I’m a naturally frugal kind of person. I drive a 10-year-old car, I haven’t been on a “real” (not visiting family) vacation in over four years, and I stare at price tags, agonizing over “Do I NEED that?” “Do I REALLY want that?” It’s not all about money. I make choices based on priorities and responsibilities, space constraints, and environmental impacts. Of course I like to impress people, but I don’t need a lot of “stuff” to show folks who I really am. That said, I own an iphone, I buy irresistible things off Etsy, and I have a habit of owning books that I could easily get at the library.
My biggest luxury in life, perhaps, is a very warm house. We heat our home exclusively with wood, and I am NOT conservative about burning it. Because the cabin is so tiny, it doesn’t take much to get things warmed up, but if the inside temp dips below 70°, I know it’s time to stoke up the fire. It is sooooo great.
I lived in four different houses in my four years of college, and each one was cold. My roommates and I were cheap, and heat seemed like something we could do without. We wore sweaters in the house and slept with a mountain of blankets on our beds. It seemed okay at the time, but as soon as I moved out here and felt summery bliss emanating from the wood stove, I swore I’d never go back, and I haven’t.
As with any energy/heat source, there are environmental and economic issues ingrained in the firewood industry (which in some cases is BIG business). Oregon State University Extension Service put out a very interesting publication that compares the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of various heat sources, firewood included. In Oregon, a majority of the firewood burned is a byproduct of the logging industry here. Conifers and alder bring in the most revenue for timber companies, and the rest of the hardwoods are generally chipped up for paper pulp or sold by the logtruck load to firewood cutters.
Pretty much all the wood that we burn comes off of our property, some of it from fallen trees and some is cut to make room for roads, buildings, or to encourage growth of other preferred trees. I used to be a lot more involved in the splitting, but in recent years, Henry (with some help from his brother) have done almost all the cutting, splitting, and accumulating. It’s a big job done mostly in the late summer.
The photos up at the top are Oregon white oak (Quecus garryana), the densest local hardwood. Oak offers a lot of BTUs per cord, but it’s messy, heavy, often has remnants of poison-oak on it, and leaves a lot of ashes after it’s burned. Oak trees are also very slow-growing and don’t reseed readily. Though oak firewood is commonly sold around these parts, oak trees are something of a disappearing resource.
Bigleaf maple wood is not nearly as dense as oak, but it burns hot and fast. I particularly like it because it’s really easy to split (unless you hit a crotch or some such thing). Maple is also very common around here, seeds easily, and regenerates quickly. On our property, we have enough existing maple and potential for new maple trees to cut a little every year for decades without depleting the supply.
Oregon Ash makes pretty nice firewood because it’s fairly dense, easy to split, and it burns well even when it’s green. Ash trees are also abundant and fast growing.
Red alder is fine firewood. It burns hot and fast and smells nice, but it makes a lot of ash and is messy, too. Alder wood takes a long time to dry out and sometimes rots before it’s properly seasoned. Alder trees grow like weeds in Western Oregon, so there’s no shortage of young alder here.
Douglas fir is the primary conifer used for firewood, though sometimes grand fir or other true firs are burned. Its density is highly variable, but it usually lights quickly because of the integrated pitch, and it makes a nice quick, hot fire. Fir is common and regenerates quickly.
There are a number of other hardwoods that end up in woodsheds and firewood piles in Oregon. Cherry, hawthorne, dogwood, chittum, chinkapin, and madrone make really great firewood.
Cedar is commonly used as kindling because it lights quickly, and most of it comes from discarded cedar siding or roofing. Cedar smells great, too.
The only problem with having a really warm house is that I am always freezing in other people’s houses. I guess that is a price I’m willing to pay for extreme wintertime comfort.