I have included pictures of my firewood system on the pages side of this blog
Briefly, this post will not apply to many of you. It is worth a look if you are interested in a REAL Green homestead and permaculture. Firewood heating and forest management is a permaculture activity. My effort is REAL Green. This means I utilize both natural and mechanical means. I combine the old with the new. I use fossil fuels because it is realistic and relative to what I am capable of doing. I keep it local to reduce the carbon footprint and enhance resilience and sustainability. This is not TRUE Green. To get to TRUE Green would mean no modern machines and instead human and animal labor. This is an important post in regards to REAL Green prepping and permaculture. Going REAL Green means embracing local biomass to lower your footprint and enhance your resilience and sustainability. It is also an aspect of spiritual permaculture by connecting to the land. This is the basics of a REAL Green homesteading in a higher latitude where heating is necessary.
My wife is from a small mountain village in Northern Italy. This post’s pic is from her village. Her region is a cow and wood culture that of course, modernized. Yet, the people remain true to their roots. They are a wealthy hard-working people that find a spiritual satisfaction from maintaining the old ways. You see cultural beauty in this place. Cows grazing in mountain meadows in the summer. Fresh made cheese in small batches made as close to the old ways as is possible. There is also a culture of firewood. There are wood lots in the mountain heights you can buy and manage. It is tightly controlled and no development is allowed. Here there are wonderful hiking trails. This is a great place to live but the work is hard and the weather harsh. I mention this because this is what is needed with a new “old-world” permaculture of low carbon capture centered in localism. Firewood is not a biomass that fits all locals but many do have good firewood potential for space heating.
Keep in mind if everyone would go back to heating with wood there would be a return to an environment like can be seen in old photos of the 19th century. A panorama of barren land. We have our forests partially back from this period of mass industrialization and exploitation of nature. Here in my Missouri Ozarks the place was cut over by 1900. The people then turned to the soil and raised row crops that ruined the soil. This place was an ecological mess by 1930. These days it is mostly a cow and wood natural resource region with small towns. The pastures have come back with the result of soil building back. Forests are back nicely too. Fossil fuels allowed this.
What I am advocating is not going back to the 19th century of extraction en masse this is not possible. I am giving a warning that the modern way of life is unsustainable and at some point, in the stairstep down, an extractive period is again possible. This post is for those who want to beat the rush of decline and go local now. If you are going local and seek resilience and sustainability then biomass is required. In my region it is animals, hay and firewood. It is also gardening, orchards, and grapes.
If you think you are saving money doing firewood over other fuels you may be mistaken. There is a lot that goes into firewood. Lots of differences with stove efficiencies and their lifetime production. Does your area have good firewood type wood and sources? Firewood in my area averages $400 delivered not stacked. This is likely not seasoned. I can go to a lumber mill and get scrap wood for free. Nothing is free! You still must drive there and have some way to move the wood. You must then split then stack it. It is likely the wood must be seasoned so it will need storage and management.
Many people do not buy in quantity. They will buy wood when they get close to running out. This means reliability will be a factor. The price can vary depending on supply. Wood is not like gas or electric with a steady supply. Biomass can be in short supply so this in itself has a cost of being without. Always have backup to wood. Always have backup to any energy source but especially wood.
The equation of EROI “energy return on energy invested” and ROI “rate of return” have meaning if you are a green. I cut wood sustainably on my land. I cut dead or dying trees. I also manage the forest by cutting out trees that will never grow into good trees. This is the taking out of understory trees that will not turn out well. New trees are important but too many of them will slow growth. Find good ones and give them room to grow. Reduce competition to promote a strong forest. I also leave dense areas because that is another habitat type for animals for them to hide in. Letting the whole forest be dense means a narrow habitat mix. Mix up your habitats in what I call a mosaic of habitats. Animals like diversity of the land they live on.
ROI would not consider this in its equation. ROI would only want the lowest cost with highest return to your pocketbook. EROI does not consider habitat well either. Animals are not a factor unless you consider the energy return of food taken from the land from a better forest. So EROI is expansive and ROI narrow. A further inclusion of ecosystem health is what makes REAL Green a green spirituality. Firewood is part of that spirituality.
REAL Green involves spiritual permaculture. This would be the spiritual effect of engaging in low carbon capture locally and the resulting meaning. Low carbon capture is mainly local biomass. Industrial methods are generally high carbon. Even renewables have a high energy and carbon content in its lifecycle with manufacture, transport, and removal. The wind and sun are not free despite the green “noble” lies that they are. The mining of minerals and the environmental destruction of the brownfields they create all have a hidden environmental cost not talked about. Low carbon capture locally is more sustainable and resilient.
REAL Green solar and wind are advocated for the homestead but in a relative and realistic way. A simple small system is advocated but this is along with local low carbon capture of biomass. A lack of resilience can be dangerous in a crisis without support from outside your local. Sustainability depends on how independent your permaculture farm is. Generally staying local and keeping things simple is a sustainability feature. Localized low carbon capture is as good as it gets.
