Conservation Currents

Heat, Hearth and Home

January 2010

by Lissa Stark

There is a saying that handling your own firewood actually heats you three times: Once while you are splitting it, once while you are stacking it, and once while you are burning it. I can attest that this is very true. It is also a good workout.

I have been eyeing my firewood stacks lately and pondering whether or not I’ll have enough wood to make it through this heating season comfortably. Only time will tell. Each year, it is a guessing game of how much firewood a home will utilize; dependent on a completely undependable force: the weather.

Firewood

Firewood

For anyone interested in learning to fell trees, I recommend the "Game of Logging" course. There are several levels of GOL, from beginner to professional. For training opportunities, consult http://www.woodlandtraining.com.

Having an analytical nature and seeking to qualify actions with logical rationale, I have, on several occasions, attempted to compare the costs of burning wood with those of burning oil and wood pellets. This is a daunting task, as any economist would agree, due to the variables. It is easy to say that firewood, fuel oil and wood pellets each have specific costs, but there are also varying degrees of labor and other indirect costs associated with each heating method.

Hard costs of firewood are significantly less if you purchase in log length, or if you fell your own trees, but then there is the time factor and manual labor; not to mention the issue of space requirements for wood stacks. Fuel oil might be considered expensive and prices do fluctuate, but there is no real manual labor on the purchaser’s part. Wood pellets can be expensive, but perhaps less so than fuel oil, and there is usually less manual labor involved than with firewood.

The tricky part is in trying to compare equivalent quantities of gallons of oil, tons of pellets and cords of wood; it begins to look like an apples to oranges to bananas scenario. I have chosen to cut, split and burn firewood in my home as the sole heating source; wood is a relatively abundant and renewable resource in Vermont, and I enjoy the process of felling, splitting and stacking firewood. This is just a personal preference.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the breakdown of housing units by heating source is as follows: 77.2 percent heat with oil or kerosene, 12.3 percent utilize gas, 6.5 percent heat with wood, 3.3 percent maintain electric heat, 0.5 percent utilize other heating methods; 0.1 percent utilize solar heat and 0.1 percent of housing units have no heat.

A tip for those who burn oil -- for every degree cooler you maintain the thermostat, you can save money on annual fuel costs. Try maintaining 68 degrees instead of 72 for a 5 percent decrease in fuel costs during the heating season. Other money-saving suggestions include having your furnace cleaned regularly, including replacing the filter, ensuring proper insulation in your home, keeping your chimney clean from creosote build-up, and reducing the temperature of circulating boiler water.

Winter usually lasts longer than we expect, so now is a good time to start thinking about ways to save money and energy in your home.

Lissa Stark serves on the board of supervisors of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is to promote rural livelihoods and protect natural resources in Southwestern Vermont. Web site at www.bccdvt.org

This column appeared in the Bennington Banner in January 2010, as one of the BCCD's Conservation Currents pieces, a bi-weekly feature written by BCCD board and staff members since August 2006.