When the grid goes down one of the things we’ve got to concern ourselves with is heating our homes, especially those of us who live in cold climates. Of all the uses we have for electricity, heating is probably the most critical. If we are unable to use our furnaces, we will have to have a backup heating method or suffer the risk of hypothermia.
Wood is the logical choice for most people, which makes sense, considering that mankind has used wood to heat our homes since the days when we lived in caves. Wood is plentiful in many parts of the country, can be harvested by yourself and provides adequate heat, even if it doesn’t match today’s standards of comfort with central heating and air conditioning.
Of course, to use wood for heating your home, you’ll need someplace to burn that wood. Don’t try putting a fire pit in the center of your living room or using your oven as a fireplace. You need to have a fireplace or wood burning stove in place, before the emergency hits, so that you are ready. Of the two, you will get more heat out of a wood burning stove.
You can buy precut firewood in most parts of the country, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. There are plenty of opportunities to get firewood, so that you’re ready for emergencies, without having to resort to buying it.
Hardwoods are a much better choice for a wood fire than softwoods are. Basically, the denser the hardwood, the more potential heat energy it has in it. In other words, if you are buying wood, you’ll save money by buying hardwood, rather than softwood, even though the hardwood costs more per cord. When it comes time to burn that wood, each log will burn longer, freeing up your time from constantly tending the fire and allowing your woodpile to last longer.
In an emergency, you can probably go out to the woods and cut firewood, without any interference from government officials. But during normal times you will probably get in trouble if you attempt that. At a minimum, you’ll need a permit, so make sure you check on the area you are thinking of cutting wood in, before you plan a trip.
Finding Firewood Where You Are
But you don’t even need to go out to the woods to cut your firewood. Put a sign up on the local supermarket bulletin board, saying that you’ll remove dead trees for free. For a few hours of labor, you could end up with a nice pile of wood.
Keep your eyes open as you drive around too. If you see trees with dead limbs, ring the doorbell and offer to cut those off, so that they don’t cause a hazard for the homeowner. Most people will be glad to have you cut off a dead limb, especially when the alternative is to have a storm blow it down. Just be sure to use proper safety precautions, so that you don’t damage their home, car of pet dog.
Another good source of firewood is wood pallets. There are companies around that recycle wood pallets, but they can’t recycle the broken ones. Those are usually broken up for scrap. You can offer to take the broken pallets off their hands, so that they don’t have to waste labor cutting them. You can do the same with small warehouse businesses, offering to haul off their busted pallets for free.
Prep Your Woodpile
Your work isn’t done when you get home with the wood that you’ve harvested. The wood will need to be cut, split and stacked. It’s much easier to do this while the wood is still green, rather than waiting until it is time to use it.
Split wood also dries much faster than wood that isn’t split. If you are cutting wood through the warmer months, you’ll want that wood to be ready to use, once wintertime rolls around. If it isn’t properly cut and stacked so that the ends are exposed to the air, the moisture won’t evaporate out of the wood and you’ll end up with a smoky fire in your house.
You also need to protect your woodpile from rain and snow. You see woodpiles all the time that are just stacked up behind someone’s house. That’s not good. The drying wood will soak up more water, every time it rains. You want to stack the wood somewhere that it will be protected from the rain, or put a tarp loosely over the woodpile to protect it.
Using Wood to Heat Your Home
One of the problems with using wood to heat your home is that the fireplace or wood-burning stove pretty much only heats the room that it is in. That’s why many colonial and pioneering era homes were built with one great room and only small bedrooms.
The other thing that they did during those times was to use bed warmers. Beds would have heavy covers on them, and a bed warmer, filled with coals from the fire, was used to warm up the bed, right before people would get in. Only the very wealthy could afford to put fireplaces or wood-burning stoves in every room.
Since you probably won’t be able to put wood-burning stoves in every room of your home, you’ll probably have to modify your activities and space usage somewhat. This will mean using whatever room has the stove in it, as well as the kitchen for pretty much everything. Some family members may even choose to sleep in the room with the fire, if they have trouble sleeping in a cold room.
Putting blankets over doorways is a wonderful way of helping to keep the heat in the room where the fire is. While this won’t help warm bedrooms, it will help to ensure that at least one room of your home stays warm enough to be comfortable.
Tending the fire is a good survival skill for pre-teen children to undertake. While they will need to be supervised, especially at first, giving them the responsibility of bringing in the wood and making sure the fireplace is, stoked is a good way of making them an active part of your survival plan. They will also need to learn how to start a fire, so that they will be able to start it in the morning, if it goes out overnight.