Firewood is spiritual. The spiritual is a “goodwill” asset. In business goodwill refers to the “established reputation of a company as a quantifiable asset and calculated as part of its total value when it is taken over or sold”. I like to refer to the spiritual as “Goodwill”. That intangible nature of firewood would involve comradery of family making firewood together. The feel and smell of fire wood on a cold night. The feeling of security and accomplishment of seeing your firewood stored up. The benefits of your forest improvements to wildlife. Firewood is an ancient fuel and, in this respect, when you burn it, you are realizing an ancient art.
Firewood can have a high opportunity cost. In economics opportunity cost is “the cost of an opportunity forgone”. This is most often the case why people do not do firewood. They do not have the time. Their labor is much more valuable elsewhere. Their threasholds for hard physical labor is low. Some people ae too old to do firewood although I personally think firewood keeps you young with physical activity on the fresh air. Status quo delocalized lives make firewood hard.
There is more to firewood than making it. You must stoke your stove. It must be fed and cleaned out. My indoor fireplace stove requires a 4 hour burn time once it has been brought to a quality fire then it needs its contents stirred and wood added. The key is allowing good oxygen penetration when stirring. Starting and bringing the fire up to an efficient burn takes time. Proper fire starting strategies are important. I collect the shavings from the wood when I split. This is my kindling. My outdoor stove always has a coal bed so it does not need to be started.
The indoor stove is not run all the time because it will get the house too warm. I mainly use it to keep my wife’s great room and kitchen cozy. When it really gets cold the outdoor whole house heat does have cool spots. One of these is my wife’s area. The indoor stove is like a booster for those artic air masses that descend on Missouri periodically in the winter. My outdoor stove is good for 8 hours. The problem with my outdoor stove which is a wood boiler is being gone on a trip. This stove must be protected from cooling down too much. Water freezes so this requires an effort to ensure the wood boiler is safe. You will have to have grid or gas backup if you want to go on a trip.
The costs and benefits of firewood vary greatly between individuals. It works for me because I am REAL Green. Spiritual goodwill has a high value for me. Green prepping is central to REAL Green. I discount the opportunity cost of my labor elsewhere with the intangibles of localism. Firewood promotes localism when properly done with minimal outside influence so having firewood delivered is less valuable from a REAL Green perspective. I could be working the weekends making good money doing land restoration for others. I choose to stay local.
I choose the spiritual of permaculture. I have green compassion for those who do not have the time. Green compassion is the humility of realizing many people do not have the opportunities I have to be green. In this way it would be arrogance on my part to point a green finger at these people. It is so easy and cheap to just flip a switch on grid heat of gas and electric. Many people have other interests and obligations. Firewood beyond just a weekend enjoyment is a lifestyle. If you are a green prepper and live in a good firewood region like me then firewood is a basic that should be embraced. If you live in the city not so much.
Prepping is an important consideration. If you are a homeowner in a region where it freezes, I would have the potential for heating with firewood. One needs only recall that Texas was hit with brown outs in a deep freeze. Many people were put at grave risk. Many had property losses when pipes froze. Firewood became an essential in this situation instead of an enjoyment.
As a REAL Green I consider the world on all planes in decline. As a REAL Green I consider more brown outs coming with an unstable grid. Europe is in the news now because it is rushing into NetZero at the expense of fossil fuel backup. Obviously, renewables lack a resilience to power a continent. Seasonal storage is all but nonexistent. The problem is an inability of modern economies to learn to live with intermittentcy. I see more resources in short supply. If the trucks that feed the economy gets reduced by economic problems you will have increased instability that will spill out into the grid reducing reliability. You may not get your propane delivery. A tree down on your electric lines may not get fixed in the timely fashion we expect today. Firewood is a key component to a prepping.
Equipment is a big issue. I will give you a summary of my cost at the end of this post. I have gone to a higher end of equipment cost because I buy quality. This may or may not payout for me when amortized solely with ROI. I had people install my equipment so there was a cost there. Some people can do this themselves and save lots of money. Wood stoves can be made also which saves lots of money. Safety is an issue with homemade stoves. I had a masonry chimney so I put in an insulated stainless liner and these are expensive. This increases cost but also increases safety and efficiency. Efficiency is increased because of the increased vent of the fire where heated air and gas is not cooled by a cool chimney. A vent gets oxygen to the fire so it burns more efficient. A blower makes a difference. My indoor fireplace insert takes in cool air and circulates it near the hot stove into the room. An open fireplace does not heat a house well because so much heated air escapes. It does provide radiant heat and, in some cases, this is better than nothing in an emergency but lots of firewood is consumed quickly.
I have two wood stoves. I have an outside wood stove that is a wood boiler. The wood boiler heats 100gal insulated water tank. This is a whole house heat source with a forced air circuit and a radiant heat circuit. This stove also heats water with a heat exchanger. This stove is very safe. One drawback it needs electricity to operate. I get around this resilience lowing situation because I have a solar system to run this stove. 2 amps on average are needed which my solar covers this with ease. There is also the issue of a pump going out. I keep spares to address this problem. There is still the issue of pipes leaking. This stove is more technical than my indoor stove. My indoor stove will last a lifetime and no matter what my power situation it will still work. This stove is raw heat maker. This is part of the reason I have two stoves.
