Things have been pretty quiet around the property lately. Aside from the sound of chainsaws, that is. We made a deal with the lumberyard down the street to sell them our white pines in exchange for money and neatly stacked logs we can cut up from firewood. It’s all part of our evil plan to become more self-sufficient and make our house pay its own mortgage. So far, our plan is working out.
The first winter we were in the house, it cost us about $2,500 to heat the house from the end of January through March. We stopped heating once we ran out of oil because winter was supposed to end around there and we were going to tear out the oil tank and oil burner and replace it with an awesome wood boiler. We did that.
The second winter in our house (last winter), it cost us $700 to heat our house for the entire winter until we ran out of wood early April. We still would have used some wood had we had any left to burn to get us through a few cold nights. Our original plan was to cut trees from the property, but as it turns out my husband isn’t the lumberjack he wanted to be. As it turns out, tramping through the woods cutting down trees is not sexy and hot, it’s stinky and hot. And you get a lot of ticks. And walk through poison ivy. So he decided he’d rather stay inside and work for more money than the firewood would cost (a reasonable plan).
This year we got smart, made an agreement from the lumberyard down the street from where we bought the pine for our garden beds and are essentially getting paid $2000 to heat our house. Unfortunately, the pile of logs that we can use to heat our house still needs to be sawed to length and then split and stacked. But we’d have to stack purchased firewood, anyway, so that amount of work would be the same. A lot of this wood won’t need splitting, but our neighbor will help us do it for payment “in kind,” ie, we give him some of the wood. It’s a good deal.
Meanwhile, I’ve watched a video and learned exactly how one saws wood on the ground to length. My husband insisted he needed to build a special kind of saw horse to do it with but as it turns out all we have to do is purchase a lumber jack to jack the wood off of the ground. Barring that, we can also just saw mostly through the log one way, then turn it and saw through the rest of the way on the other side, all to keep the chainsaw out of the dirt. Easy, peasy.
The unfortunate thing about the chainsaws taking away our pine trees is that now all the lovely shade to the side of our house is gone. They’ve left us a few good sized trees that weren’t pine (2 oaks and a birch, I believe), but these trees are pretty scrawny compared to the pines that were towering over them. Hopefully in a few years the trees will be massive and more than make up for it. We may even plant our orchard over there. While fruit trees aren’t as big and towering, I’m sure they will give us some shade, unless we go strictly with dwarf fruit trees in which case it’s hopeless.
It’s a strange feeling you get to realize that you’re heating your house for nothing but labor, especially considering how much we’ve paid to do so in the past…and how much others currently pay. At our town’s Independence Day parade, a local wood boiler dealer took part, parading one of his outside models down the street on a trailer. On both sides he’d hung a side “Independence from Foreign Oil–Burn Wood! It’s Good!”
I couldn’t really disagree with him–burning wood IS good, especially when you live in an area where there is so much of it that nobody really takes care of their forests. I imagine when my host family does come and visit me they will be astounded at how poorly kept the trees are. Dead rotting trees are left where they fall and woods are rarely harvested. The guy who owns the lumberyard told us our forest should have been harvested 20 years ago. I imagine most people’s forests are in a similar state of overgrowth with sick and dying trees just left there instead of being harvested in their prime.
However, burning wood is harder than oil–it isn’t just pumped into a storage tank and then flows into the boiler magically. Oil wins in every case when it comes to portability and ease of use. That’s why we use it and not logs to run our cars–though wood would work! Since my husband was working, I got to stack and haul the majority of the wood last year. A boring workout, if there ever was one. So until the dollar is no longer used as the reserve currency, until oil is no longer only priced in the dollar, I imagine most people in the northeast are going to continue to heat with it, though the farther north you go the more wood boilers you see in people’s yards (ours is an inside one—we didn’t fancy going outside in the snow to throw more wood on the boiler) since people up north tend to have more time than money, not to mention more trees.
In other words, it’s less an issue of sustainability and independence than priorities. Most people would rather spend their time doing something else than hauling and splitting and stacking wood and foreign oil is the least of their problems.