it down harder for overnight the efficiency will go down of course.

I cannot read the brochures at the site you linked to, but the diagrams do not show secondary combustion (of course that may mean nothing, marketing and brochures being what they are), rather they look like the old type of sealed stove my Dad has from the 70's - a long contorted path for the exhaust to try to get as much heat out of it as possible, but made out of high thermal mass materials.

The combustion chamber design I described has become the standard for non-catalyst combustion chamber design, and you really cannot get much more efficient. I don't really think that having the masonry in direct contact with the smoke makes much difference - convection is probably not the main method of heat transfer - radiation is. Having the metal stove in the room, separated from the thermal mass by a couple of feet and open on one side allows the heat to radiate out into the room. It also allows me to blow air across the stove, which is helpful in my case as I need to transport the heated air to other parts of my house. Even so, with a fan blowing across the stove and a large house blower moving air through the room it will still get to 90 in there, which tells me that radiation is the primary mode for transferring heat out of the stove. The stone walls take a few hours to really heat up, and they will hold heat for many hours after the stove has burned down.

Eventually I hope to put a wood-fired cook stove in the other part of the house (with a hot water coil), and then I can dispense with the blower thing. I will have to cut a hole in the ceiling then, as the basement will be way too hot to be habitable otherwise

There is no creosote in the chimney, it has all been burned. I don't even bother to sweep the chimney pipe, just tap it a bit to get the few particles that remain to fall down. To burn wood completely you need to burn hot. Iron can't take the heat of a very hot fire, so iron stoves do not burn the wood completely. The idea is to make a very hot, fast burning fire with very little pollution. The heat is stored in the mass of the masonry so that after the fire you close everything and the masonry stays hot for 12 hours to several days depending on the mass of the masonry.

Efficient masonry burners can be found in Holland at
and in France at

This said, you can't beat passive solar and good insulation for heating.

Masonry heaters are a great idea, I agree. However, retrofitting one of these into an existing home is a major undertaking. I looked into this several years ago. Basically you want the masonry heater to be in the center of the home. In our case, this would have involved taking a whole section of floor out and re-building and reinforcing around it. Depending on the home this is either very costly or down-right impossible. If you are building a new home then by all means design it around a masonry heater and you'll be very happy.

We ended up buying a high efficiency Amish-built cook stove for the kitchen which keeps the house pretty warm when operating.

Tile stoves are attractive to look at and much less - stove-y.


Also ...


Yes, the wood stove. Every year, seven cords of hardwood, in the spring and summer so the wood would be seasoned. Cut, split and stacked. Chain saw, double bit axe, tractor, chain, sledge hammer, wedges, muscle. Oak was the best, elm was the toughest.


Elm. Now there is a word I hate hearing since I got my stove insert.

I just gave some away that was too large to fit in my stove -- two hours to split one 15-inch log was just not an effective use of my time.

If you think dead dry elm is hard to split, wait until you are handed some cottonwood!
I just finished splitting about 7 cords of dry dead elm (with pieces up to 28" in dia) with a hydraulic splitter and then started on some cottonwood. Much stringier and tougher to split. I can see why the old timers just hauled dead elm and cottonwood out into the field and burned them there as they could not begin to split them with axes,wedges and mauls.

Cottonwood is harder to split than aspen or hybrid poplar or other species in the genus Populus but harder to split than Siberian elm??? No way.

Personally, I have tried it and can say that there are several drawbacks to wood heating. Of course, this was old wood stoves and may not relate well to current technology.

1) It is very hard to distribute heat with this kind of heating. You will normally end up with either one room with good temperature and others that are cold, or if you push the heating, you will have one super hot room with correct temperature in the others.

Still a problem unless you have something like central heat with a wood fired boiler.

2) It takes continual supervision, i.e. someone putting wood in it at renewed interval. Otherwise you will feel the cold pretty soon. Thus, in the morning, it is generally cold in the house since you went 8 hours without putting a log in it.

Still a problem but less of a problem. The newer EPA certified stove can have burn times of 8 or 9 hours, you need really dry wood to get any secondary burn on the long burns.

3) It is hard to dose correctly the number of logs you should put in the fire. It will often be too hot or too cold in the room you would like correct temperature. Lots of energy is lost if you open the windows because it is too hot!

Less of a problem, the new airtight stoves are easier to regulate. You do need one constant -- dry wood.

4) You need to prepare in advance for the winter by buying or otherwise acquiring a sufficient quantity of logs. If you wait till the beginning of fall, prices soar and it will cost you much more. Same if you need to buy extra wood during the winter.

More of a problem. You need well seasoned wood to get useful overnight burns in the newer EPA certified stoves. Secondary burns wont happen in the non-catalytic stoves below some nominal temperature. Moisture in the wood eats up a signficant number of BTUs, you may not get any secondary combustion on the slow burns with a high moisture level. Probably want wood that was cut dead, and then kept inside a shed over the hot summer months. Wood cut in the fall and left out in the pile probably wont give consistant overnight burns at a given draft setting.

5) It really nice spending the evening by the stove reading a good book!

Never a problem.

With a wood burning stove, you also need a "Heat Store", or "Heat Bank".


Burning wood may be fine if you live in a small hamlet near a forest, but it is totally inappropriate for urban or suburban living. The problem is severe pollution -- the pollution from wood smoke is often worse than any other source in the urban or suburban environment. In some municipalities in Canada, new wood burning stoves are being banned. Where I live, unfortunately, we are plagued by a couple of neighbors whose smoke drifts around every winter evening at ground level. There are no laws against them here, yet.

Even the latest technology does no good. At a trade show last year a local company that sells stoves had a demo running, and the ground-level smoke was dreadful. As I understand it the older inefficient stoves put very hot smoke into the air which would rise high. The very fact that new stoves are more efficient makes the smoke less hot, and therefore not rise far enough.

I put together a page of links that I have circulated to local politicians and community association leaders to try to raise awareness about this. The link is

One other factor is that with the high-efficiency Masonry Heaters, their secondary combustion also removes/burns-off a great majority of the particulates from the smoke than what you have with those hotter exhausts..

Pollution isn't going to be the factor that limits heating with wood in an urban or suburban neighbourhood. Supply will be.

Even so, pollution isn't nearly the problem you make it out to be with new stoves, especially with masonry models. 1-2 grams of particulate per hour is nothing. The problem is all the fireplaces and stoves that have been allowed to remain under grandfather clauses. Unfortunately, those problem fireplaces and stoves are in homes that aren't tightly built or well insulated, compounding the problem.

The house we are building will use wood heat as a backup to passive solar heating. The R50ish walls, an R90ish roof, appropriate windows, and a efficient masonry stove should all help make pollution an insignificant issue. Our expectation is to use less than a cord of wood per year, hopefully much less. My guess is that such homes would work very well in an suburban setting, but I'll have to get back to you on whether it all ties together like we're expecting.

I have been using a wood stove all my life, almost 70 years. i live only a few miles north of the cody scarp therefore have only a few heating days/yr. Currently, i use thirty year old stove in my in-town urban home, centrally located in a "great room" on a concrete pad. I use only 2 year plus seasoned hardwood for fuel and keep an active flame in my 30 year old fisher stove when i have it fired up. On this stove i have three temp gauges to insure that i am burning at a temp of over 250 degrees in-order to burn gases and prevent creosote buildup. frequently clean the stack. I burn hot and let it cool off. very little smoke from stack. get all my wood from tree trimmings and downfall trees. only use half a cord/yr. not very sustainable but will probably get me through until the next dimension. Do not intend to purchase a new high tech stove. In cold times when the electricity is out i have lots of neighbors for beans, sweet potatoes and coffee i cook on the stove. On the farm the wood stove is used in a different manner. Nothing like a good sleeping bag and vigorous work to invigorate the soul. remember, all you have to keep warm is the body. Everything else is a luxury. purchase a good good sleeping bag no matter where you live. it might just save your life.

Just as a brief comment, I like the "headspace" that heating with split logs kinda forces on you. Instead of heat appearing as if by magic at the flick of a switch, there's a very visceral reality to pushing pieces of a tree into a burning chamber and monitoring it, particularly if you've split and stacked the wood yourself.

Of course, watching a fire is hypnotic and relaxing - hence the "campfire" designation of this TOD section. I'd enjoy sitting around a real campfire with many of you, and miss that as a very-basic social ritual.

All that said, I do shudder to think of the fate of the forests and anything else that will burn in the slow-collapse future scenarios, and the erosion once they're gone. And I think that ultimately people will be burning coal in home stoves again, despite the pollution.

TOD readers can still get land on Hawaii's big isle, about 30k for 3 acres, grow their own food, catch their own water, and never freeze their toes. For that matter, so few people burn wood there that there's always plenty for campfires.

I agree, a fire brings up archetypal memories of safety and warmth.
I fired up the fireplace in upcountry Maui on a frequent basis, and even used a fire to dry things out while living on the North Shore in Haiku.

TOD readers can still get land on Hawaii's big isle, about 30k for 3 acres, grow their own food, catch their own water, and never freeze their toes. For that matter, so few people burn wood there that there's always plenty for campfires.

Yeah, but will they still be able to quarry giant pieces of granite for stone head statues to place on their lawns to appease the gods of peak oil? Maybe they can also build balsa wood rafts that they can use to sail to the mainland every couple of years to barter for metal tools.

Not granite, but certainly basalt. And as far as heating goes, there's nothing like warming yourself at a volcanic eruption. And I could probably strike live steam if I drilled down from my Fern Forest lot, but I might get live lava instead... so I'll bet it's not allowed. Too bad, you could do the heat pump from hell for those brisk Mauna Loa nights.

Metal tools should last awhile, even on an island.

I've posted this link a couple of times already, but here goes again:

For those of us with the skills to make them, metal tools will never go out of style as long as we can find any metal at all.

There are lots of tricks that even a novice blacksmith can use to extend the lifespan of most metal tools, and rehafting wood handled tools is easy enough that even a suburban handyman can do it.

I've heated with an old coal stove, a more modern wood stove and now a wood pellet stove. Unless you have and cut your own wood, and unless pellets suddenly get very scarce- pellets are the way to go.
The stove is almost completely automatic, it leaves no wood burning smell inside or out and the chimney exhaust has NO visible smoke- just a heat plume. The units scavenge out the heat so efficiently that you also save greatly on a flue for pellets stoves versus a wood stove.( if you have to add one)
For sheer character the woodstove is nice but that's like saying a harley has lots of character( and oil leaks and noise) the modern pellet units burn clean, use only a little electricity to run and generally do exactly what the manufacturers claim they do. Don't buy a cheap one and don't buy a side feeder- buy one only with a bottom feeding augur and figure you will go thru 2 tons of pellets per winter( about $575/ 2tons delivered here in Jersey).
We saw a huge reduction in gas bills once we put in the $2000 pellet stove- and reckon we have paid it off in 3 winters( upcoming is our 4th).
Ours is a Harman- made in Pennsylvania and so far 100% reliable- I've seen much cheaper units in Lowes etc- i'd be skeptical of these for more than just a season or runnning reliably day in and day out( we will often run ours for 20 days straight- low power in daytime when at work, high power in evening and low power at night to keep the load off the gas bill.

I have heated our 6600 sq ft garage/shop and living space for three winters in Colorado with a Greenwood Technologies Model 300 high efficiency wood boiler. We burn 1/4 cord per day of forest fire killed wood (mostly Pinion and ponderosa). That equates to 30 cords per season and clears about 10 acres of land. The furnace burns at 1500 - 2000 degrees and there is not smoke whatsoever except for a few minutes after fueling because the firebox is cooled slightly with a full load and the wood is not ideal (any deciduous hardwood would be better). The building is heated with a combination of hydronic in floor heat/baseboard/water-air heat exchangers, and the boiler is in a separate building outside. The system has been a delight and provides this retired person with exercise during the winter months (wood heats you 4 times: cutting, loading, burning,cleaning). Heating with wood is not for everyone. You must be in good shape, and the wood supply needs to be close by and free, and you need a truck trailer and skid steer to transport the wood. To purchase cord wood would make the cost almost the same as propane, but at least you would not be burning fossil fuel. We save close to a 1000 gallons of propane a season. We built an all metal building to house the boiler and it includes an overhead crane to transfer the wood pallets in from the loading area to the boiler. Total cost of the installed system was about $20K.

how long does it take to grow a cord of wood? and which kind of wood do you use? a soft or hard wood?

How long does it take to grow a cord or wood? Not a very good question. Depends on how many trees you're talking, location, soil, and a few other factors. In my northeastern region we figure a cord a year per acre of trees. In the northwestern rainforest region they get more than two per acre. Very rough estimates.

Beyond which a cord is a lousy measure of wood energy, as it is a measure of volume. All wood has about the same BTUs per weight so a cord of poplar has about half the energy as a cord of oak, but it grows faster (it's just solar power - an oak log has more solar energy and carbon stored in it). But then no one is going to weigh a load of wood, so you just have to learn the species.

Yup, all wood has about 7000 BTU per pound with the normal dried to burn good moisture content. Dry the wood to 0% moisture and you can get about 8000 BTU per pound.

My guess is that if people ever get to the point of figuring out cost per 100,000 BTU on purchased wood they will start demanding that they purchase by weight. Run the hauling truck over the scales both empty and loaded and calculate the actual weight of the delivered wood - And then only pay 80% or less than the cost of propane/natural gas per 100,000 BTU. I wouldn't want to go to the work of cutting/splitting/drying and hauling firewood for that small amount today, but in the future when fossil fuels get expensive there will be people who will.

But you can bet there will be unscrupulous sellers that will weigh the truck loaded with the driver in the cab and weigh empty without the driver in the cab?

Avoid polluting your lungs for a few bucks of energy savings.
You will spend many times more in health care costs.
You will also weaken your respiratory defenses making you more vulnerable to H1N1 virus.




If you want to protect your lungs,avoid wood stove heating.

Well, perhaps in a town with many stoves I'd buy that - but then that's not the place for it. When my stoves are burning properly, you can barely see the smoke. And my health is far better for the exercise I get splitting wood - including the vitamin D (well, maybe not in the winter months).

Yes, I've seen all the statistics on health effects of wood smoke. Makes me wonder how the species survived all those thousands (millions?) of years when wood was our only fuel, before we were awashinoll. And it seems we are heading that way again. Even now, the risks of wood heat seem to me (see my post below) worth the benefits, including of course the current as opposed to fossil carbon emissions. For those of us lucky to be in sparesely populated rural areas anyway. And if we can get population down enough, for everyone.

I will say that before we bought the Jotul stove (2003) we used an old Buck fireplace insert, and with that stove my wife especially would be coughing the whole winter. With the very efficient Jotul stove --keeping it always on full burn, no throttling down -- she (and I) have no problem.

Lifespan was much shorter ,less than 30 y.o. during prehistoric times.

