Heating with wood

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2010

Call me a dinosaur, but I heat my house with wood. What's more, I do so out of desire, not out of necessity.

Sure, I could hook up to the gas line that runs past my house, as some of my neighbors have done. But I prefer to keep on doing what I've done for the past 30 years, getting my heat from trees.

Heating with wood isn't easy. At one time, I did it all myself -- went out in the woods, felled the trees and dragged them home. Now I have my wood delivered and cut to stove length. I used to split it with a maul or axe. Now I use a hydraulic splitter. Some things haven't changed. I stack my wood in my woodshed, as I've always done, and I still carry it into the house, feed the stove, carry out the ashes and clean the chimney. Even without the felling and bucking into stove lengths, I still get six or seven "heats" from it.

To heat with wood is to live a little dangerously. With chimney fires a constant threat, chimneys must be kept clean, even when it requires climbing up on the roof in mid-winter. If your stove and chimney aren't properly installed and maintained, you can find yourself staring at a pile of ashes where your house once stood -- if you survive.

Wood stoves can be quirky. When the wind blows in a certain direction and at a certain velocity, mine occasionally emits little puffs of smoke into the living room.

Despite its risk and hassle, heating with wood is a pleasure. When I was younger, there was the pleasure of going out in the woods and cutting down trees. In many ways, it was like hunting. I had to find the quarry, kill it, drag it out of the woods, get it home and cut it into usable pieces. When my woodshed is full of freshly split firewood, I get some of the same feelings as when my freezer is full of freshly cut game meat or fish. It's like money in the bank. I've provided for myself.

Another advantage of heating with wood is not having to worry about frozen and bursting water pipes during an electricity outage. My wood stove doesn't need electricity. It doesn't even have a fan.

I like the idea of heating with a renewable resource. Thanks to spruce-bark beetles, the supply of firewood on the Kenai Peninsula will last well past my lifetime. If not for all the beetle-killed spruce, I probably would've hooked up to natural gas years ago.

I appreciate the quietness of wood heat. People who heat with gas or oil usually distribute the heat with circulating water -- a noisy pump -- or forced-air -- a noisy fan. For quietness, I'll put my wood stove up against either of those any day.

After a long walk on a cold day, there's nothing like coming into my living room and feeling the delicious heat radiating from my stove. Many people entering my house have remarked about this. Maybe it's just memories of a beloved grandparent's house. Or perhaps its something that goes back thousands of years, to when we dressed in furs and huddled around a fire.

Another reward from heating with wood is that it gets me outdoors. In the spring, it takes me a little over a week to split and stack my wood for the following winter. All year, once a twice a day, I have to bring in a few armloads from the woodshed. There are days when tending the fire is my sole reason for going outdoors. It's also pretty good exercise.

Heating with wood isn't for everyone, but it's something I miss when I'm away from home. It's a reminder that I'm dependent on Earth for my survival. Too, it lets me feel a little independent, an increasingly rare state of being in today's Alaska.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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