Thursday, July 19, 2018

Will We or Won't We?

In the forty-some years we've lived here in northern Minnesota, we've heated our home almost exclusively with wood.  We have the capabilities to heat with wood, and we know how to do it.  

But this year, we're contemplating heating with L.P. gas utilizing the gas furnace in our basement.

Why are we thinking of doing this?  Contrary to what one might think, heating with wood is not free in a financial or energy expended sense.  We either purchase eight foot lengths of cord wood from a local logger and/or use trees harvested from our own property.  Our own trees may be "free" but one has to figure in the cost of time and energy (both human and fuel-wise) to fell the trees, bring them to our wood working area, work them up into usable sized pieces and then stack them in one of our wood sheds.

Obviously, L.P. gas would also require a financial outlay.  What wouldn't be required would be the time and energy Papa Pea and I put into the wood fuel.  We really have no idea how much we would spend on heating gas for a season or if we would even be happy with the "different" heat the furnace in the basement would put out.

In the meantime, we're still working towards having a two year supply of wood cut, dried and stored right here on the property.  To give you a simplistic idea of what this entails, here's an overview.


We start our wood fires with a few sticks of dry kindling on top of some crumpled paper.


As soon as the kindling catches fire, we add three or four pieces of what we call "small" wood.  The picture above was taken yesterday as we were working at splitting larger pieces of softwood (balsam and popple this time from our woods) into proper sized pieces.  The small pieces of softwood catch fire quickly but also burn quickly and don't give off as much heat as hardwood does.


Our hardwood (which we split into bigger pieces than the small wood) is a mixture of maple and birch we ordered and worked up into the right sized length for our stoves.  The hardwood (in the bigger pieces) burn for a long time.


We also save whole, bigger log pieces of hardwood to put into the stoves at night when winter temperatures are at the coldest.  Papa Pea places one of these logs on a bed of hot coals before we go to bed, and it burns slowly and keeps us toasty until the next morning.

How much would we spend over the coming heating season for L.P. gas?  Would it be comparable to what we know we spend for wood for fuel?  And how do we figure in the effort we both expend working up the wood for heating?  Would we miss the unique heat that a wood burning stove radiates?

If we do make the decision to heat with gas this winter, we'll still have the option of knowing we can go back to using wood at any time because of the ready and available wood we'll have as a back-up.  (Good thing we both honestly enjoy wood working!)

18 comments:

Karren said...

Very smart to rethink the options. That wood cutting and stacking takes lots of time and energy and it's a great idea to try the gas for a while to see how much it would cost you.
We keep doing things the "hard but homey" way on our property here in Northern Indiana, fully realiZing that as we age, this is getting tougher to cope with all the time. Good for you for thinking over all the options.

tpals said...

I know it took 3 or 4 tanks of LP to heat for a winter, depending on the weather for my house. Cost varied every year.

Now I heat with wood but keep the furnace as a backup. I'm glad you'll still have your wood option in case there were LP shortages (like that year the prices shot up to over $7 a gallon).

Nancy J said...

Here in New Zealand our winters are not as cold as up North, but we use wood in 2 fires, one is inbuilt, the other a free standing one, and we have a chip heater that is for the hot water. Yes, we have our own trees, but have to pay a man to fell them, a person to help cut and split the big rounds. It gets harder every year. A furnace, and wood as a back up sounds like a good idea to me. p.s. I hopped to you from Kim at Golden Pines.

Kristina said...

I wish we had gas here, but nope. The farm house was installed with electric heat. Sigh...very expensive. Here we don't have a choice. It's wood and work every year. Thankfully, we have that old barn to use too. I plan on removing nails from the smaller boards for kindling. They work better and faster than tree limbs.

Katie C. said...

I “think” that the gas would be more expensive. We use both but compared to everyone else around here, we keep the temperature low and turn it down even further before going to bed. A down comforter keeps us snug. In the evening, when we are usually in the family room, we turn the thermostat WAY down and use wood. I will say that the two cats would definitely miss the wood.

Mama Pea said...

Karren - Thanks for your encouraging words regarding this (dilemma?) decision. Regarding tasks getting harder and harder as we age, don't forget the old adage that it's better to wear out than rust out. Gotta keep movin' or we won't be able to move at all! :o}

tpals - Yes, it's the possible cost of the L.P. gas (and how much we may go through) that scares me. I guess this whole change in our way of doing things is because we both have so many interests that we just aren't finding time to pursue and are looking for ways to find more hours in our days!

Nancy J - Thank you for stopping by to visit! It's hard to make wise decisions, isn't it? So much that seems the best way to go doesn't always turn out that way in reality. And I really think you have to personally experience some things to see if they might be right for you. At the moment, I can't imagine not heating with wood and shelling out the big bucks every time the tank gets filled . . . but we'll see. Must remain open to new ways of doing things!

Kristina - Oh, electric heat! That's the popular way to go in this county, but it also seems VERY expensive to me. And what about power outages in the winter when it's cold?? At least with wood or gas, one could still keep warm.