Yes, I've seen that stat too. Also the note that very high infant mortality is/was the reason for the short average (median or mean?) lifespan. If people survived beyond infancy they seem to have lived more what we would think of as a normal lifespan, I think 50s to 60s, and at least in Neolithic times seem to have had a better, more diverse diet and, getting much more exercise, having better health than us moderns (but I'm not remembering exactly and not looking this up, so catch me if I'm way off here).

Yet here's an interesting claim at the Tulikivi site..


Saving health

When during the winter time, the solar radiant heat fails, you can get a good substitute at home with the radiant heat of Tulikivi fireplaces. This infrared heat improves blood circulation, stabilises blood pressure, improves metabolism, strengthens bones, adds energy and offers better protection from infectious diseases. Doctors often prescribe the use of an infrared treatment to elderly people or youngsters that feel particularly weak at the end of winter.

Contrary to air heating, radiant heating creates less air and dust movements, does not burn dust, inhibits moulds and house mites and keeps air humidity stable. That is why radiant heat is often preferred by asthmatics.

Those wacky Finns! But a fire sure does feel good.. maybe I should listen to my body..

I had a book which I can't find right now for the life of me, The Book of Masonry Stoves: Rediscovering an Old Way of Warming that details the history of the Masonry Stoves. A King in one of the European countries offered a prize during a period of heavy deforestation for the wood heater that would heat a home with the least amount of wood, the winner was the forerunner of modern Masonry Stoves.

The Russian Mennonites had a design with an oversized firebox that could burn grass and straw.

I have very sensitive lungs after years of smoking and working with insulation and it only takes a wiff of dust to set me coughing for days. I have had a woodstove for 3 years and it has never once triggered my allergy.

Wood heat and a stock-pile of wood is a great back-up, in case of power or NG failures or shortages. Should use it sparingly to rotate the wood supply( about every 4 years), and make sure it operates without electricity or you have a back-up power supply.
Not really needed in most warmer parts of US or Australia where temperatures are usually above freezing.

My wife and I have been using a Jotul F-500 Oslo cast iron woodstove as our primary heat source for the last six years. We like it very much. Has a glass door so we can see the fire. And after it gets to temperature, you can't see any smoke coming out of the chimney -- that to me spells efficient burning. It works for us because we are in a rural area and firewood is available -- I would like to say all from our 70 acres (in central Alabama, USA), but last winter we had to buy 2 cords (my excuse is my heart attack last fall followed by bypass surgery), and we will have to buy again this year. We have a little less than a cord on hand, and we usually burn at least two cords. However, we plan to add much more insulation in the attic this fall, so that may cut down the amount of wood we burn. I add that we also burn found wood, keeping an eye out for curbside or roadside down trees and logs we can pick up in our pickup. Nate is right that firewood cannot be for everyone, but it seems to us right for our circumstances.

The stove is a non-catalytic (IMO a techno-fix to go wrong) airtight stove. We burn mostly hickory, oak and pecan. Good firewood in this area runs a little under $200 US per cord. Our house is a 2,000 sq ft single storey ranch style with a defunct central heat/AC system we will never use. We have almost a thousand square feet of open living room (where the stove is), dining area and kitchen, and an adjoining master bedroom and bath, and the woodstove heats this area just fine. In winter we often sleep in the living area in front of the stove on a sleeper sofa. The stove sits on a stone hearth in front of the fireplace, and the entire wall is 4-inch thick rock 16 feet wide (with a standard insulated stud wall behind it), so we have pretty good thermal mass. The stove will not burn through the night, but it is still warm enough in the morning, and usually we have enough coals to easily restart. I installed a variable speed squirrel cage blower high on the living room wall to blow warm air into the bedroom. We don't try to heat the other two bedrooms in the east end of the house -- but, this being Alabama, it doesn't get to freezing in those rooms. Ashes are a nuisance; the stove has a small ash try which must be emptied daily. We have stocked up with Bahco bow saw blades in case there is no gas to run the chain saw. Our neighbors, in a much smaller house, have a Transocean Ltd Sheepherder wood-fired cookstove, which they can cook on and heat the house with. My wife and I are thinking of adding one of those just in case.

Like Vineyfig, I too use a newer woodstove that does not have a catalytic device. It was engineered to re-burn the smoke and does so very well.

Our stove is actually a cookstove called the Baker's Oven that is made by an Australian company called Nectre but commonly sold in the USA. We do cook and bake with it in the winter, though we also use our gas range for some culinary procedures :)

It's important that any woodstove is sized properly so that it's heating capacity matches the size of the space you wish to heat. If the stove is over-sized then the owner will tend to dampen or restrict the burn and then it will produce to much smoke.

I live in a small city. All my wood comes from neighborhood tree trimming. The people in my neighborhood know that I collect wood so they come tell me when they are taking down a tree in their yard. Also I keep an eye on the utility company's tree trimming crew.

Smoke and smell can be an issue. If I can smell the smoke strongly outside my house then I know that the fire is not burning hotly (cleanly) enough and we cank it back up to a lively burn rate.

Isn't there a problem with keeping small children away from wood-burning stoves? I have a younger sister who was severely burned when she was about 18 months old, falling on an open grid above a furnace in the basement (oil burning, I believe). Couldn't something similar happen with a wood burning stove?

'The cat that steps onto a hot stove will never step onto another hot stove. But it also won't step onto a cold one.'

It happens.There are stoves with double walls,thyeouter one being thin enameled sheet metal that heat more by convection than radiation.They work fine ,especially when equipped with a fan,as most are that I have seen.

The outershell does not usually get hot enough to inflict serious burns,but the pipe will burn you just ther same.

Little kids are best minded around stoves by means of safety barriers that keep them at least a foot or two away.

I raised three kids around woodburners and never had a problem. They learn quickly. But of course accidents happen and there are a thousand hazards parents fret about when it comes to their children.

My daughter picked up a spoon or something from Grandma's simmering stove top. Got a good little blister on her thumb and forefinger.. Leslie says that's when she stopped sucking her thumb.

When stoves are burning hot, you really feel the heat before you get that close to it, though. And still yes, you've got to keep an eye out, and teach them before letting them learn the hard way.


That's a Parenting issue, NOT a wood stove issue. One of the fundamental problems in this country, is that it's always someone else's fault. Blame the company that made the item, blame the guy that sold me the stocks, blame someone else because a parent can't, won't or is too lazy, to teach their kid? It's the MERIKAN way.

No. We heat our entire 2000 sq ft 100+ year old house (new insulation) with a single wooden stove, an american Vermont Castings Intrepid II. Our son touched the woodstove once when he was about one year old. Has never done it again, and didn't even get a burn when he did. He does touch it when the stove is cool. Wood comes from our own homestead, within manual hauling distance.

Children who are unused to stoves get burned, a couple of friends have this fence around their wood stove, giving the result that their kid gets burned sometimes by our stove since he never gets to learn that stoves are hot.

You americans see problems with everything, not solutions. So what that it gets hot in the living room, and more normal temperatures in the rest of the house, with the bedroom the coolest (nicer for sleeping in 20-22 C instead of 28. We just change clothes when we're indoors. Just as well as you get dirty working the homestead. Upside is that we get use for summer clothing in winter too...

All heat sources are an issue -- I still have scars from falling against an electric heater as a toddler.

We installed a wood insert into an old fireplace, and never had problems with children around either the fireplace or stove. The stove, being much warmer, is actually an attractive nuisance and has always attracted my very thin and quickly chilled son (it brings a smile thinking of a 16 year old camped on the floor in front of the stove reading).

The only recent issue was our black lab wagging his tail into the very hot front glass and stinking up the room with burnt hair smell. But no dogs were injured and I don't think he even realized what he had done (lab owners will understand).

I love to fiddle with a fire. Thinking about how to stack it so air gets to the logs, keeping it going until all the little coals are in it... the smell of furans and other assorted hydrocarbons. Like Greenish said, there's something hypnotic about sitting around the campfire.

Maybe we should burn something whilst reading the campfire section on TOD, so we can smell the furans ... ?

But then I live in a hot climate, and don't actually heat my house with a fireplace.

We are a society where people don't clean up their own poo so I am against wood fuel unless:

1. The people own the land where the firewood is produced. This could be either on their own property on which the wood is grown or as joint owners of a "wood lot." My rationale for this is that I believe people have to take responsibility for their actions.

2. That wood be rationed based upon the recuperative of the land where it is grown. In other words, wood could only be harvested in a "sustainable" basis and it could only be used "locally." No shipping allowed.

3. That there be no "market" for wood; you either "own" the producing land or you don't use firewood. Yes, this cuts out poor people but lots of people who are poor own timber...around here we call it "land poor."

4. That companies be forbidden from owning or leasing firewood timber land. Forget the hand of the market; that's BS.

5. Finally, only the owners could harvest and process the wood. No subbing out the work.

That's enough before dinner.


EDIT: I've heated with wood as out sole heat source for ~35 years. All the wood came off our land except a few times when people had logs they wanted to get rid of.

A comment on Twilight's post below mine - I used to like to split wood by hand too...when I was young. Give me the old 30ton spliiter any day. Plus, I think it's faster except on "perfect" wood.

There are days when I wonder how long I will enjoy it. There are also days when I look at the pile and wonder if I'll get it all ready in time. And then there is the hauling. You cannot get a truck within 300' of my house without trashing the yard, and the houses is on steep slope. So I end up hauling it with a garden tractor and a smaller cart, and I have to relocate every log several times. I do need to come up with another way to get the wood to the house - this effort dwarfs that of splitting.

Why not just use the tractor fuel to heat the house?

The fuel for that tractor is gasoline - at the most I use a few gallons doing this. Let's say worst case I use 10 gallons moving wood (a high estimate)- even if I could heat with gasoline, how long do you suppose this would heat my house? A single cylinder 12hp engine puttering along at low rpm does not use much fuel, neither does the chainsaw.

It takes an order of magnitude less oil to collect firewood than to heat a house for the equivalent amount of time. Possibly even less than that.


Where we live in Colorado there is a HUGE supply of excess biomass in our BLM and Federal forests that needs to be used in a controlled fashion or mother nature will burn it by the thousands of acres with devastating results. I agree that we do not want to cause a "rape of the land".


This will be our 4th season heating primarily with wood. I installed a large stove in the old cooking fireplace in our basement in 2005. I modified the air ducts for our oil-fired hot air system so that the blower would draw hot air off the top of the room and distribute around the house, and then I installed a spare furnace control and thermostat. When the room gets up to about 78F the blower kick on - it's not uncommon for the room to get up to 90 or so even with the blower moving all the air it can.

When we bought the house we used about 1200ga of heating oil a year for heat and hot water. Last year we were under 400. The main house thermostat for the oil fired system is set for 60, and it is not uncommon for our bedroom to be about 54 in the morning, which does not bother me at all.

Last year we had new stainless flue liners put in and added a small stove upstairs. The flue liners made a big difference in the draw, and the smaller stove is nice to have when it's really cold or when the big stove is too much - plus now I have something to do with those small pieces that were kind of useless before.

* Both stoves have a secondary combustion system, where air is introduced over the fire and the inlet can be throttled down very far. When the coals are very hot you get a swirling plasma over top of the logs - it looks cool and drastically increases heat output. There is no comparison to the old sealed stoves from the 70's - my Dad still has one and I have not talked him into replacing it. Do not even consider a stove without this, unless perhaps it has a catalyst.

* Consider your stove carefully - I do not like catalysts or complex firebox liner shapes, as I cannot make them and the parts are expensive. My main stove is a US Stoves Magnolia - relatively cheap, welded construction but well sealed and with a nice window. It kicks butt.

* A stove that is narrow and deep is much easier to load start from cold than one that is shallow and wide. I build a rick with the bottom logs end on to the door, and shorter ones perpendicular on top. With the door cracked open the air flows toward the end of the logs underneath, making starting much faster. The little stove is the other way - near as I can tell you just curse at it until it lights.

* Get dry wood. Really dry. Look for small dry cracks on the ends of the logs. The heat capacity of water is so high that it just sucks all the heat out and up the chimney.

* With a good stove and a fair amount of ashes in the bottom (I don't clean it all the way out very often) you should have plenty of coals in the morning - just throw in some poplar (I love poplar for starter wood!) or other dry wood and off it goes.

* Splitting with an axe is faster than a splitter. You want to swing the axe fast (F=MV2), so swing the heaviest axe you can move fast without exhausting yourself. I like a sharp 4 1/2 lb axe with a wooden handle. Stay away from fiberglass handles with the rubber insulator between the axe head and the handle - when it gets stuck in a log you cannot get it out by smacking the handle. If I have to I use a maul and/or wedges, but this really slows me down. Sometimes I borrow my neighbors old splitter for the crotches and problem pieces. I find I injure myself most often moving around heavy logs. I love splitting wood. I hate hauling it.

* I like the aspect of having different rooms at different temperatures - move to the area that suits you. If you are cold, there is always the basement room (it is a bank house, so the basement has an outside wall with a door and window).

There is no way we can all heat with wood, but then most people are not interested in it (or capable of it) and many dwellings are not suitable for it. I doubt it would make sense if I did not have my own wood supply - I would probably have gone with a pellet stove otherwise. I would like to get rid of the oil fired backup, but I cannot afford to right now - a heat pump would be ideal. We do supplement with a couple of radiant only electric heaters - this works well as we do not have to heat the whole room.

1) I believe the latest in wood heating technology would be a stirling engine co-generation system that can be powered
by wood pellets.
The system generates electricity, and the waste heat is hot enough so that it can be used for heating water
and/or living spaces.
But, if the house to be heated is not in such a cold weather, a heat pump would be more efficient.

2) There are pollution rules for cars and trucks, but not for motorcycles where I live.

4) http://www.stirlingpowermodule.com/


I have been working on a stirling for wood stoves for quite a while. Main problem for use in living space is noise and vibration, but now we have one that is essentially silent and produces no vibration detectable to my senses. It works fine on any wood fuel, since at 500 watts output it takes a small fraction of the wood stove heat to run it. My house uses 300 watts averaged over the year. Most in winter with lights, least in summer since no AC.

On wood stoves- I have heated our house for about 20 years on wood. We live in a forest, so supply is no problem.

Temperature distribution is also no problem, since in any well-insulated space, there is little temperature gradient.

My recommendation is a simple masonry stove comprised of a steel outer container with a lot of masonry laid up inside without mortar. The steel shell keeps the thing air tight, and the masonry stores the heat. A short hot fire is best, but if desired, we can keep it burning at a lower rate.

I use a top loader, with the logs standing, burning at the bottom. The gas generated goes to a parallel short chimney within the stove, which gives a very strong draft and keeps the top hot for cooking. This hot gas then goes to the masonry, and exits at the bottom to a chimney. There is no smell or smoke. We have a small window to induce hypnosis during winter evenings when the brain is usually shutting down anyhow.

