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Heating with Fire Wood

Firewood For Heating

Why are so many people heating with firewood?  Probably because its awesome.  No really, with the way the cost has skyrocketed to heat a home people are going back to more traditional heating methods.  For us, we like the idea of being able to have heat and hot water if the power goes out.  Also, firewood adds to my PT regiment when I can scrape myself away from the 9-5 job and our marketing business.  Bucking, splitting and stacking firewood is a great way to burn some calories.

Heating with Firewood Environmental Benefits

Listen, I am not a climate change nut, but am of the mindset that we should all do our part to take care of Mother Earth.  I like to think of myself as a Conservative Hippie.  Heating with firewood is certainly not for everyone, but it does make a great renewable energy source as long as we are replanting the trees that we harvest for firewood.

Firewood offers a near carbon neutral heating option.  The carbon produced when burning for heat is almost the same that the tree took out of the air to grow itself.  This gives me the opportunity to use one of my favorite phrases… Carbon Sequestration.   Heating with firewood is carbon neutral where if we are heating with say, fuel oil that only puts carbon in the atmosphere.  I look at it this way, if I can reduce my family’s reliance on fossil fuels just a little then maybe I’ll have more ducks to hunt and fish to catch.

Cost-effectiveness of Heating with Firewood

Heating with firewood can be a cost effective way to heat.  It offers a break from the constant price increases of the electric company or the natural gas and fuel oil providers.   Breaking those ties with traditional heating methods lets us move a little closer to being self-sufficient or for those of you striving to be “off grid.”  It is also a great backup heat source should any of those more expensive primary alternatives become unavailable.

If you are adding the ability to heat with firewood or replacing older equipment there are some awesome high-efficiency, high-quality equipment out there.  The efficiency of a wood stove or wood boiler will maximize heat output (BTUs) and minimize fuel consumption.  Estimates range from $17 – $24 to produce 1 million BTU with firewood while you can expect over $50 per million BTU with firewood.  Couple those BTU numbers with (whether you like it or not) the new Inflation Reduction Act tax credits for wood stoves and boilers and you can have a nice cost savings on your heating needs.

Comfort and Ambiance When Heating with Firewood

That warm dry heat you get from heating with firewood is just awesome.  Some people complain about the mess, but I think there is nothing better than the smell of a wood stove or fireplace.  Sitting on the couch, reading a book or even laying on the floor with the dogs and listening to the crackle of the fire is so relaxing.

Choosing the Right Firewood

The types of firewood you use will most likely depend on the wood available.  We are really only going to burn hard woods when it comes to heating with firewood.  Soft wood like pine can be used in outdoor wood boilers when properly seasoned due to their small chimney and the fact they are typically outside.  Where softwoods are great as firewood for fire pits [] or campfire wood.

Your best wood choice when heating with firewood is a readily available hot burning hardwood.  Using the most dense wood available is going to help produce the heat you are looking for.  The chart below shows some estimated heat equivalents.  Data provided by

High Heat Firewood

1 Cord = 200 to 250 Gallons of Fuel Oil

  • American beech
  • Apple
  • Ironwood
  • Mesquite
  • Red oak
  • Shagbark hickory
  • Sugar maple
  • White ash
  • White oak
  • Yellow birch

Medium Heat Firewood

1 Cord = 150 to 200 Gallons of Fuel Oil

  • American elm
  • Black cherry
  • Douglas fir
  • Red maple
  • Silver maple
  • Tamarack
  • White birch

Low Heat Firewood

1 Cord = 100 to 150 Gallons of Fuel Oil

  • Aspen
  • Cottonwood
  • Hemlock
  • Lodgepole pine
  • Red alder
  • Redwood
  • Sitka spruce
  • Western red cedar
  • White pine

Seasoned Firewood for Heating

In order to get the heat values above you’ll need to be burning seasoned firewood.  Some folks will burn green wood, but that is best used in a campfire.  Green wood is wood that has typically been cut within a year and will have a moisture content north of 20%.  Much of the heating energy is lost in green wood due to steam production.  Seasoned firewood however has been cut and stacked for a year or more and has a moisture content less than 20%.  You can check your firewood moisture content by using a wood moisture meter.  We use the Upgraded Tavool Moisture Meter.  If you don’t have a moisture meter, look for a graying of the wood, cracking ends and pick it up to feel the weight. 

