Paying the Heat Bill

Wood Supply
When we were searching for our ideal homestead property, a high priority (just under low land price) was having a good firewood supply. Keeping the house warm is not a frill, so dependence on big oil is not just expensive, but adds stress and worry to the life of anyone who was not lucky enough to have had that operation that shorts out the part of the brain that identifies and evaluates future risks to the well being of the planet and its inhabitants. Judging by the political discourse I am hearing, this procedure has become fairly popular.

When we found a fifty acre parcel that was 90% covered by a mature stand of bush, I was optimistic but uncertain that we could supply our heating needs without accessing any outside fuel sources. My experience in heating with wood was on the west coast with trees that were of a different size and type. Over this winter we have been harvesting mostly deadfall and dead standing to heat the old workshop and build up a supply for later use. The results have been encouraging enough to say that it may be possible to heat a house and workshop on a permanent basis without diminishing the resource. It will take several years to clean out all of the deadfall and dead standing. The only living trees we are presently planning to remove are those that must be cut down to accommodate driveways, building sites, gardens and so on. If the supply proves inadequate, there is a provincial forest in the area where residents can gather unlimited amounts of deadfall and dead standing timber without a permit.

Although our plans currently call for a propane backup, the ultimate goal for heating and all other energy requirements is to secure the most possible from the land itself. It is entirely possible to produce 100% of our energy requirements on the homestead, and that will always be my target but it will be a long journey and I may never get to the 100% benchmark (unless I live to be a very old eccentric). The challenges that currently block us from complete energy self-sufficiency have nothing to do with the tech. The barriers are logistical and economic. Combining the lowest possible cost with independence of supply and ecological friendliness is still tricky. The ample wood supply, the rising price and questionable availability of petrochemicals and the falling prices of solar panels and other off grid gear has given us a roadmap forward.

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6 Responses to Paying the Heat Bill

  1. Analog Man says:

    I seen your blog at muddome’s and checked it out….50 acres 90% in mature trees (assuming poplar). Yes I am sure you can do it, “If” you buid the right home, and have (this is the most important) right stove, you will be set. I think a mixed bag of sizes of poplar trees, roughly 50 in total should net you 4 cord a year, but consider going elsewhere (or buying), a cord of Tamrack, or birch for each year, it will reduce what you cut on yours but most importantly it gives you some high btu wood for those -35, 40 days that come to visit each year, I can do it with poplar no problem but having some of that high btu wood on hand is sure handy at -40.
    Consider this though…..Plan to harvest the trees closer to your home in the decades to come ( in your 70’s, 80’s) take the trees furthest now while your younger….wood heating is work, the best kind but still work and you will be looking for less of it as you age..

  2. Thanks for the input Analog man. The trees on our place are mostly Aspen (poplar) and a bit of willow. I think its good advice to do as much of the heavy work as we can manage, as early as we can. I have had a look at your blog and have found some useful info there. I will be checking for new posts. Cheers!

  3. Keith says:

    Does natural gas (petrochemical source) when burned have only water and CO2 (good for tree growth) as the exhaust output and how does that compare with wood smoke? (Just Asking) These decisions are not always as simple as some of those with the intact sensitivity to the world’s future needs would have us believe. In which case would it not be that the real ecologists are the ones burning natural gas and propane. Hmmm.

    • Hi Keith, How does Natural gas compare to burning wood ecologically? Its pretty straightforward. Burning wood is carbon neutral. When you burn it, you release the same amount of carbon that was captured while the tree was growing. The carbon in natural gas although far less than in heavy oil, was permanently sequestered below the shale before we went and fracked it out. Of course I am not arguing simplistically that everyone should switch over to heating with wood. Even if there was enough available for all 7 going on 15 billion people on the planet, the increase in airborne particulates would lead to a shocking decline in air quality in built up areas. The impracticality of heating with wood in urban areas does not in any way make natural gas into a clean alternative. Aside from the carbon released there is still the problem of the other voc’s in natural gas, these include propane, methane, butane and so on. Your question is interesting, but the answer is that neither method is truly ecological or sustainable for the energy needs of more than 10 billion people who will reside in high urban concentration. The best hope for a default heat source for the next century would be geo-thermal. And by the way, we don’t need to worry too much about having enough carbon in the atmosphere to allow the trees to grow. Recent testing puts the level at an 800,000 year high as verified by deep core drilling into polar glaciers.
      Hope you are getting out on the golf course,
      All the best, Mark.

  4. ~MyLa says:

    Best kind of learning, happening right now… so much great information! May never use it, but then again, who knows!? My dream: a teeny-tiny little farm in my beloved Cowichan Valley and adoptive home… fascinating, this thread 🙂

    • I really hope you get your place in the Cowichan. It is a very beautiful area that I passed thru a few times when I lived in Campbell River. The commenter above Keith is a very dear old friend who is intelligent, moral, ethical and yet still manages to be the mayor of Wrongsville on certain issues. I value his counsel as an honest window into conservative thinking.

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