For heating hot water, we have a separate flat plate water heat exchanger between the stove and the wall. It serves two purposes- keeps radiation off the wall, and heats water, going to a storage tank upstairs by natural convection.

I made this stove myself, since that is the kind of thing I do, but there is nothing secret about it, and anybody can do it- or get it done by the local fixit man. I should publish all this in detail, but am too lazy and also not very friendly with computers. My wife is highly energetic and competent in publishing tomes of family history, but not much interested (understatement) in hardware. But she likes the stove--and keeps asking me when we are gonna get that electric generator. She wants to keep running her computer when we have those frequent power dropouts in winter. Answer- soon. Same answer for years. You would think she would learn.

The heat exchanger is a good point. We have a Holly Hydro (which might not even be sold any more). It uses 1/4" plate steel and is set inside the stove with the pipes going out the back. It uses the same pump, tank and controller as our solar water system. One nice thing about the Holly is that it can survive being dry with a fire going. All people have to do is to be sure their PRV* are appropriate. In my case, there is one right behind the stove (vented outside) and one on the storage tank.


*And, yes, we do have occasional vents if the differential temperature controller screws up.

Ah, finally a topic I know something about. I have heated with wood for more than thirty years and wouldn't have it any other way. But we currently own 300 acres of forest land so I'm a little biased. In order to get fuel into the furnace I need a tractor, a truck, a couple of chain saws, a log splitter, and a lot of really excellent exercise. If I had to do it all with an ax and a horse I might not be so fond of the ritual.

Our primary objective for the forest is to grow timber, tall, straight trees with no defects. To do this over the next 20 to 100 years calls for removal of a cord or more per acre per year of culls, trees that are damaged, diseased, crooked, or otherwise inadequate and taking up valuable sun space from the better trees. It is, of course, impossible for one family to use 300 cords plus a year for home heating. So we're pretty well fixed for home heat forever. However trying to heat the big city with wood would be an impossible task for more reasons than simply inadequate supply. Vermont might be able to heat all its buildings with wood without too much stress but there is no way New England could supply Boston.

Wood energy though is a component of the larger biomass energy issue. My current experiments involve a gasifier fueled by wood chips to make wood gas to, hopefully, run an ICE and turn an electrical generator. It's an old technology that requires some modern engineering. There are people running cars on wood scraps. Possible fuel sources for this type of project are much more extensive than forest waste. In my opinion this technology is best used in CHP units up to the low megawatt range, heating and powering a neighborhood.

Wood is a renewable resource if it's treated as a renewable resource. It can also be mined into extinction. There is room to considerably expand the energy use of wood in the United States and keep the forests healthy and growing. It is not, however, a complete answer to our energy supply problems. I can't run my chain saw on wood.

I am in Vermont and wood heat is very popular here. Wood is our primary heat source and it is delightful on many levels -- we are on only 14 acres, but I cannot imagine ever needing to buy wood.

Here is a an important lesson from the olden days: Thermal mass of your chimneys can be an important factor. Back when they had fireplaces only they maintained good ember beds and heated the center chimney structure -- which heated the house (sort of).

Our (not old) house was built with large masonry internal chimney structures -- and they get warm (stoves always hot) and heat a good sized house. So if you are building or buying a house and you think you may want to heat with stoves -- lots of masonry within the house will be a big plus.

Just about all of my friends heat with wood. We live in cabins away from built up areas and for us wood is practical. The smoke is never a problem.

Here's a list of stoves used:

Blaze King (3)
Vermont Castings (2)
Pioneer Maid (2)
Stanley Woodburner (1)
oil drum (1)
VSM tee (2)

VSM tee stoves are made from leftover pipeline support parts.
Oil drum stoves are made from an oil drum and a kit. They are not airtight but they sure are cheap.
The Pioneer Maid and Stanley are cookstoves. Some folks think that cooking on the same stove one uses for heating makes sense in winter.
Two of the Blaze Kings and Vermont Castings stoves have catalytic combusters.

The pollution from external hydronic furnaces got so bad in town (Fairbanks) that they were banned. I'm sure that new internal wood stoves in town will have to be low pollution in the near future.

I cut wood on my own 25 acres of boreal forest. It's mostly black spruce. I cut it into 12 foot lengths, load it onto the pallet forks on my small tractor, haul to the wood pile, limb it, and cut it into stove lengths. I used to burn the branches in a burn barrel but now I plan to run them through a chipper and burn the chips. My wood is so small it rarely wants splitting.

Others buy firewood logs and saw and split the wood. No one has a power splitter. Firewood around here is birch and white spruce and these can be split manually.

Others buy slab wood and trimmings from a local sawmill.

One guy with a lot of time collects willow and alder 1" and above from public land nearby. Hand carries it back to his house. Over the summer he collects 3 plus cords of wood.


Wait a minute! You just said you were thinking of making wood gas to run an IC engine. But isn't a chain saw an IC engine? Sure. I did a little number a while back on what it took to run a chain saw, and found that the just the wood chips generated by the saw were plenty, when gasified, to run the saw. So you charge up a few bottles of wood gas, go out in the woods and run your saw, snapping in a charged bottle every time the saw starts to stagger from hunger.

Of course you gotta have a slave running behind you catching all those wood chips squirting off the saw that normally merely hit the ground, stuffing them into a gasifier, and --etc. But don't we have an unemployment problem? This would fix it.

Alright, too messy. And anyhow I don't like IC engines. So how about a cart with a wood burning stirling electric generator on it, running your electric saw? The cart could be a medium IQ robot, following your every move so as to not jerk you over when the cord gets too short or caught in a falling tree. Falling tree? Jeez! maybe that's why I let my son in law do the wood getting.

Wimbi -

1) you can't compress wood gas. Storage is almost impossible. Attaching a gassifier to a chain saw would be like trying to plow a garden with an elephant on your back.

2) the only commercially available Sterling I know of is about ten thousand bucks and not sufficient to the task. IC engines (like them or not) have a long track record, broad availability, and many replacement/repair options available.

3) I am trying to think electric chain saws. There are many available. Doesn't sound like you've done any work in the woods though. A long cord through the bushes is a problem and I doubt a battery pack would do the job. Still it's a possibility. But then again $20 a gallon gas wouldn't bother me much if all I had to run was the chain saw.

I think the most feasible way to cut wood with out a conventional chain saw would be to cut it in long sections with bucksaw or crosscut saw, then drag or haul it to a stationary cordwood saw or dragsaw that's at the point of use. Power requirements of a dragsaw would be much less.

There are chain saws that are hydraulically powered with the hydraulic power supplied by hoses to the chainsaw from a separate power source (usually a tractors hydraulic system)
You could have a small hydraulic pump powered by a small (5-10hp) diesel engine that runs on (homemade?)biodiesel fuel.

Hey Chuck. I was joking! You didn't notice??

But I do have an electric chain saw for use around the house. Much more civilized than that stinky gas thing. And I have cut tons and tons of wood in the forest here, and only have a few superficial wounds for to show.

Strange that you can't compress wood gas. It is comprised of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane, with a lot of inert stuff like nitrogen and carbon dioxide. All of these are gases, and all gases can be compressed, as any pressure tank merchant will sell you. During the war when people ran cars on wood gas, they either stored it in a big blimpy sack on top, or compressed it in a smaller tank. Look up the Swedes wood gas trucks

As for stirlings, I make them myself. No problem.

And as for IC engines, Sure, will be around till the end of time, or civilization, whichever.

Yes Wimbi, I did notice you were not entirely serious but I decided to answer anyway. In your joking you managed to raise some significant points. For a good discussion of wood gas compresssibility and storage see:


For those intrested in wood Gasifing check out Allpower Labs GEK 10Kw gasifier itis getting brave reviews.Scrach build or off the shelf

I'm in UK

These are my experiences after a few years - all well documented but my own has been added:

Type of wood is important: Pine, etc with plenty of tar is a problem - a veritable fire hazard. Also affects heat capacity. I cannot stress this enough. This is massive pollution.

Seasoning: I cannot find seasoned wood that is not very expensive (UK has gone mad on wood burners). Ball park figures I reckon you can burn 3 times more wood for 1/2 the heat with twice the smoke. This becomes kind of a black art of understanding your fire and your fuel. There are lot's of well documented tips - tap two pieces of wood together and if you hear a thud then not seasoned, if hollow then seasoned and ready - hard to explain. Another tip is that if you can open your burner with full air flow and use 3 or 4 pieces of paper to light the fire then you are working correctly. Check your chimney and you should see virtually no smoke. Again, smoke = pollution.

For advice here is some anecdotal evidence.

At the end of a burning season I was using some fairly green wood in desperation and I filled the log burner. At the start of the next burning season I lit the fire for my Wife. She was used to burning unseasoned wood from end of previous season - I explained but she didn't understand. She filled the wood burner and I would guess she achieved a 20KW fire in a small place - i.e 5 conventional gas fires in UK in a small room!! With unseasoned wood then I guess around 2 KW after waiting a couple of hours.

I once purchased £180 worth of unseasoned wood (approx $300??), stupid but I decided to use it because we ran out due to longer cold spell. Used in 1 month and very frustrating to get it 'going' - see below.

You know when you have a log burner running correctly if you achieve the following: A very, very slow hypnotic flame that rises up and moves almost like a dragon - trust me I am not on drugs this is achievable. If you achieve this then a 16 inch 'cavern' with 4 or 5 pieces of 4 inch width (split) * 12 inch length hard wood will last 3 or 4 hours - this will heat a large room (8m x 8m). If the wood is good then as temperature drops it should take 5 - 10 minutes to re boost, again if all is running correctly.

All the usual such as Ash is possible due to low water content, . . . . I can't remember the wood but an old saying something like Elm (140% water content) - burn that and the women become pregnant - how else can you stay warm when you go to bed if you see what I mean :)

To say efficiency of wood burner is highly variable could become the understatement of the year.

Interesting and poetic post. I am amazed the "UK has gone mad on wood burners" considering how little forest I thought remained in the UK.

"considering how little forest I thought remained in the UK."

Yes - that is for sure! After war effort we planted a huge amount of pine, fast growing.

Current fuel prices + ignorance mean people really do believe they can burn every piece of waste wood - I mean everything including painted wood out of skips (erm dumpsters??). I also know that some of these people place the ashes in the garden on veg they grow - ashes are good for the garden right :( - dear oh dear!!

I scream out loud if anybody sticks a magazine or newspaper in the burner! It is NOT a 21st century home incinerator!

We have used chimney sweeps that advised us that drift wood from the local beach is good!!

I've planted quite a few hardwood trees to soak up the local pocket of excess CO2 BTW but the farmer has just purchased some cows, not sure I can offset the methane ;) . Looking forward to rotting down the manure and using that on garden.

I remember when growing up in the UK my father put an old trainer (sneaker shoe for the Americans) on the (mostly coal powered) Rayburn and it went like a ball of flame for about five minutes. When I lived in NZ I used to put the bag of the days rubbish on the woodburner last thing at night to get rid of it. By the morning it was all gone even most metals. The stink coming out of the flue was horrendous though.

Now I am in Australia (Hunter Valley, NSW) I am surprised by the number of wood burners and the good availability of wood. It does get surprisingly cold at night though. There is a surprisingly large amount of wood here but mostly in National parks so collection would be illegal.

I often wonder why Australia doesn't have biomass powered electricity generation. Actually they did used to have woodgas-fuelled town electricity generators many years ago in small towns like Mount Gambier but no longer. With all the biomass consumed in annual summer bushfires it seems like a waste no to do so but maybe all the cheap coal must be something to do with it. But that's not really the point of this article so I apologise for the digression.

What is the latest in wood heating technology? In terms of efficiency/cost/emissions, etc?

The catalytic stoves probably lead the pack in efficiency and emissions. There's some good designs without catalysts that aren't far behind. I've been looking at a soapstone stove and a cast iron stove, comparable effiency and capacity. Cooking may be a little iffy on the soapstone stove, but its a softer heat and less apt to take hide off of you if touch it. Neither require a blower.

I would steer away from the catalytic stoves. Catalysts are expensive and tend to clog & fail. Through excellent design of flame path, along with using natural convection to draw in and pre-heat secondary combustion air, you can get the combustion to be very complete without resorting to catalysts.

I know something in depth on this, as I had a company that built and researched efficient clean burning wood fired kilns.
For a good example of how to get a clean flue gas without catalytic convertor, check here. http://www.quadrafire.com/Products/Wood_Burning/Wood_Burning.asp
There are other manufactureres that do similar tricks and produce low-emission biomass heat.

We heat with wood from our own land, and since we have a lot of forest and don't burn much wood, we only need to harvest trees that are already dead. But I'd say that regardless of the heat source, the best thing is to heat up the smallest possible space. You can get a lot of ideas on how to do this by looking at how long-lasting civilizations did it, because any culture that heats by deforestation will reap the whirlwind soon enough. Here are a few ideas:

People in Nepal carry around pots of coals slung over their bellies, and this can be done perhaps more safely with a hot water bottle or a bag of hot grain. It's really amazing how comfortable this can make you, especially with loose clothing to distribute the hot air a little, and the heat needed to warm it up is tiny.

The next step up in size would probably be what the Japanese call a kotatsu, which is a table with a heater under it and a sort of skirt around the edge that forms a seal with the floor. You stick your legs under there and wrap the blanket around your waist. This is also amazingly comforting, draws the family together, and is great for playing footsie or other games. I believe these have been used in central Asia as well. You can easily make one by cutting the legs off a coffee table, throwing a big comforter over it, and putting something flat over that to form the table top. It doesn't take much of a heater to make it cozy. See Japanese Homes and their Surroundings for more about how Japanese people dealt with winter back in the day. It doesn't mention kotatsu because they didn't really use tables back in the 1880s, but probably almost every home in central and northern Japan has one now, although they are electric instead of the traditional charcoal.

Then you have the radiant sources like the Northern Chinese kang (a sort of masonry bed with a stove in it), the Korean ondol (basically a radiant floor, traditionally wood-fired), and the Eastern-European masonry stoves (they catch almost all the heat of a tiny fire and let it out slowly). It says in "A Pattern Language" that radiant heating requires less heat to create the same feeling of psychological warmth, and I totally believe this. Heating up all the air to the same temperature feels surprisingly stuffy if you're not used to it.

If you want to do volume heating, though, I'd recommend reducing the heated volume. It's really quite nice to sleep in a cold room if you have adequate blankets, and you don't need so much heat when you're moving around, so you can really get away with heating just where you sit still in the evenings. If everyone does this in the same place, it's not too hard to hang some curtains around your heat source. Even if you have forced air, you could put your thermostat in there and close as many of the other vents as possible. As a side effect, family togetherness will be enhanced.

