Firewood is a practical and environmentally friendly way to heat your homestead. Trees are all around you, and they’re readily available to be used as fuel for your wood stove. Many people who homestead choose to use firewood, so you might be thinking about switching to this heating system.
Using firewood sounds easy, but a lot of work goes into gathering it, storing it and burning it. There are precautions to take during the whole process. It is rewarding, though, to know that the heat for your home is a result of the hard work you put into getting firewood. If you’re considering this heating method, then here’s everything you need to know about firewood for your homestead.
What Is Firewood?
For those who are new to homesteading or have used other forms of heating for your home, firewood, in its simplest form, is wood that is used as a fuel to provide warmth. Usually, firewood comes in logs or split logs. It’s not processed in any sort of way and comes from the forest to your homestead.
There are many different types of firewood, and it’s important to know that not all wood should be used as a fuel source to heat a home. Many people choose to use firewood because it’s a renewable source and provides lasting heat. Committing to using firewood to heat your homestead takes some learning and practice on your part to ensure you stay safe throughout the process and can maintain your stockpile of firewood.
Using Firewood to Heat Your Home
There is a lot of preparation involved in getting firewood to heat your home, but it shows self-sustainability, which is a key factor of homesteading. You may have to grow it, cut it, season it and store it properly to make it last and ensure you are getting the right amount of heat for your home. Using firewood over other heating methods, though, is often better for the environment. Wood stoves have become more efficient over the years as well.
Many homesteaders choose firewood, and it takes a few years of experience to know the firewood routine before you become a master of it. Besides providing heat, you can also use it for cooking or heating water for a warm shower or bath. If you grow your own, you’ll save on money each year, too. Plus, if the power were to go out, your house would still be warm.
Types of Firewood
Two main types of firewood are used on homesteads — hardwood and softwood. Each has its own purpose for your homestead.
Hardwood is more dense than softwood. Because of its density, it burns longer and gives off more heat since the coals stay for a longer time. Generally, hardwoods are used as the fuel source for heating homes.
Some of the well-known hardwoods include maple, oak, ash and beech. If you choose to purchase your firewood, hardwoods might be more expensive, but again, they last longer.
Just because some woods are soft and burn quickly doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t use them. Softer woods are great to mix in with your hardwoods. They begin burning much quicker and can help get your hardwoods burning.
Softwood is suitable for campfires as well. Some examples include pine, willow and birch. They do burn faster, though, so if you have to use softwood to heat your home, make sure you load your fire more often to keep wood burning.
When to Use Firewood
In the wintertime, you’ll want to use your hardwoods. As you prepare your stockpile throughout the year, save the hardwoods for colder months. That way, you can ensure the wood is seasoned well enough, and it will burn hotter and longer, keeping you warm and cozy through the winter months.
If you have softwood you want to use, you can burn it for small fires during the summertime or cooking. You might want to save some for the winter to get your hardwood burning.
Gathering Your Firewood
There are a few ways to gather firewood to heat your home. You could purchase a cord of firewood, cut firewood from your property or cut and gather firewood from a state forest. Growing your own firewood will take some patience, but in the end, it will be the cheaper option.
When purchasing or gathering firewood from places that are not your property, try to stay local. Logs can bring with them insects and plant diseases, so avoid getting firewood from places outside your region so you don’t bring in any non-native or invasive species.
Gear to Harvest Firewood
Harvesting firewood takes a lot of strength and endurance, and it can also be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions to ensure your safety. This is true especially if you’re felling your own trees. Here are some items to have in your arsenal of gear when you gather firewood:
- Hard hat
- Chain-clogging chaps
- Safety glasses
- Chainsaw and tools to maintain it
- Cant hook
- Ax or hatchet
- Hand saw
- First-aid kit
This list may not include everything you need when harvesting firewood, but it provides the basic necessities. Safety is of the utmost importance when going into the woods, especially if you’re alone.
Managing Firewood Plots
Having your own land to grow trees to use as firewood is a great way to save money, and it will provide you with a wealth of experience in growing trees and cutting them down yourself. If there are no trees on your property to begin with, you may have to either purchase a permit to gather firewood from a state forest, purchase pre-cut wood or cut wood from a friend’s or family member’s private property.
It will take a few years before the trees you plant grow tall enough to harvest for firewood. When you harvest firewood, begin with the downed, unrotten trees. Then, cut down standing dead trees. After that, search for misshapen trees. You can then move onto regular, alive trees. As you cut one down, replant so you’ll continue to have wood in the future.
