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The Riddle of Wood

I love being able to burn wood to heat my home. It gives you a feeling of freedom and a sense of accomplishment and alleviates all the anxiety of the what-ifs associated with the winter, such as prolonged power outages and how to cook for the family. Growing up in Southern Indiana, my parents and grandparents all heated with wood too. I remember my dad cutting and chopping to make what appeared to be a long fence of wood that he and mom would pick from to heat our house in Corydon. I also remember the glow of the Jotul stove doing its work. I don't recall them cooking on the stove, but I'm sure they did at some point.

By age 8, I was big enough to start swinging my grandpa's axe to try and split wood. Once he learned I was able to do it, it became one of the chores I got to help him with. I watched him, and my uncle fell trees in true hillbilly fashion, and we all went in to help clean up and process until the woodshed was overflowing. We did this until I was around 14, which was about the time my grandparents stopped burning wood. By 15, we moved into my dad's childhood home, which had a boiler system that was ancient. There were only a couple of people in town that could even work on it, and it was always in need of repair it seemed- this led us to go back to ole reliable- the wood-burning stove. I was working by this time and did very little to help get wood, but I still remember the cherry glow of the Jotul in the large house. The stove comfortably heated the entire home despite the fact it was far too small to be capable of doing so.

When I moved to Kentucky almost 17 years ago now, our farmhouse was hooked up to propane which was expensive and inefficient for the house. We were burning through a tank every other month, and it would only heat the house to a cool 55 degrees. We hung blankets in doors to slow drafts, covered windows in plastic, and I even laid straw bales around the foundation at one point- but it didn't help that much. After a handful of years going between propane and electric heat sources, I started the hunt for a wood stove of my own. I found a Wonderwood Stove on Craigslist for $25- it was still hooked up in a guy's basement, so off I went. At this time in life, $25 was like $250 to us, we were that broke! But I came up with the money and, in my Chrysler Town and Country minivan, showed up to get it.

The man laughed that I wouldn't be able to get it in the van by myself; he was too old to help move it and had recent heart surgery. He said if I took it that night, he'd let me have it for $10 just to see it go in the van.

After powering up and sucking in the O-ring, I picked the stove up and tossed it into the van, much to his amusement and amazement. I peeled out of there with the extra cash, which I probably spent on the way home getting fast food without telling Robyn until now (🤫).

Once home, I did some creative work and got the stove safely installed, and within a couple of hours, we experienced the best heat we ever had in this farmhouse. Having remodeled the house a few times since we've kept that same old stove. It works great for our needs, is easy to maintain, and has fond memories attached. Even now, as I write this, I have a family meal cooking on the stove!

I am in the unique position of being able to harvest my timber from my property (which I do very little, actually). I clean up debris and burn standing dead, but I also help out others in my community that sell their wood by buying some wood and getting cut-offs from the area sawmills. I also plant trees every Spring. wood-burning is not necessarily cheaper or easier- you must do the work yourself or buy all your wood. I can buy all my wood easily and spend around $700-$800 for the entire winter due to Kentucky's temperate climate, and I'll likely have wood left over.

This year we cut all our wood, I spent $1200 to have an arborist fell some large trees around the house, and my boys and I cut and split it all up. Between the time we spent and the fee for the arborist (they we too big and close to the house for me to tackle), I would have been better off buying it all-but I have an overflowing wood shed that will last me into next year for sure.

The riddle

Woodburning is under heavy attack in political circles due to the current Green movement. Many states are trying to outlaw it entirely, and many insurance companies will not insure a home with a wood-burning stove. This is the enigma we're faced with. To burn or not to burn- if everyone were burning again, forests would become barren, and demand would outpace supply. Balance is key.

I, for one, will ALWAYS burn wood, regardless of insurance or the law passed against it. That said, I have alternatives, such as propane fuel and electricity, that we use intermittently to knock the chill off. We save the wood burning for when it's cold, and we dress warmly in the house. Those early years got us used to 55-60 in the house, so unless it gets cooler than that, we're not doing much but wearing sweatshirts.

I feel the winter of 2022 and the new year of 2023 will reveal to us the importance of wood-burning as a preparedness option as we see Europe suffer due to fuel oil shortages and an already banned wood-burning opportunity. We'll also see power grid outages in the Northern US and Europe, further highlighting the need for woodburning and alternate heating solutions.

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