I've found that getting the most pleasure or comfort out of the least heat (or any other energy form) almost always requires an attitude adjustment that seems impossibly difficult at first but is never that hard once you've done it. The trick is to either make it more convenient to do things the new way do or less convenient to do things the old way. We started out by shutting off the hot water system in the crawlspace (back when we had running water). Although in theory it could be turned back on at any time, we didn't do it because it was inconvenient. Surprising results followed, but this is already a long post.

And if you've read it this far, you might enjoy this excellent article about a permaculture approach to heating (it's a PDF). The author is an Australian living in Japan. Look to the island people to figure things out quickest.

old fireplaces-interior chimney to house- actually heated mostly by the chimney mass warming the space. small fire lotta mass.

undersize u'r woodstove by some [add blankets etc. when needed + outside chores are less difficult to adjust to]; then u can run even older types fairly efficiently.

clean chimney/stack faithfully for safety & efficiency.

use at least 1y/o dry wood.

Almost every body in my nieghborhood has a wood stove of some sort but a lot aren't used.When people here build they remember tales of hard times and oil prices shooting up like rockets and they want to be prepared just in case.

Most locals are burning wood for reasons of economy,and cutting thier own or buying it from local kids who get thier wood from logging wastes.

An eight foot bed full and heaped up -all that a 4x4 ford f150 will haul-sells for sixty five dollars in the summer and seventy five in the winter,delivered but you don't pay with checks or creit cards and you don't get a receipt..It's a lot cheaper than kerosene or number two,but it does take a considerable amount of work to look after the stove.

Our old house was built piecemeal and we suffered from the hot room cold room problem until we ran a duct from the hot areas to the cool ones and put a small squirrel cage fan in it.There is no return duct,the air just finds it's way back thru the rooms and hallways-with the doors open of course.This works just fine and the little fan only draws about a hundred watts.

The real trick to heating with wood is the same as heating with gas or electricity-getting your house into top notch energy saving form and heating only the actual occupied space in use so far as practical-and only to a comfortable temperature with a good flannel shirt and nice warm socks when you're kicking back and enjoying your fire.

You might also want to consider the fact that if you someday have very little money you can heat for almost nothing if you can gather your own wood.

Keep your eye on the ball and spend the big bucks on triple pane windows,insulation for the crawl space and the attic,insulated siding,insulated doors ,etc,rather than an extra fancy stove.

If you buy wood make sure it's not rotten,and remember that some species heat much better than others.

But if you cut your own,anything except resinious evergreens is pretty much ok,once seasoned.Pine and hemlock,etc are simply nasty to work with and make a lot of mess but they will burn ok if nothing else is readily available.A few blocks of pine makes greart kindling and that much pine doesn't make too big a mess.There are a very few trees that should not be burned but I have no direct lnowledge of the species.

Always buy the biggest stove with the biggest door opening and longest firebox that will work for you.This enables you to save a lot of work splitting and sawing wood as you can easily feed pieces as large as you can handle.Your fire will also last longer after you turn in and your house will be warmer in the morning if you have no backup heat.

We have had an Intrepid II for about six years. The attention that it needs is minimal, and easy. I hire someone to clean the chimney and inspect it. We have had to buy wood a few times, especially years when there was major surgery or other very disruptive event. We use the ashes in the garden, and it burns cleanly as long as the wood is decent quality. Most years we use wood cut from our property.

The biggest improvement in using the woodstove was getting the house properly insulated. Last year we had a foot of insulation installed in the attic (there had been three or four inches), new windows and doors and siding as well. Now, rather than keeping the woodstove burning for hours to feel warm, we can get it up to a good heat and let it die down, because the house holds the heat for hours now, not just half an hour.

Last late winter I had some trees taken down to make a sunnier spot at the south end of the house, for gardening. I aim to practice pollard and coppice, with some maples and birches so that in several years I can cut at least some of my own firewood with hand tools. It surprises me that I don't find reference to those practices when I run across posts about firewood.

There is a tradition of letting trees grow large, then using all kinds of energy cutting them down and cutting them up. A coppice keeps the tree "young" and produces shoots that can be harvested at any stage, from young and small for tools and woven mats, larger for stakes and furniture, larger for posts and firewood.

I can cook on the stove, dry clothes near it, and enjoy its light. I also appreciate the experience of chopping, splitting, stacking, hauling and burning the wood. This I still do, although I am, as a friend says, "on the wisdom side of 40." By a ways.

We have a thermoelectric fan that circulates the air and does a nice job of it.

The cats have not hurt themselves on it, though two of them almost gave me apoplexy scampering rapidly across the top. Neither did any such thing again, and thorough inspection of their pads proved that they had performed an amazing feat: split-second contact with very hot metal and no burns. Firewalkers, they are! But only once. Shew.

We haven't any small children, but a grand-nephew, 13 months old, stayed with us in early spring when the stove was going, and there were no incidents or near-incidents.

In short, I think that if one has a very close source of wood that is managed without degrading the woodland, and a way to use the ashes, an efficient, low-smoke stove and a well insulated home, it is worth considering.

A good fireguard is nessessary if you have kids. We strapped 2 concrete slabs to the sides of ours and then build a guard out of 2 inch square steel mesh. The mesh forms a large square around the burner and sits on the wall behind it. This way if the kids do fall onto it as they play they bounce off rather than move the entire guard against the stove.

One problem I have had on and off with the kids is they like to place things in or near the burner. Quite often we dont notice until the smell of the burning plastic toothbrush handle fills the livingroom.


Your suggestions make a lot of sense if you have only a little land from which to harvest wood.

I believe most of us cutting and burning our own have a more ample supply and can easily afford to use less labor intensive methods.

Sawing wood is a lot of work.Nobody has said much about the actual details of the processs ,so i 'll at least give it a "a lick and a promise".


Various forestry oriented sites go into the felling process in great detail,so we'll skip that.

Working in pairs,we drag felled trees whole with our farm tractor to a large level spot accessible with the truck.This can be very dangerous work and is not to be attempted by novice tractor operators.The cardinal rule is to keep your eyes on the HOOD at all times and drive slowly.idling in first.Hook on low on the chassis.Tractors dragging logs can and will flip over backwards in the blink of an eye,and your only recourse is to depress the clutch within a split second if she starts up and over.This is not necessarily more dangerous than driving on a freeway in heavy traffic-just make sure your attention is in the right place.

I begin sawing off limbs at the outer ends at about an inch to two inches in diameter,trimming as I go ,cutting to stove length.Helper clears away brush,loads as I cut.

Put blocks under trunk as necessary to hold off ground,using tractor and /or cant hook as needed.

Saw thru at stove length,careful not to get saw hung.

Cut trees that are the right size to burn,reducing splitting to a minimum.

When cutting larger trees,adjust cuts so that you can work around knots when splitting as necessary.Sometimes I cut as short as ten inches in order to saw thru large knots so splitting will be easy.

If you can't cut next years wood this winter,girdle the trees you will cut later,they will dry faster when you do cut them.

Avoid cutting mast trees and potential den trees as much as possible.

Do not cut so much in one spot that you open the canopy overmuch,else the remaining trees tend to spread out horizontally,rather than growing upward,meaning more limbs/brush and less nice limb free blocks sawed from the trunks.

Work out a path thru your woodlot that can be negotiated with a tractor or small truck if possible without removing stumps.

Thin your woodlot by burning the least desirable trees FIRST.

A properly thinned woodlot will produce only the same amount of wood,approximately,that an unthinned one will,everything else equal,but the wood will be concentrated in fewer trees and much easier to harvest and haul and there is less waste.

Do open up a few spots and plant any local species such as hickory not present that will enhance the value of your lot as a wildlife refuge/spot to harvest a squirrel or turkey dinner.

Try not to remove too much shade from streams as warmer water is invariably bad for whatever fish and other critters normally live in or along shaded streams.

Sometimes the best firewood tree is not the best firewood.Yellow poplar grows so fast and is so easy to work up that it's lesser heat content makes it effectively almost as good as oak,if you cut it yourself close to your house.There's not a lot of difference in heat content,pound for pound when well dried.You need a lot bigger stack but the work involved is hardly any more because it is light,clean ,fast drying and very easy to split.

Isn't there a design for a log sled out there to make this sort of thing safer?

4'x2', angled front to slide up and over obstacles, hitch the sled to the tractor, hook the log(s) to the sled.

I dunno, maybe you've used one before and it's not as good as I think.

An old car hood works.

When hooked on properly the tractor raises the but end off the griund when you move forward,so the sled is not really necessary.Pulling whole trees or even trimmed logs takes a lot of brute force,and the log or tree is apt to hang up on a stump,another tree,a stone,etc,and stop moving forward.

Tractors are enormously powerful,in terms of torque at the rear wheels,and the wheels have a very large contact patch and a very aggressive tread,meaning that they don't spin easily.

The engine has a governor that automatically and almost instantly increases the fuel supplied whenever the engine starts to slow down.

So if the tractor can't go forward,and the wheels don't slip,meaning they have stopped turning,the whole tractor rotates around the rear axles,and flips over backwards.Verry dangerous,indeed.Takes about a second maybe.

But no more so than driving in traffic.You just have to keep your attention on what you are doing,and be ready to hit the clutch,just like you must be ready to hit the brakes if somebody cuts you off in traffic.

Makes sense. I understand tractor physics but even in my misspent youth never pulled anything as uncooperative as a log with one.

So I found myself thinking, "Why don't we just use front wheel drive tractors?" A quick check reveals that the problem is steering, apparently designing a steering mechanism that can take the torque required of a tractor is non-trivial which is part of the reason even 4WD tractors came late to the game. Of course, rear wheel steering wouldn't work so well, either.

Yes, I have indeed done too many things in my life. My resume reads like an episode of "Short attention span theater". So far the only thing I've proven to be actually bad at is sales...

So far the only thing I've proven to be actually bad at is sales...

The cold, dead fish problem?

Yep. Can't seem to break that one.

Mac - the load should be pulling below the rear axle line so that it actually pulls the front DOWN. You do not want to lift the front of the log with the hydraulics, or you are indeed looking to get killed. I considered one of those log skidding devices for the three point hitch, bit skidding logs makes a real mess, so I usually cut them up and haul them out in the cart.

I aim to practice pollard and coppice, with some maples and birches so that in several years I can cut at least some of my own firewood with hand tools. It surprises me that I don't find reference to those practices when I run across posts about firewood.

There is a tradition of letting trees grow large, then using all kinds of energy cutting them down and cutting them up. A coppice keeps the tree "young" and produces shoots that can be harvested at any stage, from young and small for tools and woven mats, larger for stakes and furniture, larger for posts and firewood.

Yeah, I don't know why coppicing isn't mentioned more. Only two posts (before my reply) on this article (which is about wood burning) mentioned it and it's hard to find books, even on trees, that mention it, except it passing. It seems that coppiced trees can get very old because, as you say, they are kept young. I understand that some trees can be coppiced for firewood after only 5-9 years. This would mean that even modest woodlots could heat an insulated home in a self-sufficient way.

We plan to coppice but it will be many years before we see if it all works out. I hope society can hold together, in the meantime.

Thanks, everyone, for adding to the discussion on the details of wood harvest. farmermac, your explanation and safety emphasis were great to read. I have spent a few years working at farms on projects such as fencing, spring development, and so forth (as an agricultural conservationist), and a healthy respect for tractors and all farm equipment, including chainsaws is literally a life saver. Thanks again.

sofistek, I agree it will take some time to see how the coppice and pollard works. That's why I got started on it. A good number of my projects around my little place are designed to teach me about the practices I am not familiar with. Growing up in the southern 'burbs, there is an overwhelming amount of useful information from which I was sheltered!

If things (like society) hold together long enough, I may be able to provide others, especially younger people, with some practical assistance based on the projects I am working on now. I have already learned a bit from this first year, such as, it works better on younger trees about 4 to 6 inches in diameter (details I did not pick up from literature, which just said, "younger,") and deer like to browse the shoots I don't recall seeing this anywhere, though it is probably written somewhere, and should have been obvious to me beforehand.

Right now we are dealing with the need to keep ourselves warm enough, so chainsaws, tractors and trucks make sense in that regard. In the far future, or maybe not so far, depending on location and circumstances, those power tools may not be as available. That is one reason I am working on projects that don't assume availability of power tools.

If nothing else, it brings home for me just how much energy is in petroleum. My work in the garden and woods goes more slowly than many might be willing to endure. But it keeps the effects of energy depletion strong in my gut, and I think for me that is necessary as I make plans and decisions.

I own a small 24'x36' bungalow. LIving space inclusing the basement 1700 square feet. I am leaving a Québec city and we use electrcity to heat our home. Typicaly I need between 25000 to 29000 kWH for a winter. Last winter we have bought a Jotul 3CB. It was the only wood stove that we could put in an alcolve. The alcove was a necessity due to the small space available.

The wood stove became operation only in january. We have been lucky since just after we had finish the break in of the stove, we had a power cut! The stove manage to keep the house warm trough the power cut. After that, we used it occasionaly in cold weather to reduce the heating load. In normal operation, the stove complement a pulsed air heating system. Since the ventilation is always on, the heat redistributed nicely.

As for the wood supply, last winter we have used a lot of scrap wood accumulated over the years. At the end of winter, we had to buy some wood that was both expensive and humid. My gess is we might have burned the equivalent of 2 cords. Analysis of my electricity bill correlated with degree of heating, means that we might have replace 10% of our heating with wood.

This year we have bought 4 cords of hard wood and will have some wood collected on our backward and from neigbourg tree pruning. Recuperated wood amount to roughly 2 cords. If everything goes as planned, we might replace 30% of our heating bill.

By the way, last winter we have also improved our passive solar heating capability. We have added a 8 feet patio door plus a large window to the south-east face of our house. These a triple glazing, Low-E and Argon. In theory, these new winsows should be energy positive for the house. In few weeks, we will replace the North-west fae window with a triple glazing, double Low-E and Argon windows. Thsi should reduce both our heating and cooling requierement.

We have relied on wood heat for the past 32 years. Living in rural Northwest California we have had no problem accessing a wood supply which is augmented by trees we need to take out on our 2.5 acre parcel. We raised 4 children with no wood stove burns and stocking the wood box was a standard chore once they were old enough.

To help distribute heat to our 2300 sq ft house we use a heat powered fan. It really increases efficiency. The only electric space heater is in my basement office.

For the last 5 years we have had a Pioneer Maid (also from Lehmans)which is also a cookstove - very handy in frequent power outages.

Ashes are used in the garden.

About 18 years ago I installed wood fired systems for several years. I often recommended and installed an inline duct fan system of my own design with the intake of the fan at the peak or highest point of the main room with the stove in it, and the output where ever it was needed.

If you are in house construction phase you can work this into the wall space. If not it can usually be tucked out of sight easily.

