Welcome to another episode of “What NOT to do to Survive”!
In the spirit of sharing my mistakes in order that others might learn from them, here is a doozy.
It is February and I’m nearly out of wood.
I thought I would be in good shape by purchasing one more cord than was recommended by the owners of the cabin that I’m renting. However, I guess we used more because of a few reasons.
1.) We haven’t totally acclimated to the much colder temperatures.
2.) For the first month, I left the door of the woodstove open (until a dear friend explained why I shouldn’t) causing me to burn through a substantial amount of extra wood.
3.) The wood that we got wasn’t the best quality – according to a neighbor that got wood from the same source it is “too dry” and therefore burns too quickly. I’d never heard of that being a possibility before and can’t confirm that it’s true, however, some of the wood we got, ash and birch, is extremely “brittle” feeling.
I ordered more a few weeks ago when I realized I was going to fall short, but the wood guy’s dump truck broke down so he has not been able to bring it by. Last weekend he told me he’d have it to me this weekend, and this weekend he said he’d have it to me next weekend.
Today I brought in the very last bit of wood from my woodpile.
If I burn it as per normal use, and the weather stays in the 20s, I have enough for about 2 more weeks. If I burn it very very very stingily, it might last closer to a month.
If the SHTF already, I’d be in big trouble.
I decided today that I won’t burn wood until the new delivery arrives. I can use my kerosene heater and my electric space heaters. I am fortunate that there’s back-up. In a disaster situation, I’d have enough kerosene for a few weeks, but no electricity. We would be lucky to survive the winter if this happened after, say, an EMP. The reason that I’m saving the wood is that in the event of a power outage, we’ll still have some left to burn.
There are approximately 6-7 weeks more that heat will be necessary to our survival. I miscalculated my wood needs by approximately one cord of wood. In reality, it’s a minor issue, but think about the ramifications of such a miscalculation in the future!
This is exactly what I’m talking about when I remind people that it is better to make your mistakes now, while help is as close as the nearest grocery store or electric plug-in. It’s not fun to report these mistakes publicly, but it’s important to recognize how easily these things can happen and how serious they could be in a post disaster world.
Mistakes are bound to happen when you are new at living in rustic conditions. It’s how you learn from those mistakes, how you prevent them in the future, and how you resolve them when they occur that are the real predictors of survival. Have you ever had some issues that made you smack your forehead when you realized the ramifications on your survival had they occurred after SHTF?
We have burnt wood in the past to heat, and yes the dryer the wood the faster the burn. When you order your wood make sure you are getting a substantial amount of hardwood and ask how long it has be seasoned / aged. It should be seasoned for a minimum of a year, was always our rule. Ask you delivery person what percentage will be hardwood. Around us maple and oak tend to be the main hardwoods. You should be paying accordingly with the amount of hardwood per cord. Check with the locals in your area for the going rate with the percentage you are quoted. The dry brittle stuff is good for starting a fire or getting your stove up to temp if you cook on it. Hardwood properly cured / aged will give a longer burn although the heat output will slightly less. Whoever your friend was who told you not to leave your door open is correct, I once witnessed a cast iron potbelly stove crack when the operator left the door open and was not paying attention to the amount heat being put out. Also, a sudden increase in of outside pressure i.e. wind, can fill a home with smoke at best or start a fire at worst. Keep being careful, and keep that extra sweater at hand. You are right, we have a lot of winter left, despite what that groundhog says. Clay
The first winter that we began living off-grid, I had no idea how much wood we would need for the winter. I ordered 2 full cords and needless to say, ran out just after Christmas. At that time, I couldn’t find more dry firewood and the answer I was offered was to have a large dumpster of construction ‘ends’ delivered —– little pieces of 2×4’s, short lengths of 2×2’s, etc. For the remainder of that winter, my 7 year old and I went out each day and filled 5 or 6 cloth shopping bags with those little soft wood bits and used that for heat. From that year on, I always make sure I have extra firewood to hopefully avoid anything like that happening again. It’s definitely not fun…..I feel for you!
Daisy, I admire the fact that you’re willing to share your mistakes in order to help people with their own prepping. We’ve all made mistakes but some aren’t prepared to admit it, even to themselves. They’re the ones who are most likely going to suffer the most as a result. I think you did the right thing in choosing to stop burning wood now and use heaters. In the meantime, I hope the weather is kind to you over the next few weeks 🙂
Daisy, we had that problem one year. Bought several bags of coal at the feed store and would add a little to the wood in the stove. It does burn very hot, so make sure your stove is up to it if you choose to do it, and of course it smells like burning coal. But, it’s a way to keep some warmth in the house. Best of luck with this! Hurry spring!
