How Much Wood Would A Tree Hugger Burn, If A Tree Hugger Would Burn Wood?

wood pile storage woodstove photo

What you are looking at in the picture is roughly the minimum amount of fire wood (2.2 cords, roughly 4 imperial tons) it takes to "casually" heat a 1,900 ft2 home in Southeastern Pennsylvania, starting with occasional cold nights in October, becoming a daily routine by the end of November, and scaling back to cold nights sometime in mid-March. "Casual" heating means that the traditional oil furnace is available for backup on lazy weekend mornings, when away for work, or for errands. (Full time wood heating means at least another cord, maybe two more, are needed.)

As the photo makes clear, full time wood burning is not for city-folk. Stored fuel wood must be kept off the ground and covered, to keep water, insects, and animals away. Best to keep it well away from the foundation to avoid attracting termites to the sawdust and bark that falls off the pile.

Pellet stove heating, obviously, is far more practical for people living in densely settled areas.That's not to imply you should run out now to buy a pellet stove, by the way. Pellet suppliers I checked with recently report a two or three month backlog on fuel pellet orders. Either you ordered in July or you are pretty much out of luck in this region.

Economics Of Wood Burning
This cache of wood fuel pictured above is for a fire place insert. Last winter's economics were decent for the wood burning insert, installed new in the fall of 2007.

Net energy cost savings by the spring of 2008 were almost US$400.

Double that amount of energy cost savings is expected this winter (US$800) due to increased cost of fuel oil over last year. The upshot is a payback period on the insert stove of around 6 years, at most. (This includes the annual chimney cleaning fee, hauling wagon, splitting tools for the occasional fat one, storage racks as shown, and canopy as shown.)

Note: all wood purchased from a landscaping company that otherwise would have to pay to landfill-dispose of the wood residues!

Ashes go in the vegetable garden, spread atop snow and frozen soil. This neutralizes the humic acid (tannin) produced by the leaf-litter enriched compost spread on the garden each spring and adds some minerals.

The Caveat
If commercial scale wood burning or cellulosic ethanol production takes off in the region I live in, my wood burning economics are trashed. The landscapers will sell wood residues to the factories and utilities, at a better profit. This is a risk anyone who burns wood faces in the future. For now at least, it's a winner.

More On Wood Burning From Our Archives
Earthtalk :: Outdoor Wood Boiler Woes
Wood-Fired Hot Tubs by Snorkel
How to Green Your Heating
EPA Wood Stove Changeout Campaign
Ask TreeHugger: Wood vs. Pellet Stoves
Wood Pellet Stoves Are Hot

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