This creates a gentle convection current in the living space or from the main living space to the back of the house if needed.

Relatively cheap and easy way to move heat.

Ceiling fans are not a solution. They take huge energy to power, must be cranked up to the equivalent of a Cessna doing a nosedive in order to move hot air down to floor level, and that ends creating a cooling breeze instead.

Outside air for combustion is a must.

If possible to pressurize the house by bringing in outside air for heated air movement this will optimize the system greatly by removing drafts from negative pressure and oxygenating the living space as well.


Great topic.
Living in a community of about 100,000, with a great deal of forest
in the proximity of the city, Nate's analysis in his previous post
of depleting our forest stock in a relatively brief time left me
in a bit of despair. I was hopeful that we would be well placed to
heat our homes during southcentral Indiana winters with our local wood
biomass endowment.

Like all approaches to impending energy contraction: we must have many irons in the fire - wood stove or otherwise.

Aggressive attention to insulation, obviating the need for heating, is
essential. Adding thermal mass, and utilizing passive solar is another.
Wearing layers of clothing, and becoming accustomed to colder living conditions is another. Partitioning one's home to heat only the area
needed in cold weather is yet another...etc.

In any case, we would be well served to begin growing fuel crops (ashes, poplars, willows) on marginal land for winter fuel needs. These trees can be cropped, without killing them, yearly. Wood ash may be returned to the land to replenish potassium, phosphorus and trace elements.

Switchgrass, or other perennial forbs or grasses, could be substituted
for wood. Compressing this material could allow a slow burn.

Each community should provide these biofuels locally to the community
to avoid transport costs (monetary and energetically).

On another point: Wood stoves could be efficiently used (as they have
for many years in Europe and elsewhere), to heat materials - stone,
brick/mortar etc., to retain the heat and dispense over a long winter night.

Lastly, heating water for bathing, or (as some wood stoves offer) cooking, baking) would maximize efficiency.

About 25 years ago my wife and I moved, with out two daughters, to an old farm in the Missouri Ozarks. We bought a small no-name iron wood stove from a hardware store, installing it in the living roon, and a Stanley wood cook stove from a local dealer for the kitchen. We had no other source of heat (in the summer we did cook on a propane gas range) and kept more than comfortable in the small, poorly insulated two bedroom stone house. Of course there was a learning curve, but it was as much fun as it was work, including trips to the woods to cut and split the 10 ranks of wood we used annually. Feeding the stoves and clearing out ash was just part of our daily routine.

The heat is not always even, but a good flannel shirt or nice sweater, and wool socks compensate, and one of the nice things about the heat being uneven is coming in from outside on a very cold day and standing close to the stove where the smoothly radiating heat is most intense.

I am a night owl, so it was convenient for me to stay up late to keep the stoves fired up, and then my wife arose early to get them fired up again. On an extreme night I simply got up when needed and added a few logs.

The feeling of a wood stove is much different than a modern forced air furnace. And the food cooked on a wood cook stove has a taste that is far superior to any other cooking appliance we have ever used. Eating fried eggs, soups, chili, and just about anything else cooked on a wood cook stove is something that anyone who likes greatly cooked food should experience.

We moved into a larger house and installed a central wood furnace in the basement along with a backup propane furnace, but the wood furnace carries 90% of the heating load. We also installed a soapstone stove on the first floor to use in the event of electrical failure.

As far as managing one's forest, there are always less desirable trees to be pruned out. We have red oak, white oak, cherry, hickory, and wild persimmon which we want to encourage, so we take out what we call "black-jack" oak which is more a scrubby variety of oak and which makes great firewood. It splits easily, has high density, and often has lots of dead limbs that are great to get a really hot fire going.

To my mind, using wood for heat and cooking, if you live where there is easy access to the wood, is a no brainer. It is easy, it is effective, you get ash for your garden, and it gives a certain sense of satisfaction that just setting a thermostat lacks.

While living in the Alaska bush I built my own wood burning stove from a heavy duty 55 gal. fuel drum, 30 gal. metal drum and a commercial iron door, stove pipe collar and iron legs. The larger drum was used as the main fire chamber. The smaller drum was mounted above it with a 6" stovepipe connection. The smaller drum helped to capture some of the heat that escaped up the stovepipe. I modified the interior of the larger drum by installing a baffle system. It took a bit of work and required a fair amount of swearing, but the end product was actually pretty efficient. I also made small wood burning stoves out of 5 gal. metal storage containers with round, pop top lids and outfitted them with homemade 3" stovepipe. This stove was used to heat my tent when I was traveling by dog team in the winter. I designed it so that the stovepipe lengths could fit inside the stove to make a compact package. Homemade wood stoves were common in the bush at the time.

I now have a well made commercial stove that is a honey for chilly winter evenings and mornings. The only wood I use now is from windfalls and standing deadwood.

I am a bit floored that so many people think heating with wood is a good idea. After the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm that knocked out power for so many people in the Seattle area, some resorted to wood for heat, and the air soon became filthy. This left me with bronchitis for weeks. OK, so everyone gets a clean and efficient stove, but wood is not a sustainable source of fuel anyway.

Turn the thermostat down and get a really nice comforter. If you like the romance of it all, get the kind of blanket that granny made.

Notice from the comments that there's more to wood heat than applying a match to some dead trees.

People who start using wood heat suddenly after a storm don't know enough of the needed ken or have the stoves for it to be done well. A lot of uncured wood will also contribute to a lot of smoke and uncombusted material in the air.

Just the same, the first step should always be insulation, superinsulaton for the house. With that, you can install a much smaller stove/furnace, and cut, cure, store far less wood.


And I failed to add that I wouldn't build a house without SIGNIFICANT solar heating inputs as well. Woodheat can be a very good backup, and can be the principal heating for a long, dark midwinter if abs. necessary.. but it's not that hard to design a house that needs no burned-heat sources. Insulation, Simple Geothermal and Solar can combine to quickly satisfy these needs.

We inherited a pellet stove when we bought this home. It seemed on the surface to be a much better mode of keeping warm in thew winter than burning wood in an open fireplace, however we found it had many drawbacks. There is a dust from the pellets, then of course the ash has to be cleaned out and its dusty. Operating it was like adjusting a carbuerator on an old english sports car, meaning more often than I'd like. Either too hot or too cold. Soot in the chimney seemed to build up faster than wood.

We ended up getting two wall propane heaters for downstairs, which are very efficient and one, not so efficient, large visible flame coming up around ceramic faux fire logs, with off white porcelain finish, propane fireplace, that looks and works great for the living room. All three have direct vent systems. If you seal them right, the oxygen level in the room stays normal and there is no smell whatsoever. Plus you get the flame people like to watch.

These heaters are so efficient, that last winter we only received one propane fill up, a cost of 189. usd. We never ran the heat pump. How can you beat that for cheap, efficient and talk about ease of operation. They are thermostatically controlled, so there isn't all this too hot or too cold bit going on. I'll never go back to some form of wood until the price of nat. gas gets prohibitively high. Guess I'm banking on no peak nat. gas for sometime to come. Wish us luck.

The city of Launceston, Tasmania has rebates for approved heaters that replace older style wood burners

I have wondered whether low smoke charcoal briquettes could be mass produced as a byproduct of biomass gasification. The feedstock could be straw, sawdust or recycled paper. Unfortunately the briquettes may need an added oxidant to make them easier to ignite and stay alight.

As the baby boomers get older and the weather gets more extreme the issue of thermal comfort will become paramount. It may not be too far fetched to suggest that one day isolated seniors will have to wear something like space suits. Either that or a 'survival room' in each house which is easily temperature controlled at moderate cost.

To give a bit of perspective on health, 1 600 000 yearly deaths are connected to respiratory disease caused by indoor polution [WHO link] . The indoor polution is, of course, not caused by modern cook stoves. Rather, 3 stone fires in the house (huts) of the poor are used for cooking and heating with wood and dung (often lacking an exhaust or a chimney).

To address this problem a lot of effort has been made to make improved cookstoves (see for example Practical Action (former Intermediate Technology from Schummacher), or Appropedia). Some entrepreneurs in Tanzania even came up with a cook-stove using sawdust. Among some unexpected drawbacks found in Nepal, ... adding a chimeney made the roofs fall! (as termites were not kept at bay by the indoor smoke and they eate the beams) But some engineering solutions have been found to circulate the smoke through the roof.

I know these innovations are rather for the rural areas and mostly third world implementations, but they have both a lot of potential to curb deforestation and CO2 emissions worldwide, and maybe adaptations to the "first" world are possible. If I ever own a house I would love to build a cob-rocket-stove [see for ex. step-by-step-base, beautifuly-finished-with-cob-mass or video). Does anyone have experience building these?

I heat and cook entirely by wood. I use very little. I also make a steady stream of charcoal, which is first 'charged' by soaking in pee, or alternatively by going into my compost bin (along with the humanure from my composting toilet), and then goes into my raised beds to make my approximation of terra preta (the super-soil!).

Because of the terra preta making, and the tree-planting which I do habitually, I calculate that my total wood burn is actually carbon negative: I'm actually re-sequestering more atmopheric carbon (in the case of the terra preta for very long periods, apparently, in the thousands of years) than I release by the woodburning.

I gather wood many days a year, though not all, and similarly saw/chop it into useable form quite often. This has seemed to me for a long time to be necessary, satisfying mild exercise at the saw horse, which I miss if I don't get it. (I'll be 70 next year) The gathering of wood, in the woods with my dogs, is absolute soul-food that I'd hate to lose. Because the annual rate of wood-burning is very low, it's possible to stockpile wood pretty easily, so that you don't necessarily have to go out foraging on the really shit-weather days.

I've bought no heating or cooking fuel for about fifteen years now.

The source of all this convenient, low-impact -- and actually very serene -- set-up is the original Winiarski Rocket Stove for cooking, and Ianto Evans' variation of it specifically for super-efficient space-heating.

The original Rocket is super-efficient anyway, and very simple, easy to build for next to nothing, and extraordinarily economic of fuel. It also uses all sorts of fuels which would be thought of as waste: forestry slash-piles, agricultural waste, easily-gathered small sticks, etc.

In the video linked below you'll see how to knock up a thin-walled combustion chamber in mild steel, but it's better to weld one up in 3mm stainless, because then -- in my long-continued experience -- the chamber just never seems to burn through. Obviously fifteen years isn't 'indefinitely'. But I can see no burn-thinning whatever even in my earliest stove. (No liner is used inside the chamber to protect the steel. It gets the full blast every time). The containment can, which holds the insulation for the chamber, can be made in mild steel, of course. Commonly when making these stoves I use recycled gas bottles for the container, and wood-ash for the insulation.

I also have experience of lighting and running the Ianto Evans space-heater Rocket which he installed in this example of his cob cottages:


This one is in Gwynedd, Cymru Gogledd (North Wales to English-speakers!) in Britain, at the wonderful Cae Mabon project created and run by my friend Eric Maddern.

I've slept in this non-double-glazed, not particularly well-insulated or draught-stopped building on Winter nights, and I can attest that about a bucketful of sticks keeps the kang toasty to sleep on all night, and the whole cottage comfortably warm; and another bucketful makes the whole cottage extra warm very rapidly from the radiant and convection heat of the drum -- see other pics and video in other links below -- in the morning. You can stand above the final outlet flue for this stove and sniff the -- only just warm -- flue gases and be amazed at how clean they smell. Smoke only happens briefly whilst lighting the stove.


My own latest, preferred Rocket is yet another variant on Larry Winiarski's original. If you think of Larry's original as the L-shaped Rocket, and Ianto's space-heater variant as the J-shaped one (the sticks in the fuel-pit actually burn in a downdraught -- and it works reliably!), then I suppose mine is the tick-shaped one, because the fuel-feed tube is angled up at about sixty degrees rather than horizontal. It's fitted with air-flow control plates on both inlet and outlet, and so does both cooking AND heating in my small-volume, insulated living cabin, and is phenomenally economical of fuel -- and clean-burning with it. Those expensive, complex, difficult-to-DIY stoves are NOT the only way to go. Nor does anyone actually NEED to burn the sort of volume of wood which past experience -- pre-Rocket -- has lead us all to expect.


This video on building a J-Rocket is very handy too. Note that the thermal mass principle for storing and releasing heat over time is very evident here too:


Great Info in there RG!

Cutting and Pasting this one.


I helped build that stove at Cae Mabon (plus the house and the Dragon...) - do I know you?

I don't know Sub. Eric has so many people passing through Cae Mabon, many of them to help with the building and maintenance work. I've been one of those, odd times. I ran his walled garden too for a short while, trying to get it up to good productivity, till it just got too much work for me and I had to quit.

Recently, I made a set of beds for the cabins, with the enthusiastic help of a team of young people who were learning on the job. And other things like that.

I KEEP telling Eric that the dragon should be RED. But he won't budge.

I suppose that I'm best identified as the man with the enormous dog who occasionally bites people -- just a bit. The dog, I mean.


I was there for a month or so, with Ianto, Linda and Kiko...years ago (4? 5?) and had a blast - it is a special place and I would love to go back but I am currently stuck in LA.

When next you see Eric, send him love from Neil and Abra (she did the sun sculpted into the wall in the bedroom in the cottage)

Hello TODers,

As others in this keypost & thread have already mentioned: reducing long-term deforestation & erosion rates to zero, or even expanding the area of tree-habitats, will be key as we go postPeak. Will we wisely decide to globally make it so?

So far, Haiti and many other areas have a poor track record in habitat preservation or enlargement. I highly doubt if this woman takes the time to first plant, water, and fertilize five tree-seedings for every return trip with harvested wood from over the distant horizon:

An Indian woman carries a load of firewood on her head as she crosses the desert of The Little Rann of Kutch in the Kharaghoda region some 120 kms north-west of Ahmedabad on March 7, 2008, on the eve of International Womens Day. The woman regularly embarks on a journey of some twelve kilometres from Kharaghoda to a forested area to gather firewood to sell. One load would sell for sixty Indian Rupees (USD 1.48).
Therefore, I would expect this desert to continue to expand until the Little Rann of Kutch becomes the Giant Rann of Kutch.

I’ve read and been told that it takes 7-10 acres of woods to generate enough wood, in natural tree loss, to heat an “average” home and to help offset the emissions.

We have 13 acres bordered by thousands of acres of state forest. Most of the woods are uphill from the house which makes getting a load to the house considerably easier. Currently we cut/split wood during the fall/winter for the next winters use. Spring/summer are for the garden.

In our approximately 10 acres of thick woods there are more trees that have fallen in storms than I can deal with right now. You need to get them within a few months if they are on the ground although if they are off the ground, supported by a main branch, they are good for several years before they start to return to the soil.