The photo shows a large supply of wood brought into the home for use in the stove. Convenient but not a good idea. Dead wood can harbor a variety of insects and pests that come to life when warmed in the heat of a house. Some can be dangerous to the structure of your home, some dangerous to humans, and some just a nuisance. Always keep your wood stored away from the house and only bring in enough to use for short periods.
I’ve seen folks at the Wildlife Commission pour kerosene on wood that wasn’t “prime” and leave it outside to absorb the petroleum. Just to be clear, it wasn’t dripping with kerosene, but it still smelled of it and had obviously absorbed it. They didn’t burn this inside, it was in a garage heated by a woodstove. Would this be a really bad idea or a viable option if you didn’t have “good wood”?
I do take issue with “too dry” wood, I’ve never heard that (over decades of wood burning). I’ve never burned “too dry” wood – the drier the better. The more moisture in wood the more heat energy, as it burns, gets used up evaporating the moisture left in the wood. And that energy doesn’t heat your house, it’s wasted.
If you have very dry wood, that’s a good thing (and I personally think 2 years drying is better than one, but it’s hard to do). The problem is, people burn too much of it at a time so the fire overheats, or they leave the door open, or they use a poor stove (often a poorly designed old stove) that doesn’t control airflow well or is too big for their house (so the fire can be built too big).
Very dry wood burned at the proper volume and rate, with a well designed well built stove that controls airflow (not necessarily airtight), will heat your house wonderfully while using less wood. It will also create less air pollution (wood moisture causes wood to incompletely burn, and thus give off more smoke). Crackling fires are an indication of too much wood moisture, the crackle comes from mini steam bursts out of the wood.
Leaving the stove door open takes control of the rate of burn away from you, as well as sucking a large volume of warmed house air up the flue and wasting that heat energy. But whether the door is open or closed is just part of the picture. But it is a thing that can let a stove overheat and let the fire get away from you.
And, as an aside, burning coal leaves behind “clinker”, the leftover ash after burning, and it is not like wood ash – it’s useless and toxic. Certainly don’t put it in your garden or near your well. Safely disposing of clinker is a problem for coal burners, as we found out years ago, and is one of the reasons many municipalities ban coal burning. The smoke from coal fires is also toxic and contributes to lung disease and acid rain. It does burn nice and hot, tho.
Wood can’t be “too dry”. Heat output is pretty much directly relational to water content.
It sounds like you may be burning the wrong kind of wood, though – you want seasoned oak and hickory that was cut in winter, for preference, with ash cut any time as a third place winner. Birch burns too fast and makes more light than heat. Red oak is better than white oak is better than swamp oak is better than willow oak (which counts as willow, not as oak).
Wet wood generates creosote which generates chimney fires. Wet wood does not put out as much heat as the same wood dried. Wet wood makes carcinogen-laden steam mixed with heavy smoke instead of nice light dry smoke that shoots right out the chimney.
There’s a song or two you should learn – but here’s a short primer: Burn birch only for light, not heat; burn ash if you have to burn wood that’s poorly seasoned, but remember it’s named “ash” for a reason; don’t burn softwoods except in summertime campfires, and then watch out for sparks; oak well seasoned is the high king of all firewoods and seasoned hickory the prince; CUT YOUR WOOD IN WINTER when the sap is down, and burn it the next winter before it rots.
To get through a hard Maine winter heating only with wood and maintaining non-freezing temps throughout the building, you need a woodpile that is larger than the house. Possibly MUCH larger, if you are poorly insulated or have a large building.
What if you have a fireplace, is that OK wiht the epa? People up in Vermont and Maine are not going ot stand for this, their life depends on their heating and they will heat the house anyway they can. <ost people can't afford a woedstove set up, you need ot have a hole pu tin your cieling or wall and a eramic floo runderneath , my daughter used a pellet tove and it worked pretty well, is there nothing they won't bother you aobut? I find the fact that hyou can't grow food unconstitutional, they don't say a word if you poion yoursel fwith monsanto crap, and as for th erain water, that is a God given right, my Mohter lived way upstate NY sh efilled her rain barrel and washed her hair in it and water her garden wiht it , it was not wasted, they just want you to die of thirst I guess. I still can't see th epoint of that. The only reason they are getting away wiht this is because Obama is in office, Bush never listened to the epa, and hopefully we will get an American President next without the help of the Rothchilds and he will understand what Americans are about.