Why I Use Wood to Heat My Home, Get Hot Water, and Even Cook

For this Scottish homesteader, "heating with gas or oil was simply never an option."

logs in front of a wood fire

Mark Hochleitner / Getty Images

Key considerations for sustainable living in cooler climates are space and hot water heating. And of course, in any climate it is also important to consider how we cook our food.

In our converted barn in the Scottish countryside, we have made the decision to opt for a Rayburn. This is a wood-burning cast iron stove that, in winter, is our cooking stove, with a back boiler that heats our hot water and links to radiators for space heating in other rooms of our home. The Rayburn is, in the colder months, designed to be the hub around which we run our home.

Why We Heat and Cook With Wood

The plan was always to try to create a home that is as sustainable as possible. Throughout our self-build barn conversion project, we have carefully considered all of our choices, thinking carefully about the materials we have used, efficiency, livability, and longevity. Our renovations are ongoing, but now, after many years, we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labors and begin to see our ideas coming to life.

Within the two-bedroom structure, which has been well insulated, we realized that we would have very different needs in the summer and winter. During the colder months, we made the decision to heat both our space and water and to cook with an efficient wood-burner. In summer and for lighting, etc., we rely on renewable electricity. When we don't need space heating, we will cook mostly on an electric induction burner.

Note: At present we purchase our electricity through the grid, paying for 100% renewable energy, but in future, we will install solar panels on the roof. Still, the potential to generate electricity is somewhat limited, as is our grid connection at present.

We are in a lucky position because we are able to purchase wood from our immediate neighbor. (We don't have the space to grow all our own fuel on our one-third acre.) We are surrounded by farmland that belongs to a large estate, where massive tree plantation has been ongoing and where the woodlands are sustainably managed. We buy and naturally season and dry the wood, and cut it for use in our home. Kindling and additional wood come from coppiced ash saplings, fruit tree prunings, and other trees that grow on our own property.

The easy accessibility of wood from truly sustainably managed woodland literally meters away from our home—and dropped over a back wall into our garden—was one of the main factors we considered this option. Obviously, burning wood is not a solution for all, but for us, it does seem the most sustainable choice.

Our Experiences So Far

This year, as the temperatures plummet and we head into late autumn, we are testing out this system we have installed for the first time. So far, we have been delighted with how well the stove works and how much it (or "he", as we refer to him) can do. He's a wizard, and we have jokingly called him "Radagast the Rayburn."

Since the temperatures are chilly, but not really cold, so far we have only been lighting the stove for a few hours in the afternoon and evening. Yes, it does need feeding, but the amount of wood required has not, to our minds, been excessive.

We have been able to prepare our evening meal while cooking in the oven and on the hot plates on top, have plentiful hot water, and heat the kitchen, as well as upstairs rooms, to very comfortable temperatures, all with one fire. This is an example of an element that really does fulfill multiple functions.

A little planning ahead is required, since the oven takes around an hour and a half to come up to temperature. But though I imagined cooking with the stove to be a bit of an adjustment, so far I have found it very easy to cook the things I usually like to cook, and my husband has only gone out to get one load of wood per evening.

The way we live is certainly a lifestyle choice, and the work involved in using wood for many of our energy needs is not for everyone. But so far we are delighted with the way things have worked out. And by living close to the source of our energy, we can remain in tune with what we use and where it comes from. For us, heating with gas or oil was simply never an option.