After living with gas heat most of my life heating with wood is great, especially on the budget. Even considering a new chain saw last year we spent far less than our previous gas heated home. My labor not being included though.

And it is hard work to be sure. But, like growing your own food the payback is in the knowing that you are providing for yourself and you are living a more sustainable life.

On other points:

Masonry Heaters: They are great if you design a home around them. But remember that although they hold heat for hours after the fire is out, they take hours of burn time before they start to heat your home beyond the hearth zone.

Corn stoves: I have the same opinion regarding ethanol. That’s food!

It doesn't take 7 - 10 acres to heat a home sustainably. I do it from 5 acres. The only native trees on the property are Fremont cottonwoods & box elder. These I don't cut, except for fallen branches that block trails, etc. The 3.5 - 4 cords of Siberian elm & Russian olive I cut each year are replaced by new growth the next year. I have to say, however, that while net biomass may remain the same or even increase year to year, this amounts to more smaller trees replacing useful larger trees. We cut wood with a Husqvarna chainsaw & haul it up to the house in a wheelbarrow. For years we split rounds with wedges & sledge hammer but a couple years ago I bought a 25 ton hydraulic splitter. Elm is tough to split.

Our house has a large rock fireplace with a homemade steel insert. There is an electric fan that blows air thru the rocks, heating it and forcing it out into the living room. The bedrooms at the other end of the house don't get all that warm so we sleep in sleeping bags in winter. There's also a solar forced air unit on the roof that also requires electricity. So long as the sun is shining it heats the house from about 11 am to 2 pm even on cold days in January. Last winter the only time we used the natgas furnace was when we were away for a week over Christmas & didn't want the pipes to freeze.

We have a combination wood heater and baker's oven that seems to burn very efficiently.
Around our place we have just survived some really savage bushfires and my reasoning is that if we don't use the dry dead fuel around the place we are increasing our summer risk apart from any other factors.

This is our unit: http://audioboo.fm/boos/43365-stored-fusion-reactor

I think wood is a very viable fuel as long as we do not harvest it from forests. We can grow wood just like we can grow potatoes, so I see no reason why we cannot get our firewood from hedgerows and thickets that we establish in our gardens, thereby escaping the tragedy of the commons and boosting biodiversity in our gardens, neighborhoods, parking lots, etc. By the way, coppiced hedgerows and thickets are much more productive than mature forests, so that nino's estimates could probably be reduced a bit. Saves on transportation and handling, too. And we can return the ash to our trees. And we can feed them with composting toilet litter.

The other collective measure that we should take to protect the resource and encourage conservation is to avoid mechanization for wood harvesting (just like underwater hunters may not use scuba equipment), thereby generally precluding exports of firewood. To avoid the drudgery and the sore back, people would choose to have smaller and better insulated heated rooms: that's exactly my case.

Those pellet stoves are nice and far more efficient, and the pellets can be manufactured from a variety of materials, using scrap and municipal wood waste as well. I think for most homeowners and municipalities concerned about air quality, pellet stoves pose a much more viable alternative to wood logs.

But it's always more efficient to move heat than it is to make it. For much of the country, heat pumps with natural gas backup have become efficient enough to provide all your heating and cooling needs. For norther climes where space is available, I think geothermal heat pumps are the way to go, providing efficient heat and hot water. Both these options are expensive, but with some of the fuel oil bills some of my NorthEastern friends get each month (and gas is ridiculous up there as well) I think it could be easily financed by the savings.

Having said that, my home state of Louisiana is mostly very rural and heavily forested in much of it. Though our winters are short, wood is cheap and readily available.

I hope this gave you all some food for thought.

Lot's of effort to cut and stack and buy and sell and haul ashes and clean flues and on and on and on......so much wasted effort and energy.

First...Your houses for the most part are wayyyyy too big. Tooo many rooms. Look at the world without your MERIKAN glasses. "Don in Maine" is the only guy I have read here on the site that has a clue as to how to do it.

Second....SUPERINSULATION...Spend a small amount of time that is wasted with your wood stock and super insulate your dwelling. The payback is enormous..

Third....Never, ever, seen a man or woman that can be in two rooms at the same time. Whine all you want about costs, corn, oak or ash, but why the hell heat empty space? It's the MERIKAN way!!!

Interestingly enough, I just finished a life cycle assessment for a National Park I work with regarding the monetary, energetic, and greenhouse gas costs and benefits of using wood to heat some of their buildings. The wood is harvested on-site from within Park property, generally from their hazardous trees removal program.

On the energy side, I estimate en EROEI of between 1.1-2.9 for the harvesting/processing/combustion system they have in place, which is lower than published literature values but still positive. The economics are quite poor, as the Park spends 3-4 times what it would cost to just buy wood. Park staff insist they can get the costs down, so perhaps future years will show improvement there.

The greenhouse gas implications are what got me. Based on the amount of fossil fuels used in the wood harvesting process, burning wood for space heat wasn't less GHG intensive than burning fuel oil. I estimate that burning wood generates from 0.28-0.41 tons of CO2 per year, while fuel oil would release 0.27-0.33 tons of CO2 per year to deliver the same amount of usable heat. The ranges are wide enough that I'm not willing to say burning wood is more GHG intensive, just that it isn't less.

The greenhouse gas element of the life cycle assessment was and remains surprising. I've gone over the results several times searching for some elusive error, and as of yet have not found one. I've had a colleague in the engineering program do the same, with the same result.

Interesting stuff...


How on earth do they manage to make wood harvestig that inefficient?
Do they lift small treetrunks one at a time with a helicopter?

My experience is that there is more then an order of magnitude difference between the fill up of a farmers heating oil tank or the fill up of diesel needed to cut, transport and even split the wood with a tractor powered firewood splitter. The system efficiency then goes up when you scale the volumes untill you get realy long freight distances.

The greenhouse gas emmisons should be worse measured at the chimney, the collection part of the wood fuel carbon cycle is when the trees grow.

I find that to be mind-boggling also. This past weekend, I helped some friends to take down a dying maple in their front yard; said maple is now awaiting splitting with the loving strokes of my maul. Counting the gasoline consumed by the chainsaw, my trip to their house, and the trip of a friend who came to help, I would estimate that we consumed perhaps 1-1.5 gallons of gasoline. For this, we got well over a ton of maple wood, roughly a hundred-fold gain in total energy content. I'm curious what circumstances could make it remotely possible to achieve parity with fossil fuel heat in terms of GHG emissions.

Agreed - even if I must use the diesel tractor to move a big log or drag a tree out of the woods, we're talking a few minutes of working time to do that. I can cut a lot of wood with a few gallons in my chainsaw. And order of magnitude between the FF energy used and the heat energy gained seems about right.

Just a question.... how much FF energy do you think went into building the tractor? Should'nt compare apples to oranges....

Wood heat is such a waste as a primary source...yet everyone will continue to justify it as the "answer"...Does it take an axe handle to the side of the head to get the idea across? Superinsulation, first and foremost, before a single twig is burnt. Downsize the dwelling. Powerdown. Stop thinking like a MERIKAN.

Heating large stone chimney's? Heating empty space? Went out in the stone age people. Shhesh...

Neither tractor was purchased for use in gathering firewood - that's just an additional duty that could be done in other ways. You allocation of the energy to wood heating is a distortion.

Why is wood heating waste? Wood heat is solar energy - where did you think the energy came from? From a long term point of view (geological or climatological time scales), the energy and carbon in the logs came from the very recent past. Burning dead trees, planting more, burning them, etc. - that whole cycle uses sunlight and carbon from the immediate time period and has no more net impact on atmospheric carbon than does wind or PV. The fact that the energy and carbon gets stored for a few decades is meaningless. By the way - I burn deadfall and stuff the power company drops on my land.

Who says I heat empty space? My house is not big, and some parts of it are barely heated even when they are occupied. As an old house it is poorly insulated - but as a bank house it is partly underground. If I could afford it I would make many more improvements to the efficiency of it, but I cannot do too much at the moment beyond continuing to increase the insulation, and I do not expect to become more prosperous so improvements will require my personal labor.

Your comments show your own ignorance. The problem we face is simple - fossil fuels and the overpopulation and climate change that this, and this alone, has enabled. There are no "answers" to this at all (including superinsulation) beyond the obvious and tragic one. So I do not propose wood heat as the answer to fix everything, nor intend it to solve "our" problems - it solves mine, with minimal impact on the environment.

Don't mind techno;

He solves the heating problem by stamping his feet and making his face red.

Really, TZ. There's plenty to be frustrated about and try to fix, but fuming like that just comes off somewhere between annoying and amusing.

We're low on ammo. Make every round count..

Smack! You get the axe handle prize...you just don't get it. As "your" mild ignorance shows. As do so many others here on the site. Lots of information for the merry-go-round of machine BAU. It's coming to an end. You can live where you are, due to the free FF inputs that created the "stuff" you use to build the oversize house, dig the well, carry the groceries, cut the wood, haul the wood, build the wood burner, medicate yourself, and a million other examples of how you use the free energy of FF. To quote Sharon Astyk, "It's already too late" to really come to grips with this issue. You are mostly just in a slow death waiting period, waiting for someone else to make the hard decisions for you. Mother Nature will do that shortly.

"As an old house it is poorly insulated - but as a bank house it is partly underground." Tear it down and build a small place underground. (Oh, HE SAYS, but I like my drafty old house that sucks up 50 times the energy that most people on this planet get!)Super insulate the underground space and you could heat it with a candle. But, this is my point exactly.....not to be critical but you, and so many others, have too much free time and too much free FF energy. Self denial. Gotta have that new whiz bang wood burner or I won't be a man? Humans can justify anything, to promote their own self interest.

Deleted - not worth responding to.

Good call.

techno,the amount that went into building the tractor must be apportioned over the life of the tractor-and only a very SMALL part of that life will be used in working firewood.

Since you seem to have an internet connection,you must be living somewhere than in the middle of the Amazon yourself and benefiting from the industrial revolution just like the rest of us.

You are right that we are wasteful,but it's simply because we WERE LUCKY AND got the lions share of nearly every thing..

Our day to hang our heads is coming soon.Lots of us will be crying,no doubt.

But the ones here may be ready.

"Heating large stone chimney's? Heating empty space? Went out in the stone age people. Shhesh..." Techno_zombie.

Heating with wood is perhaps the oldest form of human environmental control. Like it or not, wood fueled fire will be with us long after other forms of energy generation have faded from memory, which may be sooner than we want to admit. I find it interesting that when many people speak of sustainability they often visualize it as some pure form of existence where we live a Garden of Eden existence in peaceful harmony with nature. If (when) fossil fuel based energy becomes truly excessively difficult and expensive to obtain qualms about wood smoke pollution will quickly disappear. It would be far better to work on developing and adopting the best type of wood burning stoves possible before oil, coal and natural gas slip away. When push comes to shove the "stone age" lifestyle will not seem so primitive. There can be no sustainability unless there is survivability.

Yes Magnus, I've done some calculations, and using small scale methods, ie chainsaw and a small tractor or forwarder you get an EROEI of over 200, and that includes wasted heat using combustion. Using more large-scale methods with a harvester + forwarder the EROEI naturally falls.

Using a producer air / wood gas- adapted engine for your tractor you can easily manage the entire process with a significant surplus using firewood alone.

The only proof you need for the high EROEI of firewood is that we're still here today, after heating with firewood for thousands of years, in spite of working on farms etc. People and draft animals havn't starved to death, but been able to gather enough firewood for heating and cooking for thousands of years, and still worked the farm.

Doing the entire process manually takes time, but extremly small amounts of energy, EROEI would rise toward 1:500 if you fix everything manually with a manual axe or saw and carry or drag the stuff by your self out of the forest. A week of manual work will fix heating for an entire family for a whole year, using very little energy input (one week of food).

Gotta say I'm shocked at that. I grew up on a farm in Northern Ontario where we heated, cooked, and heated water with wood fires (poplar mostly). Had a 4 bedroom 2 storey + basement frame house, no insulation, 2 layers glass on windows, lot of air leaks. Winter sometimes -30 deg for weeks. A big furnace in the basement stoked 4' logs, had a 4' diameter round iron grill going up thru the first floor to deliver heat, surrounded by a square iron cool return air grill. We would fill the basement with 6 mos dead roundwood poplar, about 10 or 12 cords, plus about 10 cords stored outside. Mom cooked on an iron stove with a water heating attachment naturally circulating to a 22 gallon hot water storage tank, and we filled an attached shed with split 16" woodstove fuel, about 18 cords. The point is, we only used a very little amount of gasoline in an 18 hp Ford tractor to haul all the wood on a rubber tired wagon, and to operate the cuttup saw that made trees into 16" cookstove pieces. Splitting done by hand, axe. 10 gallons of chainsaw fuel for 40 cords wood cut to 4' or 16' lengths, not a problem, probably 20 gallons tractor fuel. To provide heating only for a smaller size home much better insulated in the same climate later, my wife and I would burn 6 x 150 gallon tanks of furnace oil at least, if i remember correct.

There must be something wrong with either your calculations or more likely their harvesting / storage processes.

Can you give us some more data?
It ought to be easy to find the error in the calculations or identifing the worlds dumbest wood gathering scheme.

Such inefficiency on the part of government is not at all suprising to anyone who ever digs into some of the literature.It's one of the mainstays of the right wing politicians,and they can turn up lots of examples to support thier case.

It doesn't mean they are right but it does mean they have something important to say.

Wood stoves are overkill.

The largest problem with using wood stoves for heating is quite simple, that the heat demand for a well insulated house, is much smaller that the minimum effect of heat stoves.
I live in Denmark (northern Europe with temperate climate) and for a modern low-energy house even a small wood stove has a way to large heat effect. But on the other hand it is difficult to distribute the heat around the house with this kind of heating.

Therefore I would recommend Automatic Wood Pellet Heating Systems or Masonry Heaters Which both has the capacity to lower the heat effect to meet the actual heat demand.


I believe I have the exact same model of wood stove as in the picture on the front. We used only the wood stove last winter and kept 1000 ft of living space comfortable. Each member of the family has a down comforter and we put insulated curtains up as well. We have 8 wooded acres from which we can heat every winter on the dead fall. This is not to say everyone or even everyone in the state could do this. But I gave up on trying to solve the worlds' problems for "everybody" a long time ago.

In 2005 we installed an indoor wood boiler that ties into our existing hydronic baseboard heat distribution system and also heats our domestic hot water. The boiler produces very little visible smoke from the chimney provided we use well seasoned wood with moisture content around 20%. Previously, we were using about 1400 gallons of LP a year to heat our mid 60s built 3 bedroom ranch in Southern Wisconsin. Now, we heat it Nov through April with 6 cords of wood. I scrounge all the wood from local sources...neighbors...municipal yard waste sites, farm fence rows, tree service companies...there is a lot of wood available.
Wood heating is a lot of work....cutting (chain saw), splitting (manually), stacking, hauling, re-stacking just to get ready to burn...then there is the lighting, stoking (3 times a day in cold weather) and operating of the boiler. We keep our thermostats set as low as possible and have adjusted to keeping the house around 62 degrees to minimize our wood consumption.
Wood heating is a lifestyle choice that works for us but may not appeal to the masses.

