The main, in expense terms, self-reliance project for our homestead this year was adding wood heat to our home. We had a small decorative fireplace in our living room. It did not heat the room at all. Fireplaces are very inefficient forms of heating.
The heating source for our home is a heat pump. Heat pumps are very efficient in the Pacific Northwest. The weather doesn't normally get cold enough to require a secondary form of heating. Heat pumps tend to work efficiently until the weather drops down into the 10 degree range. In the coldest months of winter, the utility bill jumps only about $80 to heat our 2300 square foot home.
The drawback to a heat pump for us, is that it never really warms the house. The air blowing out of the ducts is not always hot and not as hot a gas furnace system. The air at times might only be 90 degrees; therefore, it actually feels cool to the skin. Since our winters are wet, the house also has a damp chill. To keep the energy bills down we keep the house at 69 degrees, which the wife is not a fan of.
The decision was made to add wood heat as a secondary heating source to the home. We looked around and found a local company that offers a wood stove that would fit into our fireplace insert. The stove we ended up buying was the Aspen made by Kuma. This stove is rated with a 79% efficiency. While the ratings numbers are taking with a grain of salt from the EPA, it is far more efficient than older wood stoves and a fireplace.
The Aspen has a small firebox, but still takes a 16 inch log. If we had a larger fireplace, the stove could be be extended out of the fireplace on demand. Because of its size, the Aspen only heats 1700 square feet. This is okay because the way the house is laid out, we only really want to use it to heat our living space during the day, which is about 600 sq. feet. Our upstairs normally stays a few degrees warmer than the downstairs. Though, the way the stairs are laid out, the heat from the stove drifts upstairs as well.
We have been using the Aspen stove for a little over two months now. This is our first wood stove, so there is a bit of learning curve. The first issue that we had was smoke in the house when starting the stove up. After setting off the smoke alarms a few times, I found out this was because of a negative airflow in the chimney. Our chimney sits outside the home and on colder mornings, the airflow will flow down into the firebox. We ended up opening a window for a few minutes before lighting the stove to fix this issue. One other thing we did was find a local wood working company that was selling 16 cubic foot bags of kiln dry kindling. There was less smoke and a much faster start using the kindling.
The wife is the largest fan of the stove after giving me the honey way are you buying that look. We can heat the main room to about 75 degrees with just a couple of logs. She is nice and cozy while sitting with the family. The stove itself takes about 30 minutes or so to get up to a nice 450-500 degree temperature (outside thermostat). This is the range recommended to us to not have creosote build up in the chimney. After the fire dies down, the stove still pours heat into the room for about the next two hours.
For us wood is a sustainable source of heat because our homestead is located on a little over 7 acres, of which about 2 are wooded. There are quite a few trees growing outside the wooded area as well. Many of these trees we are looking to chop and drop to build soil and replace them with other plantings. Some people believe we destroy the environment when a tree is cut down, but this is not true. When a tree is cut down, its roots die off and decay. As they decay soil is built. This is even more of a benefit with a nitrogen fixing tree because the nitrogen on the roots is release into the soil and available for other plants. Part of the design of healthy orchard or forest system will include planting nitrogen fixing or "support" trees close to the main trees. Their sole purpose is for removal after a few years in order to support the main tree. For instance, I planted Black Locust next to my Black Walnuts. When the Locust canopies start interfering with the walnuts canopies, I will cut down the Locust. Black Locust is an excellent wood. It is one the most rot resistant woods on the planet and is extremely hot burning.
About a year and a half ago, we cut down a grove of cottonwood trees that were growing by our house. There were about 9 trees in all, bunched up. We wanted to open the area up to bring in light for an orchard that was planted. Interestingly enough, a cottonwood tree sends out runners to sprout up new trees as well as grow trees from the cut trunks of the main tree. It is a pioneering species and can grow very fast; basically, a weed tree. The neighbor told myself to get stump killer to kill the stumps, but that feels wrong. Therefore, I'm letting them grow back to see if I can harvest them in another 5 years or so, or at least when they are tall enough to interfere with the orchard again. In the last 18 months they have shot up about 10 feet. Cutting the original lot gave me about a cord of wood for fuel.
In scouring our land there are other areas marked for tree removal. We found an apple tree shaded out by a pine and a cottonwood. In another spot there is a pine tree growing on top of an oak tree, though I hate to cut this one because last year the spot grew morel mushrooms. As mentioned above, we have started to plant nut trees and black locusts for the future. There is work to be down to remove existing trees that are shading out those areas. Then there is a grove of trees around our drain field for the septic, which we started removing last week to prevent possible issues with rooting into the field. As one can see finding a good source of wood for us is pretty easy.
One interesting note is: in the latest copy of Urban Farming there is an article on wood burning stoves. It does have some funny logic and a lefty feel to it, but in all a decent read.