Sunday, September 20, 2015
Why We Heat with Wood
We get our firewood locally. Our friends Allen and Nancy Edwards own timber land in Colfax - land that they are continuously trying to make more fire safe. This process involves removing woody vegetation - Douglas fir, live oak and manzanita, mostly. This becomes our winter fuel. For me, this represents a shortening of the carbon cycle - our winter warmth is directly related to the safe removal of carbon from the Edwards' property (which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of an uncontrolled release of carbon from wildfire). If we still burned natural gas, the geographical distance between the production of carbon and winter our comfort would be greatly extended. I like the fact that our heat is local!
Secondly, heating with wood gives us some measure of self sufficiency. We can be warm all winter because we cut firewood. Wendell Berry has written that he'd rather know how to cut and split firewood, and how to build a fire, than how to turn up his thermostat - and I agree. My dad used to say that heating with wood heats you three times - when you cut it, when you stack it and when you burn it. I simply like the fact that I can pay for our winter heat with my own labor.
Berry's point also suggests that more skill and knowledge is required to heat our home with wood than it would be with fossil fuels (at least on my own part). I have to know which trees or shrubs to remove to make the forest more fireproof. I need to know how to safely operate a chainsaw. I need to know how to efficiently load and unload my truck. I have to know how to stack wood so it will cure and stay stacked. I have to know how to build a fire. I have to know how to maintain my woodstove and chimney. I have to know how much wood I need to heat our home for the winter. I take a great deal of satisfaction from these skills.
As I mentioned earlier, our winter heat is directly related to the health of the environment in our community - our 3-4 cords of firewood help make the forest around Colfax, CA, more fire-safe. But this connection runs deeper than that for me. The solar energy captured by the trees at Allen and Nancy's is released in our woodstove. Their sustainable harvest of this material is directly responsible for my family's comfort. This connection is important to me.
Finally, nothing warms me like wood heat. The late Ivan Doig, one of my favorite authors, wrote that his dad said nothing warmed the rivets of his Levis like the woodstove. I can come home soaked through my clothes and shivering with cold - the woodstove warms me right up. Natural gas, propane and electricity just aren't the same!