Our family hearth business sold wood (Regency, Vermont Castings, etc.) and pellet stoves (Whitfield, Harman, Vistaflame, etc.) for thirty years and I could have installed any of these products in my home at effectively no charge and, likewise, secured a supply of fuel at little or no cost. I didn't and, instead, paid someone else out of my own pocket to go another route.

I don't normally criticize companies by name, but what they hay, I've had to listen to so many dissatisfied customers bellyache about their pellet stoves it will be rather cathartic .... Whitfield use to make a good product until they were taken over by Lennox and it was downhill from there. Harman should have been a quality product, but virtually everyone we sold had some sort of mechanical issue, typically a failed auger motor or faulty control board; of the three brands we sold, Vistaflame, our least expensive product line, proved to be the most reliable. In some cases, the problems could be linked to poor practise (e.g., carrying over pellets from one season to the next or otherwise leaving them exposed to moisture), the use of inferior pellets, or general lack of cleaning/maintenance -- but not always. FWIW, these products are just too temperamental and unreliable for residential use.


A lot of comments have revolved around the need to distribute heat evenly throughout the house, but I think there's one thing missing here -- design your house to distribute the heat, and you won't need an electrically powered fan or any ducting. Look a the houses built before the invention of central heat; they were typically compact, cubelike homes. Ranch style houses are probably the least efficient for heat distribution because of their sprawling single story designs.

We live in SW Michigan, cutting wood from our own property, 1400 sqft house (built in the mid 1800's -- and it distributes heat well except for one later addition). Go through about 6.5 cords of wood a season with a Jotul Oslo that I really like.

Our achilles heel is the chainsaw, but I do have the crosscut waiting at the ready. Just got a draft team which will be hauling logs out of the woods in lieu of the F-250.

When I lived in North Ontario I was initially using a wood furnace to heat my house, 20 cords a winter.

I switched to a vermont downdrafter, the fire burnt downwards through the red hot ashes. I then burnt 4 cords a winter.

The firebox was much smaller, it heated easily my 3 storey house.

I ran my flue at 400 degrees C, this avoids any potential creosote problem at start up.

I do not know if they are still manufactured, but this design is very efficient.

Vermont Downdrafter no longer around unfortunately. I remembered it from a Popular Science article back in the 70s and tried to find one last spring. It was a clever and simple design to get a decent secondary burn with natural draft, and without much in the way of complicated internal plumbing.

Wood stoves work well. My mother who lives out in the country use one to cook on and another modern one to complement her electrical resistance heating.

But the really rational way of using wood is to take the waste products from the forestry industry (what we call GROT, ie branches and roots) and burn at large centralised heating (or cogen) plants, supplying an entire city with heat. My city is heated in exactly that fashion, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if more than half of all Swedish households were.

It is far cheaper, more rational and the the pollution filters can be far more efficient than the ones you have in an ordinary wood stove.

Uh sorry, GROT mean branches and tops, as in tree tops. The stuff you can't make into furniture, boards or pulp.

You are about right, there are fresh statistics available on www.energimyndigheten.se

So Magnus, when are you coming to Uppsala? I think I promised you a drink after you were on TV and showed such a surreal calm when discussing nuclear power with the crazies. ;)

How about tomorrow or on sunday?

Do send me a mail at Arvid.Hallen@gmail.com and we'll nail the time and place.

In the end we cannot rely on our woodlands for residential heat, there are simply too many of us.

If the economy continues it's downhill slide,there will be lots of stump gardens in this area within a few years as folks who own only small tracts of land,no more than large partly wooded building lots,burn the trees on thier own property.

Soil erosion here from logging or cutting firewood is not a serious problem here,except where the logging equipment wears ruts that start gullies.There is always plenty of understory growth ready to explode when the canopy is removed and most local trees grow back from the stumps.

But people with no money cannot be expected to buy high efficiency stoves or even to manage thier very limited supply of fuel on the stump very well.

I know one young man who has already cut and sold firewood he will have to repurchase-probably at a much higher price-within the next year or two-he's just praying that his employer recalls him.

My personal belief is that unless we quot pxxxing our money away subsidizing dead iron horses such as Detroit and spending it on conservation,the rolling hills of Va and the Carolinas will look like the hills of Ireland within a couple of generations,and our environmental problems will just be getting started.

That said,wood heat can and should be utilized to stop some of the uncontrolled bleeding of money out of our country and there are several things that could be done to further this goal.

One of the most important is to reform the ridiculous system of subsidies now in place that are gifts to those who can afford new hybrid cars and pvs,etc,especially above a certain income level,by means of tax writeoffs.

If someone who is making a hundred grand can write off a few grand on his taxes for doing the right thing,somebody making only a few grand should be able to write off AT LEAST AS MUCH,regardless of his income level.Even if it takes five years.

When and if OBama and company do this I will be ready to say that the changes in Washington are really taking root,and that thier true loyalties lie with the people who elected them,rather than big biz.They are obviously far better leaders than Bush and company,but there's a long way to go before they have my unqualified seal of approval.

We certainly don't need to use wood for ALL our heating needs, but that certinaly don't mean we shouldn't use it at all!

And really, when push comes to shove heating is by far the easiest energy issue to solve. There are just so many ways to get heat at low prices (wood, pellets, coal, oil, gas, electricity, heat pumps, solar, district heating systems fired by anything (wood, wood, pellets, coal, oil, gas, electricity(!), nuclear). They're absolute multi-fuel beasts, they are.

It's not a hard problem to solve. You just need to think and plan ahead, to make sure those investments are made and you get your central heating plants online.

Sweden, Norway, Finland, large parts of Russia and other sparsely populated countries with large forests could get a large part of their residential heating from sustanable forestry.

And when the district heatig networks grows and are interconnetced they get large enough to accomondate even large generation 3 nuclear reactors as CHP powerplants. We could change over the major cities to nuclear CHP if prices go up on forest biomass when fossil fuels get scarce and we produce less garbage for incineration. But that is probably an issue for the 2030:s or later.

Wood is not the answer for all of us. There is no answer for all of us. There is no way to provide enormous amounts of energy for even a small group of all of us, without serious negative impacts. The thing that made "all of us" possible was fossil fuels - and the use of those has destroyed our environment and will decline in production rate anyway. Therefore there is no future for all of us. Wood works well for my family at this time, so I will keep doing it.

I live in a newer well insulated home in a northern city (Ottawa, Canada). Nearly everyone here has the option to heat with natural gas. Most people in the city do not have a woodlot to get wood for a stove, but most homes do have access to sunlight.

Last year I installed solar AIR heating to supplement my heat and significantly lower my natural gas bills. My heating costs are now below $900 CAD per year for a 2000sq ft home. The solar air heating I installed has a solar panel to power the fan and uses it's own thermostat. It's provides enough heat for my entire house in the spring and fall so my heating season with the furnace is shorter. It does work on a partly cloudy/cloudy day with less heat produced, but does not work during a snowstorm or at night. The extra heat produced during the day really helps though. Note that once installed, the operating costs are $0, maintenance is also $0. It should last for 25 years or more.

In the future I will install more solar air panels to get my natural gas bill as close to zero as possible. I didn't know about this technology until I came across it by accident doing a google search.

After reading the comments this morning I have the following observations:

1) Heating with wood seems another Tragedy of Commons situation. It can be great, efficient, cathartic, provide exercise, etc. as long as everyone doesn't do it and the negative effects are externalized (or minimized). We often forget the externalities associated with ancient sunlight are in many ways less than modern sunlight, because it is so concentrated - this is another issue which looks entirely different depending on the population one wants/needs support.

2)There seems to be an inflection point on home energy efficiency, and how best to heat ones home that entirely depends on whether the home is built or yet to be built. From a societal level, I wonder how many 'heating decisions' are from people facing how to heat their existing structure or how to design new building? This is a social EROI/efficiency/flow rate problem. If we had to rebuild houses en masse in order to properly install the best heating (masonry stoves etc.) the amount of resources needed for this would offset by order of magnitude the immediate efficiencies.

3)The comment thread shows me once again how critically dependent we are on fossil fuels as a society, particularly in northern regions.

4)To me personally, the comment thread has been a small vector of hope - though small sample size, all you folks shared your expertise and opinions with strangers on the internet on various aspects of the topic of wood heating -over 100 so far with excellent signal to noise ratio - it couldn't work with 5,000 comments, or on a topic such as overpopulation, but it is small example of how culture/technology at least has potential to adapt/mitigate to the coming energy transition.

5) No one mentioned my cat in the picture (now 2 of 3 dogs and 2 of 4 cats have made their way into TOD posts...;-)

If I were to build a new house, it likely would not need much of a heating system at all - these techniques are pretty well worked out by now. Can you imagine if such construction had been mandated during the recent housing boom? We'd be in a much better position for sure.

As it is, my 175 year old structure (actually 2 buildings attached together in the 1950s) leaks pretty badly, although it is much tighter than it used to be. On the other hand, I do not try to heat it to the ridiculous temperatures considered normal these days.

If the small amount of fuel needed for gathering firewood were not available (I would be able to pay quite a bit for that amount), then my neighbor (and eventually my son) and I would get to spend a lot more time together in the woods with hand saws and axes. And I'd need to look adding a small draft horse - although our Haflinger could probably pull quite a bit of wood on a cart. I don't know how far she'd get dragging large trees - perhaps paired with another.

But if it gets to the point that we cannot get 10 gallons or so of fuel a year, even at several times the price, then we'll likely have other issues. I likely would lose the place anyway for a host of reasons.

As to the cat - I have to yell at our dog to keep her away from the stove. She likes to crawl into the space between the stove and the stone wall, and she whines and cries if the fire burns down. I usually have to move her out of the way to load it.

Hi Nate;

As for #4, exactly! and sometimes, like with strawberries, the small hopes are the best ones!

As for the Pets, anybody remember what a '3-dog Night' was all about? There's one way to get some useful energy out of all that Puppy Chow!

Thanks for a great discussion starter!


Nate- I really don't see how it is a tragedy of the commons issue. The woods are not a common resource and the air pollution issue is a straw dog.

Fossil fuel dependent, yes, but to a much smaller extent than people who commute to work or the U.S. Air Force. Perhaps I can run my chain saws on methanol and my tractor on biodiesel.

You appear to have a very brave fat cat.

No one mentioned my cat in the picture

So how long DOES it take to cook a cat on a wood stove? About like boiling a frog?

Your wood stove must be more kitty-friendly than those I've used in the past. Nice to see your pets doing walk-ons, so to speak.

The whole phenomenon of "peak oilers' pets" would probably be interesting in a low-key way.

If you saw & chop your own wood, you get the double whammy.

One of the best methods for wood heating using mass stoves. In Hungary, this is quite widespread and well-known.
These stoves are quite big and heavy, weighing several tons. Normally the outside of the stove is covered by ceramic tiles, but there are also versions that are simply built from brick with only a few ceramic tiles as decoration. I have one of these and it works great. With burning about a cubic feet of wood I get the stove to around 50 C and it stays warm for about 12-14 hours - this is good to heat a large room. Smoke emission is really not that much from this amount of wood.

The advantages of these stoves are numerous:
- you only need to fire the stove once per day
- it is quite effective
- no smoke in the room at all

The only drawback is that the heating effect is delayed, the stove will take about 2 hours to heat up.

To give you an idea, check out the pictures at the link below.


Great subject but with 132+ comments I wonder how practical such conversations can be? Unless you are investigating this and have lots of time to put into this I can see how one can make an informed decision on the use of firestoves/ fireplaces.

OUTSIDE COMBUSTION AIR - I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the advantages of ducting in outside combustion air. Think of it; your fire needs air. Ok, where does it get it? Well, if you don't duct outside air in, the air for combustion will come from air infiltration. In other words, you will be intentionally drawing cold air into your house to keep the fire going. And, besides that it can create drafts.

Trust me. If at all possible, put in an air duct.

Finally, this is also true of most older furnaces and gas water heaters.


You're right this has been overlooked and it can contribute to the overall efficiency of your heat system.

But I personally like to breathe outside air and therefore like for my house to be a LITTLE leaky-enough for my stove to draw,and sometimes I open a window slightly too,even during heating season.
We let our house get pretty chilly at night and heat it only enough to be comfortable during the day-sixty five to seventy- so I don't worry about the small extra amount of wood.

I've visited in some super tight houses and didn't like the experience.

I solved one nieghbors stove installation problem in such a house,after shining a light thru his chimney,and dismantling his stove pipes, by simply opening a window a quarter inch so his stove could draw.

I don't recall exactly what standard his house was built to but it was pretty high for an affordable house at the time and had some sort of seal of approval from the electric utility..

I was up in Quebec many years ago talking with the locals. One woman said that while her Franklin stove was way more efficient she preferred to use the fireplace.

I asked "why?"

She said that it would look kind of silly if the family sat around watching the Franklin stove.

I can verify what Bl4ckVo1d says. I have an earth house in a village in Hungary. The walls are about 600mm thick.
It is a huge heat sink. It warms up all summer and so long as there is heat inside in the winter it stays warm. (Unfortunately I moved in in March a year ago and the place had been unlived in for at least four years, so the walls were in fact a cold sink!)

When I first saw the tile stove (Dutch stove/cserepkalyha) I thought to myself "god, that is ugly - it has to go". How wrong can you be! I got through about 10 cubic metres of firewood last winter. It is an industrial byproduct - all seasoned, already in suitable sized pieces, and every piece has something wrong with it that makes it unsuitable for the business from where I buy it (locally).

I asked my Hungarian friend in the village how many houses had the tile stoves. He was able to reel them off from the top of the village to the bottom, and many more have them than don't.

Other posters (particularly from the States) have spoken about high-tech stoves. Mine is definitely low tech, but I can tell you that the stove absorbs all the heat from the fire. There is only just enough warmth left to keep a draught up the chimney. I expected to smell wood smoke continuously in the village. No. Just sometimes when someone has recently lit the stove. It is a clean burn and will stay lit for hours when closed right down.

Other posters have commented about the unsuitability of it in big towns and cities. I agree. But I would also say that big towns and cities will be unsustainable anyway in maybe as little as ten years.

I have ripped the primitive central heating out of this cottage and reinstalled a wood stove in the kitchen. So far the wood for the kitchen has all come from my land. OK it is a little more inconvenient than turning on a gas or electric cooker but I can have it up to sausage cooking temperature in about ten minutes :)

This winter we had three weeks of -5C daytime -15C to -18C at night. The lowest temperature I saw in the kitchen (which is not heated by the tile stove) was +7 in the morning. I can live with that - I do get dressed before I go into the kitchen!

