Heating with Wood

With energy costs rising each year, there is a growing interest in using renewable resources for our energy needs.  One such source is firewood.  Most of us are comfortable with building a fire in our fireplace realizing that it offers more in the way of atmosphere than heat.  But relying totally on firewood as your source of heat takes careful consideration and more knowledge that just being able to build a fire.  We found an excellent article prepared by the Cornell University Cooperative Extension and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to help understand this process.

In deciding to use firewood or not, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Which trees should be cut?
  • How much firewood will you need?
  • When is a good time to cut trees?
  • Should you dry, then split or split it first?
  • Will it ruin my woods by cutting out for firewood?
  • What is the availability of the fuel source?
  • Are you using an indoor wood stove or an outdoor boiler?
  • Are there transportation and storage issues?

Which trees should be cut?

Before beginning the process, take a look at your woods.  You want to make sure that the desire to cut firewood is compatible with both wildlife and aesthetics.  While cutting firewood can be detrimental to the value of your woods, it can also be a great opportunity to thin a stand that will ultimately enhance your timber value and be beneficial to wildlife as well.  One suggestion is to look for trees which are damaged or showing signs of disease.  Many landowners decide to cut straight trees because they are easier to split by hand but those are sometimes the best trees to keep.   Trees chosen to be kept should always be marked clearly to avoid error in the process of cutting.

Whether you are using an indoor stove or an outdoor boiler will also determine what type of trees to be cut.  Outdoor boilers have greater flexibility with regard to species of trees used because they have thermostats to regulate water flow and air supply.  According the folks at Cornell, only fully seasoned hardwoods such as red maples, hickory, oak, or ash (to name just a few) should be used for indoor stoves.  Softer woods such as pine should be used “sparingly, if not at all”.

Avoid cutting trees that are home to wildlife nests or dens.  Avoid cutting trees that are protecting streams or wet areas.  Too much to consider?  There are professionals to help.  Folks who work for agencies such as state forestry commissions, and the Department of Environmental Conservation can assist you…..and it usually won’t cost you.

How much firewood will you need?

If firewood is your sole source of heating, 12-15 acres of woods properly managed can provide 4-5 cords of wood.  This amount is enough to heat most average sized houses for a year in New York.  Having said that, geographic location, larger than normal dwellings, and the efficiency of the insulation of a house can greatly reduce or increase the amount of wood needed.

To read the article in its entirety, see “How to Choose Firewood Trees

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