Seasoning firewood is very important and super simple, it just takes time.  We want to make sure firewood is seasoned properly to produce a dry hot fire that will produce less creosote in your chimney.  After 18 years as a fireman, I can tell you that you want nothing to do with a chimney fire.  Green firewood also does not produce the heat that you will need.  Seasoning is simple: cut, stack, keep dry and let air circulate for over a year.  If you are buying firewood just make sure your provider is giving you wood with under 20% moisture content.  Kiln dried firewood will shorten the seasoning process but is more expensive and not available in all locations.

Firewood Heating Systems

We really see three main systems used when heating with firewood.  Your choice of which system to use really depends on how you plan on using it and the size area you want to heat.  Traditional fireplaces create the ambiance in a single room very well.  Picture yourself on your favorite recliner watching the Detroit Red Wings beat any other team in the NHL (lol) with your dog sleeping next to you, hot fire flickering and cracking away.

Wood stoves are generally the go to when heating an entire house, garage or shop with fire wood.  The key to heating with a wood stove is moving the warm air it produces.  We can do this with fans, using a blower and connecting to a duct system.  We also see people using Wood Pellet Stoves, but we’ll cover those at another time.

Wood Boilers are an awesome option if you want the fire to remain outside and / or have multiple buildings to heat.  You can centrally locate an outdoor wood boiler between your house, shop and let’s say greenhouses and use the same boiler to heat all of them.  An outdoor wood boiler is also probably the easiest to integrate into your hot water heater for an endless supply of hot water.

Heating with firewood might not be for everyone, but it offers a ton of benefits.  We love the thought of having back up systems to more traditional home heating options.  There is also something about the smell of a fire going on a cold winter night.  Just remember to use a good hardwood that has been properly seasoned and you’ll have no problems.  

Definitions Related to Firewood Heating 

Airwash System: A feature on new wood stoves that uses air to keep the glass clean and clear.

Ash: The non-combustible residue left after wood has been burned.

Ash Trap:  A compartment behind the combustion chamber to collect ash for cleanout

BTU (British Thermal Unit): A unit of measurement for energy, often used to express the heating value of firewood.

Chimney: A vertical structure, often made of brick or stone, that directs smoke and combustion gasses from a fireplace or wood stove to the outside.

Chimney Cap: A protective cover installed on the top of a chimney to prevent rain, debris, and animals from entering.

Cord: A measurement used for firewood, typically equal to 128 cubic feet of stacked wood.

Creosote: A flammable, tar-like substance that forms as a byproduct of burning firewood and can accumulate in chimneys, potentially causing chimney fires.

Damper: A movable plate in a fireplace or wood stove that regulates airflow, controlling the combustion rate and heat output.

Fire Starter: A material used to ignite kindling and start a fire. Grill Trade Firestarters are what we use.

Fireplace: A structure made of brick or stone, often found in homes, where a fire is built for heating and/or aesthetic purposes.

Firewood: Wood that is used as fuel for heating.

Flue: The opening in a chimney or stove pipe that allows smoke and gasses to escape from the combustion chamber.

Hardwood: Dense, slow-burning wood that is best for heating with firewood.

Kindling: Small, dry pieces of wood used to start a fire.

Log Splitter: Used to split logs into smaller pieces for use as firewood. Grab a maul and you are the log splitter or get a gas powered hydraulic unit.

Maul:  Sturdy axle handle with a sledge head on one side and an axe head on the other.  Used to split firewood.  Or, it’s a great Homestead PT tool when integrated into a workout.

Moisture Content: The amount of water in firewood. If you are heating with firewood try to be below 20%.

Pellet Stove: An alternative to a wood stove that burns compressed wood pellets, made from left sawdust and wood pieces from a mill.  Readily available at your local hardware or big box stores.

Seasoning: Drying firewood to reduce its moisture content and improve its burning efficiency.  Stacked wood that has been sitting for over 12 months,  kept dry and allowed air movement to dry it.

Softwood: Less dense wood that burns faster and produces less heat compared to hardwoods.  Many times a sap filled wood.  Produces lots of creosote.

Splitting: Dividing logs into smaller pieces for burning. Can be done manually or using a hydraulic splitter.

Stacking: Putting firewood in a neat and orderly fashion to promote drying and easy access.  Should be elevated slightly if possible and under roof or cover.

Wood Stove: A heating appliance to burn firewood efficiently.  Can heat a room or an entire house.  Need to be able to transport the warm air with blowers, fans or ducts.

Woodshed: Storage area for firewood, usually for seasoned firewood located outside the house but closer than a wood yard.

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