I live in the midst of one of the largest expanses of forested territory in the eastern half of the US. We are also in an area that could see the power grid go down for a week or more if (when) a winter storm hits. It is just good sense to have at least a small woodstove and a small stockpile of seasoned firewood on hand for emergency heating; most of us do.

Could every single person living in WNC, or in the whole of the southern Appalachians for that matter, heat exclusively with wood, with out stripping the mountainsides bare? I don't know, maybe. It would certainly be more feasible if everyone did everything they could to insulate and tighten up the building envelope, and if everyone who could were to put in some solar space heating panels outside and some thermal mass inside. I also think that there are better solutions than wood for those in denser areas, such as much of Asheville and other large towns in the area. I am thinking in terms of district heating systems, where entire neighborhoods are served by a central heating plant; such a plant could be powered by some combination of CSP plus biogas from municipal wastes plus incineration of trash plus wood, and maybe with a geothermal component as well. Do all of this and I suspect that we could just about harvest enough firewood to supply the remaining residential heating need on a sustainable basis.

Some would argue that in many cases, a geothermal heat pump (with electricity generated from renewable sources) would be a better way to go, and they might be right. I suspect that a combination of both a geothermal heat pump as the primary heating source, and a wood stove for supplemental or emergency backup heat, is what most people will end up with, IF the grid stays up indefinitely.

The problem with heating fuels is that few people take the time to use a scientific method of determining what the cost of heating their living space is going to be before they invest in a heating unit or heating fuel.
I have a chart that I made with all of the available fuels on it that has cost of 100,000 BTU of energy on the vertical scale and a range of prices for each fuel on the horizontal. You only need to calculate the points for the high end and the low end of each fuel as the graph lines are straight lines.
I determined that ground source electric powered heat pump with a 3.0 COP was much lower cost per 100,000 BTU than any other fuel. The highest cost fuel was purchased wood (based on $100 per pickup load with about 800 pounds per load - which is the local average here in Minnesota). One also has to remember that wood stoves are on average only about 50% efficient and corn/pellet stoves are only about 60-70% efficient at best.
With the chart I can quickly look at the current or projected price of any of the fuels and determine what the comparative cost per 100,000 BTUs is.

The other important thing to do is to do a through calculation of the heat loss on your home so you can figure out what it will cost to heat with each fuel type today and based upon projected future fuel costs. This can easily be done with a simple spreadsheet program.
Measure the length and height of each outside wall, outside window and outside door. Let the spreadsheet calculate the area of each wall and then the area of each wall minus windows and doors. And don't forget the roof. Determine the R value of each wall, door and window (you will see windows often listed with U values - U=1/R and R=1/U) and let the spreadsheet calculate the heat loss per hour, per day and per year (use the annual heating degree days to calculate this). It is really pretty simple, but beyond the capability of a single post to give all the parameters, but you can look them up. The spreadsheet makes it very easy to look at different levels of insulation to see what the cost of heating is at each level.

Don't fly blind on the cost of heating your home! Take the time to figure it out.

I use a wood stove, a pellet stove and propane. I am hoping to superinsulate my house to go from R-3 currently (no insulation 70 year old masonry) to R-50. When that is accomplished I will be able to install a 3 ton geothermal heatpump with vertical wells (3 - 1 per ton) to supply 100% of the heat to heat my house to 70 F inside when outside temperatures go down to -30 degrees F for about $300-$400 per year. I plan to have a wood burning cook stove for emergency backup if the power goes off. I live in Minnesota

Just how do you propose to get to r 50?it seems that doing that would require very nearly dismantleing most houses and starrting over.

The structural walls of my house are clay tile with brick facing on the outside and lathe&plaster on the inside. According to one of my books from the 50's this construction rates R-3 for insulation factor.
There is no way to add insulation to the inside of the existing wall. So, I am having quoted the addition of new 2x8 stud framing around the entire outside of the house going down 2 feet below ground level. Then the resulting 7.5 inch cavity between the new studs will be sprayed with R-7 per inch urethane foam. (7 inches X R-7 = R49) Then new 5/8 plywood sheathing will be installed on the outside and house wrap and new steel siding installed over that.
It is going to be damn expensive, but there is no other way that I have found in my searching over the last 10 years to add insulation to this house.
I will be going from roughly 86,000 BTU per hour (70 F inside & 0 F outside) to about 18,000 BTU per hour. Most of the losses after insulation will be windows and doors. Upgrading all of the windows would add another $10,000+ to the cost that I just don't have. However I have put R-10 pink rigid foam in all of the windows in rooms that are not used daily (guest bedrooms) and also the bathroom and kitchen windows. I have calculated that going from the single pane window with storm (R-1) to the R-10 foam saves about $70 in propane per year per window with propane at $2.32 (my last years contract price). I have 9 windows covered so save $630 per year.
I am planning on making some "Window Cushions" from some 4 inch thick closed cell upholstery foam that are about 1 inch larger than the window opening so I can just easily stuff them into the window openings and with a couple of handles sewn onto the covering can easily pull them out when I want/need natural light in the room (or need to see outside). (Remember that lights add heat to the room and windows take heat out of the room, so make sure you have plenty of lights in the rooms and block off the windows with insulation when ever you can).

2X8 studs 2 feet below ground level? I give them 10 years if they are pressure treated. I would really think hard about using any kind of lumber for framing below ground level, unless it's black locust.

Finally, someone going in the right direction.....SUPERINSULATE.....before a penny is spent on any type of wood heating, gas heating, solar or any type of crap gas heating you do.....

It's easy, and cheap. Just get over yourself and the mindset of the MERIKAN....

Have not read all the comments and intend to do so later. But I am posting my experiences before the ESSAY goes stale.

I heated fully with wood last winter. The only cheat I made was an electric blanket in my bed. And that was set to just warm the covers up. I could do without it and bring out my two down comforters and do very well.

So my plan worked thusly.

I put the smallish wood stove(once a coal burner with a top feed and ash pan) in the bedroom. My living quarters are pretty much open landscape of three areas. Kitchen/office and then the middle part is bedroom and storage and the last area is my workshop/hamgear/electronics/etc.

And I also have one enclosed closet and enclosed bathroom.

So when I get up the fire is long dead. I put on my thermals then the outdoor gear(carthartts) over my regular clothing and go outside or hang inside with NO fire. Don't need one. Cook breakfast on a propane cooktop or if I start a fire I cook it on the top..which can get very hot. But I usually eat cereal or left overs. Noon the same. So being active I don't need a fire until when it starts to get dark or I come in for good. Else I am in the barn or working outside.

My future plans include a wood gas burner to cook with instead of building a big fire.

Build a good fire and cook my supper. Have a easy chair by the fire and a step stool. I enjoy the heat and read or go in the shop and work on woodcarving,hamgear or whatever.

Bedtime and I quit stoking the fire. Read or use the PC for various task...all wireless of course.

So this is how I spent the winter heating months. Some days no fire required. I only burned a tad less than a cord. Got it up as I needed it. Never split it ahead as the exercise in winter is good to perform.

If I need more there is plenty of deadfall in my woodlands. Or elsewhere. I have a small IH tractor with a front loader to get it out with. Use malls to split it or my double bit axe of which I have many.

I live alone and it suits me fine. My two Jack Russells and I survive quit well. They share my bed and life as well. I could hunt and fish but instead just take it easy and do what comes to hand and mind.

I already have enough downed limbs from the last ice storm to get by this coming winter. Winters are becoming much much milder here in WKY. Very little snow. The ponds hardly ever freeze over anymore.

I have three more console type wood heaters in the barn ready to go if need be, with masonry brick linings. They are not modern. But my short metal smoke stack is very easy to clean if need be.

Living alone can mean huge savings in time, fuel and energy. If by some chance my wife or kids wanted to live with me in a coming scenario? Then they would have to live strictly by my rules and my way.

They are what we here call....'work brittle'.


I live alone and it suits me fine. My two Jack Russells and I survive quit well. They share my bed and life as well.

That's fine, airdale, but what are you ever going to do if you have a "three dog night"?


There is a general rule for emissions from combustibles: Solid fuels produce higher emissions than liquid fuels which in turn produce higher emissions than gaseous fuels. This is all about being able to produce ideal conditions for the combustion process - i.e. having enough but not too much oxygen available everywhere in the combustion zone.
Wood, like coal, produces a lot of emissions (particulate matter, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, CO, etc). From this point of view, home heating with uncontrolled wood stoves is not such a great idea.

I have heard the suggestion that wood should be burned (or co-burned) in power plants to generate electricity. The electricity would be used to drive heat pumps. Comparing the two cases gives:

Direct combustion
* Up to 90% of the energy content is used for heating (I think 90% is quite optimistic).
* Unwanted emissions high

Wood power plant
* 40% of the energy content is converted to electricity
* 10% of the 40% disappears as transmission losses, leaving 36% for the home user
* A heat pump with COP of 4 produces 4*36 = 144% heat.
* Unwanted emissions can be filtered in the power plant
* Higher costs because of the heat pumps

The bottom line would seem to be that a power plant + heat pumps is the better, but more costly option.

Wood gasification power plants do exist I believe - but once you turn wood into a source of generic electric power generation, then you really are trying to make wood a solution for everyone. Or at least for far more than it can be sustainably applied to. With that would come large scale mechanized timbering to support it, and the forests would disappear very quickly. In other words, the labor and access problems involved with small scale home heating with wood act as a built in limit.

As an example, last fall the power company felled a large hickory down the road at a neighbor's place. I asked him if I could have it, but at the time he thought he might want it. Come this June the grass was waste high around it and he was asking me to get it out of there. It took me 6 hours of very hard work to do that, and the wood was free. There are not as yet very many people willing to spend several hours of one of their days of leisure doing such work, so that slows the process down, as does the fact that the wood is not worth much.

Contrast that to the situation if the electric utilities were generating any significant power from wood. I don't imagine that tree would ever have been left there, rather it would have been taken with large equipment when it was dropped. Also the demand for wood would create a new market and drive of the cost. The wooded hillsides around here (all of which were once bare) would again be stripped of timber.

Hello all I'm new to this (I guess it's a blog) forum. I'm going to make a few comments on woodburning, I've been doing it for a long time, for a variety of reasons and I'll get to that in a minute. I'd first like to tell you about a really good site that you may not be aware of. The author, Chris Martenson, has put together a tutorial linking Energy, the Environment, and the Economy. Do a search on his name and "crash course" and you'll find 20 videos, each 5-10 minutes long. He makes a great case for "change is coming". Perhaps everyone here is all over that but just in case....

I've been burning wood for about 35 years. I learned about it when I lived in a rural town in the Applachain Mountains. I left there and moved to the city and have been doing the same in a suburban environment since 1994. This house that I live in is a 1968 model about 3000 sq and takes somewhere between 6-7 cords a year. This year is the last time I'm going to process my own wood. I'm getting too old and I'm in the process of moving back to the country and I just don't have the time. So here's what I would share with you.

1. My experience-Over the last 15 years I figure I've saved about 9000 gallons of gasoline (heat equivalent). The amount of money I saved (I figure I provide about 70% of my own heat) has paid for the tools I use to process wood (chainsaw, splitter, maybe a pickup, and a lot of small things). Of course after 15 years it's time for another truck. I might have paid myself about $.50/hr. There's not alot of money in this enterprise. Don't do it for money, do it becuase it forces you to use your body and keep your body fit. I think it's good for the environment unless you think in terms of everyone doing it. THere is something about a fire making the rec room very cozy. If you have a free standing woodstove that doesn't require a blower then it's really nice when the power goes off. It's very dirty. You get wood debris and ashes everywhere. It really takes lots of work.

2. Woodstoves-The new technology is really worth it. I only have to clean my chimney about 1 every 4 years. I used to have to clean it 2/yr. That's partly a function of properly burning the wood (you always try to burn a hot fire and control the heat output by adjusting the fire mass) but it's also a function the secondary combustion really working well. I don't recommend the catalytic converters. You damage the combuster by building fires that are too hot and it's difficult to replace them when they go bad.

3. Wood - You can burn any kind of wood in a woodstove and it won't hurt anything as long as you season the wood and burn the wood properly (see above). Seasoning the wood really is just splitting and stacking in the spring and keeping it under cover until you're ready to burn it. In addition it's really helpful if your woodpile is close to the house and you don't have to carry wood up or down stairs. Making sure you always have wood, processing the wood you have, and burning it end up being a year round proposition. That is you're busy in the spring, fall, and winter. I always have one years supply (unsplit and off the ground) ready to be processed in the spring. I gather next years supply in the fall. If it's a wet spring then your working in the summer. BTW, if you're cutting wood you should try to do it when it's cool-cold. There's bees and snakes in the woods but not much a problem when it's cool-cold.

4. Energy Efficiency - I am an advocate of energy efficency as one part of a comprehensive energy policy, both governmental and at a personal level. I wish I had understood what a "dog" this home I live in really is 15 years ago. I would have been investing in making certain that I did everything I could to lower my energy use. My final point is however you're heating your home you should take the steps you can to make certain you're using as little as possible just because it's good for the back, the pocketbook, and just in case a change is coming.

I heat with 100% wood. There have been some downright wrong comments on here, but I guess it just depends on where you live, and your point of view. Certainly, heating with wood is a lot of work. Where I live, I haul my logs in the winter with a snowmachine, and don't pay a dime for fuel (other than labor and tools, of course). I think it's well worth it. I'm in a rural area, with no air quality issues and a rather sparse population, which helps. There's so much dead standing spruce, there's no need to ever cut a live tree. Once in a while I'll cut a birch, if it's in my way, but it's really not necessary. The implications of heating with wood, I've learned from this post, vary so much with where you are. I'm glad I don't live in the lower 48, it sounds terrible.

The notion that you can't build an effective wood stove yourself is just silly. My neighbor, who admittedly is a very good welder, built himself a round woodstove, about 2' diameter, about 4' long. This is surrounded by a water tank about 5' diameter and 5' long, holds several hundreds of gallons. This way, he is able to have brief but hot fires (low creosote formation) and capture most of the energy. He uses a small DC water pump to circulate this hot water through his floor, heating his 3000 square foot home with nothing but wood. His walls and roof are R40, and I think he burns 5-6 cords of white spruce/year. Keep in mind, it's COLD up here...-40 for a week or so every winter, sustained below 0 for a few weeks in Jan/Feb.

I live in a 12x16 cabin with a cheap stove, and can hang out in my shorts/t-shirt when it's -30...can be as hot as I want. I think it all depends on your access to wood, and the work you're willing to put in. Work at the office and buy nat. gas, or buy a couple gallons for the saw and start splitting big rounds...I know my choice...