The other drawback with my wood boiler is when I want to leave for more than a day this stove will be outside and subject to cooling down. There are strategies for this but it is a further inconvenience when you want to travel. If the weather is at or above freezing then nothing is needed to do. The stove is well insulated. If a bitter cold outbreak comes and you are gone you could lose your stove if the water freezes and ruins the water tank, pumps, and or lines. This is an extreme event but damage is a possibility.
What I have to do is fire up the electric heat in the house and shop/barn. I put a small heater in the firebox and one in the back of the wood boiler where the pumps and lines are. The water circulates into the house and the warm house keeps the stove water warm. So, this is a reverse heating process. As you can see if you travel much in the coldest times of the year this is a further inconvenience.
I have modified my wood boiler for summer water heating by utilizing thermal water heating evacuated tubes. These tubes heat the wood boiler’s water tank. This hot water circulates into the house and heats water through the heat exchanger. The stove already has all guts to heat water so my adaptation is a cool way to continue to heat water into the summer when it is not economic to burn wood to heat water.
This outside wood boiler has two heating methods. One is forced air where a blower forces air through a radiator moving hot air into the house. The other is radiators spread around the house that radiate heat all the time. I really like this way because it is a stable lasting heat. Air heat is noisy and dissipates quicker but it is immediate if you are warming things up. A radiant heat actually gets the material in the house warm so the house has a warm feel.
My wood boiler heats my shop with infloor heat. The shop is next to the house. There are two main line running to two buildings. The shop square footage is similar to the house. This infloor heat has an insulated 6” concrete slab to warm up with pex lines running through it. There is a special baffleing system that does this because of the amount of water needed to heat a 30×36 concrete floor. Once this concrete is warmed this serves as a thermal heat sink. It will stay warm for a long period even without being heated. Once heated is requires much less heating to stay warm. My Amish Monitor barn that is a shop/barn has R30 insulation and R10 in floors so it is easier to heat and cool than the house.
If you are going to do your own wood you will need equipment and time. You will need chainsaws and a splitter. You will need something to haul the wood in. You will need time to cut down the wood, spilt it, transport it, and stack it. You need a way to store it out of the rain. Yet, you also what it in the weather in the summer to season so this requires plenty of sun and ventilation.
I have a system that I have made up with 4 shipping pallets screwed together. This hold around half a cord. I can then move it with my skidsteer. In the summer when I split wood I can stack it in this rack and then move it to a sunny spot with good ventilation to season it. I then can move it to the lien-two overhangs in the shop where it will be out of the weather for the winter.
This is important for my type stove. My outdoor stove is a wood gasifier so it needs properly seasoned wood that is not wet from rain. There are some stove that burn wood by cooking it. These are much less efficient but do allow green wood to be burning. The burn from the bottom up with forced air moving up. My stove pulls the heated gases down into a burn chamber to burn the gasses. So, in my stove there is the afterburn of the smoke but also the heat of the fire itself.
Wood preparation and management is a significant time factor is important if time is not something you have. You must consider your opportunity cost which is what you would get from your labor elsewhere. Firewood is tedious and it is routine. This is just making the firewood, you must also feed the firewood daily into the stove. You are not going to save much or any money especially if the opportunity cost of your labor is high. You will have a security of sorts which is resilience. If you have the right setup this is a way to achieve a component to overall sustainability.
If I wanted to heat with wood the TRUE Green way I would need to do firewood differently. I would only use axes and a cross cut saw. I would have a mule team to transport the wood. I would not have a wood boiler. I would have stoves in each living area. As you can see this would not work for me and all I do. It would not work for me at my age and the fact I take care of 400 acres, animals, buildings, and equipment mostly alone.
What I do is green prepping with REAL Green which is the realistic application of the new and old in a realistic and relative application according to what you can do. I want to be TRUE Green but this is not in the cards for me. I know how to go TRUE Green and could if the situation arises I can make changes but I will need young men to help me and new equipment. The addition of the mules alone would be a major change.
REAL Green is relative and realistic which means I blend in the new ways with the old so I can live in both worlds. This means I utilize mechanical equipment that run on fossil fuels applied to old word biomass capture. I try to reduce these mechanical imputes and when one keeps this activity local to your land it increases the EROI value. The problem is that it also lowers the ROI. Equipment is expensive and must be maintained. My equipment to make firewood is used in other activities on the farm so this blended use lowers the cost.
I do have hand saws and axes. I could have a team of mules and do the same thing but in my case, this is not cost effective. I admire people who do firewood and farming this way but from a REAL Green point of view this is a specialty some can engage in. It is more a hobby in this day and age. REAL Green is a hybrid that seeks to live in both worlds attempting to leave the modern unsustainable and less resilient world. Combining the two makes for a better solution. The world is now being altered by a planetary force of decline. This will force humans back to the 19th century living and eventually to earlier times. Adapt best you can to the old ways but do not neglect your responsibilities to the new world or it will consume you in its insidious appetite for energy and resources.