Katie C. - I suspect you may be right about the expense of the gas. But we won't know for sure if we don't try, right? Your situation sounds a lot like ours. In the evening I have my couch quilt over my lap most nights, we keep the house temperature below 70 degrees all winter (and are happy with it that way) and if we do heat with gas this winter, I have a feeling we may still be making a small wood fire in the stove in the living room for "cozy atmosphere!"

Joy said...

We used to heat with wood, using a furnace for backup. It was hard work, as you know. Now we use wood only in our seasonal cabin, with a gas furnace for backup there too. I think it would be a good idea to try a gas furnace, perhaps thinking of it as your secondary source. Especially when you live in a relatively isolated location (I think you qualify!) having an alternative is a good idea. And while I think we’re near the same age, you and Papa Pea run rings around me. Having joint issues show up in recent years, though, makes me grateful we no longer rely on wood.

Mama Pea said...

Joy - These days being what they are in so many unstable ways (!) I know for sure that having "back-ups" (in more than one aspect of life) is certainly a wise way to go.

This winter when Papa Pea was down and out from his nose dive off the ladder, I was doing all his chores plus mine and I injured (somehow, some way) the joint of my thumb on my left hand where it joins the hand. I thought it was arthritis or some other joint problem setting in. It continued to be painful and when I started working in the garden this spring, at times I wondered if I was going to be able to continue. But being the awfully stubborn person I am, I ignored it and kept going. Now the problem is completely gone for which I am VERY thankful! Hope your joint issues don't get any worse for you. It's heck to be slowed down!

wisps of words said...

Haven't read any other comments... I will simply give my thoughts....

Try the alternate heat source, this winter. As you said, you can always "add wood heat."

-sigh- I know, I'm always coming at you, with "hard facts." About age. Being farther down the "age pike", than you two are.

But no matter how long you intend to be able to do all the work involved, in heating with wood, chances are, you won't be able to, forever. Better to try the alternate heat source, now. While it is still a choice.

Mama Pea said...

wisps of words - Absolutely! We're always willing to try new things in the hopes of simplifying and making our lives better. I'm not saying we believe we have one foot in the grave yet (!) but we do realize we're not spending some of our time the way we might prefer. So keep on me, my bloggy friend. I'll weigh your opinion as much as those offered by others! ;o)

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

I think it's a great idea to have more than one option. Things happen...

Mama Pea said...

Nancy - Yep, gotta keep our options open. When Papa Pea hurt himself this past winter and was outta commission for 8 weeks I realized that if it had happened in summer time when we work up our wood for the season (and do a couple dozen other "little" projects) we would have been up the proverbial creek!

Goatldi said...

We have a double whammy. We heat with wood in a fireplace extrodinaire. That is the trade name. The builder put it in instead of a wood stove. The unit we have is meant to heat a 3000 sq ft house ours is barely two.

I would rather have a wood stove. But it is what it is. Our heating unit is LP but we never use it.

All wood so far is grown and felled on site. However Geoffrey will be 70 in September and if he is hit by remission during cutting season it could get interesting.

I am all for potential plan B's.

Mama Pea said...

Goatldi - I think it's a necessity to have Plan B's!! Of course, we all know there are always those things that occur when either we have to come up a Plan B pdq or go to Plan C. Or D. Or . . . on and on! Good to know you have such a good wood burning fireplace . . . and the L.P. back-up.

Leigh said...

All that firewood is gorgeous!

Myrna said...

When we lived in Northern MN we heated with LP. Hubby worked for the highway Dept. so was on call all winter and even though we had some acreage we didn't want to devote the time to cutting and stacking wood. The house was set for LP when we bought it and really didn't want the expense of converting or adding wood. It is a different heat though. Sue and I are town gals so grew up with LP heat except our Grandmothers house where they burned coal. Life's too short to spend it cutting wood when you want to be doing other things.

Mama Pea said...

Leigh - Like money in the bank, they say! (These days it may be worth a lot more than money in the bank. ;o] )

Myrna - What you say makes abundant sense! The only thing that scares me about using L.P. exclusively is the possibility of the cost skyrocketing. (Well, I guess then that's when we go back to wood!) My grandpa and grandma's house where I spent a lot of time growing up was heated with a big wood burning furnace in the basement. Grandpa would never switch to oil or gas saying, "If fossil fuels become too expense or aren't available, I can always burn the furniture to keep my family warm." To which Grandma said, "Oh, no you couldn't." ;o)

tpals said...

I would be concerned if you were planning on ripping out your stove and only having one heat option, but I tend to worry about things going wrong. (Weather delaying deliveries, suppliers going out of business.)

I think even a winter spent using a mix of LP and wood gives you a chance to slow up on the wood gathering. I tend to use the furnace more in late winter when I'm tired of hauling wood. This allows you to use LP while it's readily available plus build your stockpile while your health is robust. ;)