Why do I still heat my house with wood when it’s so easy to turn the thermostat up in the morning? And why do I subject my body to the strenuous work of cutting, splitting, stacking and carrying in half of the wood I burn?
Saving money can’t be the reason. Although I save hundreds of dollars a year heating with wood instead of oil, if I calculated all the hours I put into this task, I’d barely be making minimum wage for my labor. Part of it is knowing that I’m using home-grown fuel instead of a fossil fuel imported from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or Venezuela. Part of it is that when the thermometer gets down in the single numbers, you can always warm yourself near a wood stove. Part of it is the atavistic feeling of knowing that human beings have been doing this for thousands of years.
But the main reason I do it is that I enjoy it. Gardening isn’t “worth” it unless it’s enjoyable, and the same is true for wood heat. I love going out to the woodpile every day and putting in 15 minutes with my axe and maul, turning logs into stove-size fragments. I love the architecture of making piles of wood to maximize their ability to dry out. I love learning about the different properties of wood. I’m currently splitting and stacking some sugar maple for the 2015-16 heating season (tough to split but great heat value) and some cottonwood for next year (poor heat value but we just took down some of these trees, so I figured I’d burn it).
There are downsides to burning wood, chief among them the pain I get in my side when I get carried away and work for more than 15 minutes. There is the need to get the stove cleaned every year, and the greater amount of dust that settles on everything. There are splinters when I forget to put on gloves before adding logs to the fire, and burns when my hand hits the stove by mistake.
We burn only about two cords of wood a year, because we get a lot of solar heat and have an oil furnace for backup. I cut, split, and stack about half of that, often from trees that come down in my neighborhood, and buy the other half, which seems to be a good compromise. I hope I can continue to do a good portion of the work to heat my house with wood for many years.