Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency and keeping your footprint minimal. With proper planning and some practice, you should be able to achieve complete self-sufficiency in most climates. Some parts of the world make it increasingly difficult to homestead with 100% self-sufficiency. In other cases, there are regulations that require you have certain amenities such as heat. With that being said, an experienced homesteader can survive every winter simply burning firewood. That’s how every person lived before the invention of gas and electric fireplaces.
Firewood for Homesteading: Preparing for Winter
A Few Quick Calculations
You need to make a few calculations before you start so that you will know how much wood you’ll need to survive the winter. First, you should measure your home or just look up the deed. The square footage will help determine how much firewood you need. A tiny home heats up much more quickly and requires much less wood to heat. A larger home will take much longer to heat; the increase in space will be somewhat exponential. For example, a 1000 square foot home will require more than twice the amount of wood as a 500 square foot homestead. Even if you only want to heat one or two rooms, the extra space will still cause heat to leak out.
There’s one major caveat, though. If your home is energy efficient and well-insulated, it will change everything. A well-insulated cabin can retain as much as 40% more heat than an uninsulated log cabin. Double glazed windows will help as well.
Once you’ve determined your square footage and how insulated your home is, you need to calculate the months of winter. If you live in the southeastern United States, you might have 50 nights before 40 degrees Fahrenheit every year. If you live in the Northeast, you could have double or triple that number. A quick internet search of the previous year’s climate will give you the highs and lows for each month. That will let you know how many nights you’ll need to burn wood.
Finally, you need to determine how long you’ll burn wood each day. If you are in your home all day, you’ll need to burn wood pretty much all day. If you work out of the house and only get home in the evening, you’ll burn much less wood.
As a very rough rule of thumb, a wood-burning stove that insulates a 1000 square foot log cabin with storm windows will consume about three cords of wood each winter. That accounts for keeping a fire going most of the day and for a winter that lasts from October to April. A cord of wood is a tightly packed pile that is four feet by four feet by eight feet. If you’re in the Northeastern United States, Canada, or the UK, you will likely need about five cords of wood because you’ll need to feed the fire more often to keep it roaring.
How Can You Conserve Wood?
Conserving wood can help you stretch longer and save money if you buy your firewood. If you chop the firewood yourself, the more self-sufficient option, you will save yourself some hard labor.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commissioned an exhaustive study that found wood-burning stoves to produce about 50% more heat in your home than a fireplace, even if the fireplace has an insert. That’s because a fireplace has a larger opening for heat to escape upwards through the chimney; also, the chimney effect creates a draft that pulls cold air from outside into other rooms. Furthermore, a wood-burning stove is said to consume about 33% less fuel than a fireplace.
So, the first and biggest way to conserve firewood is by converting from a fireplace to a stove. If you already have a stove, you can save some wood by installing a stove fan. A stove fan can be powered by the heat of the stove or by electricity. It will blow the hot air from the stove throughout the house to properly distribute it. That means you’ll have fewer hot spots and more evenly dispersed heat.
Finally, you need to think about where to find your wood.
Where to Find Your Wood
There are several different sources of firewood, which will run a gamut of different expense and inconvenience. The first and most obvious source of firewood is a dead tree.
Every winter, weak trees will die. When those trees die, they stop absorbing moisture from the ground and begin to dry out. The shade of those trees will choke out new growth; therefore, it’s beneficial for them to be removed. If you see a dead tree, you can cut it down with a chainsaw and chop it into firewood. That’s completely free if you have the proper rights to cut wood on that property; however, it will be time-consuming and tiring. You can reduce the amount of time and energy required with a good chainsaw. In fact, many homesteaders keep a chainsaw in their truck in case they encounter any downed or dead trees throughout the day.
The next source of wood is classifieds, which are increasingly available online. Oftentimes, individuals who have fireplaces, other homesteaders, and even lumber companies will offer piles of lumber in online classifieds. They’re often offered for free as well.
The same is true of lumber companies and construction companies. These companies often create piles of damaged lumber or scrap lumber. The piles are often available for free. You should make sure you only use untreated lumber. Treated produces dangerous fumes when burned. Also, you should focus on hardwood if possible. Softwoods burn quickly and smoke a lot; they’re good for starting a fire or if you are in a pinch, but hardwood is best. You can find more information about hardwood and softwood here.
Preparing the Wood to Burn
Depending on where you get the wood, you will need to prepare it to burn. If it is scrap wood or some other kind of untreated lumber, you need to make sure that it is dry. You can keep it dry essentially by keeping it in a similar fashion to logs. You’ll need to make piles of the wood that are elevated off the ground. Cover the woodpile with a loose tarp to keep the rain off it.
If you get your own firewood or chop trees, you’ll need to season the wood. Seasoning the wood means drying it as much as possible; optimally, you’ll reduce the moisture content to about 20% of the weight of the wood. The best way to season wood is stacking it somewhere in the sun. The more space you can get between each log, the faster it will season. It typically requires about 6 months to season. 12 months would be even better. Stack it off the ground and keep the rain off it. Because firewood needs to be prepared well in advance, you will want to add it to your homestead planner.
All of these things are reasons it is important to plan ahead when homesteading. You need at least six months to season your firewood if you cut it fresh from a tree. You need about between three and five cords of firewood for every 1000 square feet of cabin space. A well-insulated cabin may need less. You can find the wood from many different sources or cut it down yourself.
Finally, you should be loading the seasoned firewood into the most efficient wood-burning stove you can find. The stove should have a fan that disperses heat throughout the cabin. If you do this, you’ll be warm all winter.
This is a guest post from my friend Nigel who blogs over at Toolazine.com. He writes various articles on camping, gardening, chainsaws, axes and hatchets, woodwork, and car stuff. Nigel enjoys practical stuff like woodworking, gardening, DIY, camping & fishing. He loves playing with (using) tools. He is a husband and father of two children. He can be found on Pinterest and on Twitter.