What sounds more homestead-y than a wood burning stove? Not much. But there are a lot of things to consider before you jump in with both feet. Things like; how much do you need? How are you going to stack it? How do you start a fire in an insert or wood stove? These are all questions I didn’t know I had, till I had them.
Our fireplace insert is pretty old but still works very well. Unfortunately, it is not very energy efficient. We also learned that when we lose power, we loose the ability to heat our home well. We also have a wood burning furnace in the basement. While it was cool but not cold, we decided to start the furnace to see if it even worked. Boy did it! The boys rooms were 95* before we were able to get the fire out. After some trail and error, we figured out the basics of heating with wood.
1. Cut or buy more wood than you think you’ll need
If it’s your first year, cut double what you think you’ll need. We only cut two cords. By the time the season was over, we had bought two more cords. Thankfully, we had a ton of downed trees on the property that were pretty dry. That allowed us to cut as we needed.
We still ended up running low and almost out on two separate occasions and of course one of those we had a winter storm baring down on us. Figures. This year we are shooting for 5 cords of wood. We already have 1.5 and it’s not even the end of March.
2. Get a good wood splitter
I love splitting firewood. Whether with an axe or with the splitter, it is incredibly satisfying to see your wood pile grow. Part of it is because you can see the progress of your work. The other part is you know you will be warm that winter. But you do need a solid wood splitter to get the job done faster. Trust me, after an hour of swinging that axe you will be tired and looking to trade out with someone. There are several kinds out there, but we have an electric splitter. I would prefer gas but with it being 3x the price? Electric it is.
Our log splitter is smaller and we have to bend over to use it. Jared is tasked with building a table for it because after a while my back and hip start to hurt and I have to walk it off. Still, it beats having to use an axe 100% of the time.
3. Learn how to start a fire
You think I’m joking but you need to learn how to properly start a fire. There is no one way to do it but you still need to know how to do it. But you also need to learn how to operate your insert, stove, or fireplace. The basic jist is open your flue and add some sort of starter like paper, leaves, or similar. Light the starter and quickly add small sticks or kindling to it. Then add larger pieces of kindling until you can add a log without putting out the fire.
How I do it, put cardboard on the log holders and a couple small logs that are “scraggly” they are super dry and have little pieces of wood sticking off them. This acts as my kindling. Then I light with our propane torch. Easy peasy. Jared has this whole process of building and building and BUILDING. I’ve go other stuff to do so I choose the easy way.
4. Get a pot of water for your stove
A pot of water on the stove allows for you to create humidity. Without it, you will dry out not only your sinuses but it can also damage your home. If you have hard wood floors, or wood paneling like we do, it will cause it to dry, crack, and split. Thankfully, when we had a cord of wood delivered, I started asking the guy questions because he had heated with wood his entire life. He walked in the house and asked where our water pot was. Before he left, we fixed the problem.
I had no idea that was a thing until I ended up getting really sick. I had a patient that had bronchitis and she coughed on me. Because my sinuses were so dry, there was no mucus. No mucus= no protection from germs.
5. Storing Your Firewood
Next to cutting or ordering enough, storing your firewood is the most important lesson we learned. I knew that we needed to stack firewood off the ground. Also, I knew that we needed to keep it mostly dry. You should also probably not bring a ton of firewood on your deck or into your house because of bugs. What I didn’t know was the mess dry wood creates in a house. I didn’t know that you should store your kindling separate. Finally, I didn’t realize that tarping your wood will actually cause to stay wet.
To fix some of these problems I made a wood storage box. It’s not pretty, but it does a fantastic job of making sure that the mess stays in the box. I also have a small ledge behind the lid that we have another box that holds small pieces of kindling. This box has been a lifesaver.
We pulled off the tarp and almost immediately wood that was previously damp, started to dry. We only pulled the tarp over our stack if it was supposed to rain. This helped a ton.
Leave a layer of ash in the bottom of your insert! I swear, this was the key to starting fires quickly and keeping those embers warm. It acts as insulation and really helps keep your fireplace at the correct temperatures. I usually keep an inch or two in the bottom when I clean it out between fires.