What do you do when it gets pretty cold and you’re running out of wood? Turn on the oil furnace?

Heck no! How could you even suggest such a thing!

You put out a call to your neighbourhood Facebook group of course!

November 28 at 9:43am Well this is awkward. Does anyone have a bunch of seasoned wood you could sell us? When I started the Empty Tank Challenge to see how far we could get without buying more furnace oil, I didn’t think we would get this far. Now it seems we could go all winter, so long as we have enough wood. Got some wood you are not using?

Here are the responses I had within an hour (minus names)

  • Friends of mine have a wood burning fireplace I’ll ask where they get their wood. Check craigslist and kijiji too. Sounds silly but I’ve seen people on there selling firewood before November 28 at 9:51am
  • I’ve heard you can get a permit and go into crown land and cut your own firewood. However there are limits and conditions that have to be met. I’m not sure but it might be the ministry of the environment that does this. Try google. November 28 at 9:55am
  • If you get desperate I have a few logs from when we cut down a sick
    The second trunk load from one neighbour
    The second trunk load from one neighbour

    tree. A few days worth if heat. November 28 at 9:58am

  • James Rowley Thanks guys. I should say I don’t care if it is just scrap wood with nails in it. We burn it and take the nails out of the ashes with a magnet. Craigslist has a bunch. I can see I’ll need to borrow a pick-up to, you know, pick it up. November 28 at 10:02am
  • How long does it need to be seasoned for? We have some sitting on our front patio from when we aggressively topped our cherry tree a few months ago. Would be happy to work out a trade for, say, a bottle of red wine (local BC wine of course). November 28 at 10:05am
  • we have lived with no furnace for the last 10 years…the fireplace and 2 small oil filled heaters kept us warm enough… I found that watching Craigslist and collecting and chopping and stacking through the year kept us warm and dry …it is a lot of work and we do have a furnace we bought a month ago as I am getting to old for collect chopping and stacking…. I far prefer my wood heat though November 28 at 10:06am
  • You probably know this already, but you can usually find lots on
    Delivered! Thank you!
    Delivered! Thank you!

    Craigslist. Do you have a good fireplace person who could check out our chimney and perhaps change the way we heat our house? November 28 at 10:28am

I know, right? What a helpful bunch of neighbours! My Hammond Neighbours seem to really have gotten behind this crazy idea of mine–or else they just like helping people out. I also received two private messages, one offering backyard wood and another offering scrap wood from a construction site in the neighourhood. I’m excited about the latter because I know it is still standard practice to throw scrap wood from framing into the landfill.

Chopping wood makes one feel like Paul Bunyan
Chopping wood makes one feel like Paul Bunyan

The Hammond Neighbours conversation turned to whether burning wood is really preferable to burning oil. One of my neighbours asked how far one should go in comparing fuels–the energy used to collect and prepare the wood, the local air quality issues with burning it, etc.

I want to be clear that I don’t think burning wood is a sustainable way to heat a home. I went into this in more detail in Fire in the Home! but here is the short version. Burning wood is not as efficient as oil or gas and the heat that is produced mostly goes up the chimney. In fact, even having a fireplace costs a home heat that goes out the chimney 24/7. Wood heat makes sense for a household if the wood is free and they have the time to source, season and chop it (like my in-laws do).

In the facebook conversation I compared wood and oil:

in greenhouse gas terms, burning wood releases the carbon that the tree helpfully captured from the air less than 100 years ago whereas burning oil or gas releases carbon that has been trapped underground for millions of years. Wood is also renewable.

This is all true, but even our super-efficient wood-burning insert is less efficient than our oil furnace.

Nope, the answer for almost every home is not wood heat. The answer is to seal and insulate so well that we don’t need much heat/cooling at all and then eliminate wood, oil and gas as fuels. The resulting house will need only a modest heat pump of some kind–heating in winter, cooling in summer–and a good air circulation system. The electricity to power the heat pump can come from solar panels, wind turbines or good ol’ BC Hydro with its hydroelectric power.

I am humbled by the generous help of my Hammond Neighbours. I always hoped Hammond Forever House might be adopted by the community. Imagine if it is the first house of many in Hammond to reduce its energy needs to almost zero!

We had a little drop in temperature!
We had a little drop in temperature!

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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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