Firewood that is seasoned means that it has been left out to dry. Seasoning is a crucial step in gathering and maintaining your firewood. When trees are first cut, they have a lot of moisture in them, so by drying them out, the logs will burn better. It’s best to season your firewood starting in the summer so the sun can accelerate the process.
You can either split your wood and then stack it, or you can stack the round pieces, allow them to age, and split them once they’re dry. Wood can take anywhere from a few months to a full year to dry depending on moisture content. If you don’t keep your wood covered, it likely won’t ever really dry because it will be exposed to elements like rain which add moisture back into it.
How to Store the Firewood
In order to have your firewood last and keep it dry, you want to prepare a place to store the firewood.
Where Not to Store Firewood
One of the places you should not store your firewood is right against or near your home or any other building. Why? Well, pests often use firewood piles as places to hide or store their food for the winter. A firewood pile near a home is an easy segue into your home.
Additionally, you should avoid storing firewood near your home if you live in an area susceptible to wildfires. Dry wood can catch fire quickly, so if your wood is next to your house, it could go up in flames.
Where You Can Store Firewood
An open area is the best place to store firewood. It’s even better to raise it off of the ground and cover it with a woodshed. You can use pallets or long, thinner logs to keep the wood directly off of the ground. This keeps the wood dry so you can put it directly into your wood stove.
Keeping some sort of cover over the top of the stacked wood will prevent it from rotting due to rain or snowfall. Make sure the area you choose is easily accessible so you can grab a few pieces at a time during the winter.
How to Deter Critters from Your Firewood and Home
As previously mentioned, you want to keep your firewood away from your home and other buildings to prevent critters from entering your house. Besides that, there are a few other things you can do to keep pests away from your firewood and home:
- Burn the firewood you bring into your home immediately. They will crawl out into your home if you stack your wood indoors.
- Inspect your wood before bringing it into your home. Shake it, bang it on something and give it a good look over for any insects.
- Use local firewood to prevent invasive species or unknown pests from entering your property.
- Always burn the oldest wood first. As soon as you bring in new firewood, make sure to keep it separate from the more aged wood.
- Store the firewood away from trees. Insects or other pests that live among trees can head to your firewood pile and enter your home if you’re not careful.
Avoiding pests can be tricky, but you should have little problems with pests with these prevention tips.
Burning Other Types of Wood
When gathering firewood, you might be wondering if you can burn other wood, like pallets or scrap pieces from a building project. You can burn other lumber, but you should make sure it doesn’t have any harmful sealants or other treatments. Some wood pallets are treated with an insect killer, so it can release harmful toxins in the air when it’s burned.
Any wood that has been painted should also not be burned. Additionally, avoid burning driftwood, poisonous wood, endangered species, plywood, chip wood, particleboard and pressure-treated lumber. You might even be tempted to burn paper products as well, but those can release harmful fumes, and burnt pieces can fly up your chimney, float outside, and cause a wildfire.
Using Leftover Material from Burning the Wood
After you burn the firewood, you’ll be left with ash. You might be tempted to just leave it in a pile on your property, but there are actually a variety of ways you can use the product around your homestead. It’s free, and it’s valuable.
Adding your ash to compost or your garden can help it maintain a neutral balance. Sprinkling it around your garden will also help deter pests. If you live in a region where you get snow and ice during the winter, you can use ash as a deicer. Ash has also been used years ago to make soaps. There are many other uses for ash, so don’t just let it sit in a pile or throw it away. It’s a free resource that you can use all around your homestead.
Dealing with Smoke
One of the downfalls of burning firewood is that fires can produce smoke. It’s a product that’s created when any organic matter burns. You might think it’s normal for fires to produce a lot of smoke. Smoke can be harmful to your health as it may cause respiratory irritation. Also, smoke leaves behind creosote in chimneys, which can build up over time and cause a house fire. Fortunately, you can avoid or minimize how much smoke is created.
To minimize smoke, you should always burn with dry firewood. The more moisture left in firewood, the more smoke you will have as a result. Additionally, hardwood usually produces less smoke than softwood. It has less sap and is tighter than softwood which means that it will create a more complete combustion process. In addition to the type of wood you use, you should increase the airflow in your fireplace or woodstove and make sure it’s filled with wood.
Chop Your Own Firewood, and It Will Warm You Twice
Using firewood for your homestead provides a wealth of benefits. You put in the hard work of chopping it — which warms you once — and then you can enjoy the warmth it gives when you burn it on a chilly day.
Homesteading is all about self-sustainability, and by gathering firewood, you can sustain your heating system all winter long.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. She is passionate about sustainability, gardening and homesteading.