Wood Heat is Wonderful But Here Comes the Sun

So we are on the downhill side of winter at last, or at least can see the light–or more to the point, feel the heat–at the end of the tunnel. And I have to say I will miss the wood heat and I will not. To have a morning free of that familiar ritual will be both liberating and a bit melancholy. But mostly liberating. The job is entirely mine, start to finish, and it adds up to an awful lot of touches, reaches and bends, lifts and carries from start to finish.

An all-day all-night seven day a week fire starts maybe in early October. It ends maybe in early April. That’s six months of constant fires, plus intermittent temporary daytime warmups on either side. So maybe seven months of the year require stoking the stove about hourly during the daytime and starting the next morning, first thing after plugging in the coffee percolator.

We run through far more wood now than we used to, what with the both of us (including the Ice Queen who is always cold) being here most of the time now. This year was particularly frigid starting in November and we’ll have depleted all six cords laid up behind the house. I’d hoped to have a third of it left, but not this year.

A cord of seasoned hardwood weighs at least 4000 pounds. Six cords weighs 24,000 pounds. Divided by 210 heating days, that’s about 115 pounds of wood a day to heat this house. Each piece of wood is handled multiple times–from where the dump truck leaves it into my pickup; from my pickup to the wood stacks; from the wood stacks to the Gardenway cart; from the cart on the back porch to the stove.

And keep in mind the fact that 24000 pounds of wood makes a considerable residue of wood ashes that have to be cleaned out of the stove every few days, the colder it is outside, the shorter the time to a stove full of cold ashes. And the glass gets cloudy and needs a weekly Windexing.

Wood heat is wonderful when there is plenty of it out on the porch and temperatures are seasonal “normal” and after the fire is built of a morning and Herself is not complaining that she’s “freezing and miserable” and the glass door of the stove is clean and ashes are not falling out every time another couple of sticks of oak are sacrificed to the insatiable beast.

But you can understand when I tell you that I am ready for a break. I am ready for our heat to come directly from the source rather than its cellulosic proxy–a most wonderful alchemy to be sure, and we treat our winter heat like it grew on trees. But the sun needs no kindling and leaves no ash. And that’s kind of a nice way to heat one’s home from April to October.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. what you say is all true, But although I walk through a cloud of smoke from October to April, I pay no propane, fuel oil or extra heating related electric bill to stay warm!

  2. My grandfatheer made the front page of his Madison, Wisconsin newspaper one year with his 90 foot long woodpile that he had made himself, and he was in his 80’s! I don’t rmember now if he cut it or what, but I think he did all the steps himself. He had a big house like yours. Us southern Californians just shake our heads in wonder at such feats.

  3. Perhaps the activity required contributes to a longer, healthier, and more satisfying life than setting a thermostat. Very nice read. Thanks.