firewood

We have a pretty big house, since we both work at home. 1400 sq ft. It’s outfitted with a boiler and baseboard heating, but we hardly ever turn the thermostat on. That’s ‘cuz we heat with wood, and love it.

When we chose this house, a key convincing element was the very nice (if a tad small) cozy by the woodstovewoodstove, and 2 cords of truly dry firewood in the backyard. We moved here from a tipi-in-the-woods, creek-running-by lifestyle, and let me tell you– that woodstove saved my life. It’s not just the sight and sound of fire, which are pretty much universally loved, but the way a wood stove heats that I adore. When you heat with wood, there are lots of temperature fluctuations. It gets cold at night and when you leave for very long, but you can always make it toasty when you feel like being warm. The house is heated unevenly—the bathroom’s always freezing in winter, and I kind of love that too. I love the way a wood stove makes it warm and cozy in the middle, but chilly around the edges. The even, constant temperature of heating systems is just not my gig.

I always think of heating with wood as a preference, something we do because we love it. But we are also motivated by saving diesel. We never thought much about it until last winter. Before we left for three weeks at Christmas we had 100 gallons of heating oil put in our tank and set the thermostat at 50 degrees. When we got back, the tank was out! 100 gallons in less than a month, just to keep the house at 50?!?!?!

We burn through probably 4 cords of wood per winter. Say it took 150 gallons a month to keep our house at a reasonable 65; that would be 1200 gallons for 8 months of winter. Meaning a cord of wood- which G can cut and haul home in less than two trips (one day’s work, plus probably 4 gallons of gas) is worth 300 gallons of oil! Aside from the environmental aspect, each cord of wood saves our family more than $1200! A winter’s worth of heating with wood saves us almost $5,000!!!!

We burn mostly regular firewood- spruce and hemlock- which my husband cuts with a small chainsaw. But we also burn whatever scavenged leftover building materials I can find, and sometimes pallets. We have a Community Burn Pile here, which is awesome- keeps all lumber scraps, cleared brush and cardboard (not recycleable here) out of the dump. It could be much, much better (it’s not set up to scavenge, even though lots of people do, and often the best bits are already in the fire half burned) but it’s better than nothing. A few people are conscientious and put good stuff off to the side, and the fire’s not always going. So there’s often goodies.

This is where you city people come in. You maybe don’t have a burn pile to peruse, but there’s doubtlessly plenty of wood scavenging opportunities. Cities are full of new construction, just stop and ask one of the guys where their scrap pile is, every piece you haul off is one they don’t have to haul. Plus, I’ve found that most people have, somewhere in them, a voice of thrift. They might not want to go to the trouble themselves, but they like it if someone else reuses what they’re throwing out (exempted from this basic human decency are most grocery store owners, who will go to great lengths to keep you from getting their trash).

Also cities must be full of out-of-commission pallets, what with all that stuff getting trucked in, day in and day out. Look in the phone book under shipping companies, or freight. Call and ask first, or just go by. Of course, to get pallets you’d need a truck, a rack on your car, or a burly bike trailer. The standard size pallet is 3 ft x 4 ft. They’re pretty easy to cut up with a skill saw, just be careful not to hit any nails or staples.

If you live somewhere not too cold, you could easily heat your home with scrap wood. One big benefit of scrap is it’s already dry and cured. Even when it is wet, from sitting out in the rain, for some reason it burns better than similarly wet logs.

Anyone have advice, tips, or good stories to share about scrap wood scavenging?

So now, on to how to freeze your pipes!

It’s been cold here, 5-15 degrees, for more than two weeks. Pipes are freezing all over town. But how we froze ours was like this:

First we ran out fuel (the boiler, which we don’t much use to heat the house, we do use for our hot water) on a Saturday night. They’ll deliver on Sundays, but it’s extra expensive, so I waited till Monday morning to call.

They came Monday afternoon, put in our usual can’t-afford-to-fill-it 100 gallons, I fired the boiler back up, we had hot water, no problem.

Three days later, during the night, the pipes to the kitchen and bathroom froze. But not bad, there was about half an hour of panic, with the faucets on full but nothing coming out. Then, sputter, sputter, all’s well! Checked under the house, no burst pipes, phew!

We turned the thermostat up, thinking to really heat things up.

But it wouldn’t come on.

The long and short of it is that (I think) the baseboard pipes get a residual heat from the hot water system. When we ran out of fuel and didn’t use any hot water for 36 hours, the baseboard pipes froze, somewhere under there. Probably didn’t help that the corners and edges of our house were freezing cold, as I mentioned above loving. Anyway, we didn’t notice because we don’t use the boiler for heat. So they had a good three more days to get a nice, hard freeze going before we caught on. Then it took a few more days of running a heater under the house to thaw them.

Whoops.

Still seems to be no burst pipes though. Lucky us. But we’ve learned our lesson, when it’s really cold, we’ll keep the sink running, and keep the thermostat set high.

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