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Firewood and Wood Stove Basics – Five Lessons for Heating with Wood

by Victoria Gazeley

Woodstove and Ecofan.

Originally published in October 2010 – updated November 30, 2013.

Firewood burned in a wood stove is our primary heat source – not just in winter, but year round.  We regularly have fires going in the evening here until the end of May.

When we first moved to our rural property, I had so many questions:  How much wood do we need for winterWhat kind of wood should we burnHow do I prepare itHow do I clean the wood stoveWon’t it make a lot of smoke?  As a city girl, I had no clue about building fires or how to use them for heat.  But I learned fast.  I had to.  We’d have been a little chilly otherwise.

The answers would come over the next year, as I learned the finer points of building and maintaining fires and the wood stove that keeps us cozy. I learned that there is no ‘right’ way to build a fire (no matter how many ‘experts’ try to tell you otherwise).  That wet wood is to be avoided at all costs.  That a hot, clean burn with little to no smoke is the goal.  That our loft can get roasting if the fire has been burning all day (and then, of course, that fans are necessary and required to push the warm air around).

I had so many questions about fire as a heat source, and I’m pretty sure lots of other people do too.  Especially those who are planning on moving to the country, or have just moved.  So I put together my top five lessons for using fire for heat – I hope it’s helpful!

The Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned About Heating with Wood

1.  There is no ‘right’ way to build a fire.

The ‘experts’ will try to tell you otherwise.  Like how to plant vegetable seeds, everyone you ask will have a different opinion.  So I’ll make it easy for you – try a bunch of different ways and pick the one that’s the least hassle for you and gets the best results.  There are some pretty elaborate fire starting methods out there.  And some that I still don’t see how they actually get a fire going, let alone quickly.  I’m busy – my goal in building a fire is to get it burning fast and to get it burning hot so there’s little to no smoke coming out of the chimney.  Then I don’t want to have to think about it for awhile.  If you check YouTube, you’ll find all sorts of videos on fire building.  Or you can bookmark this fantastic resource: and save yourself the hassle!  Find a method that doesn’t look too complicated and try it out.  You’ll soon find your favorite.  Here’s one I’m going to try next:  the top-down fire starting method.  I tried it once before and it failed miserably (probably because our wood is cut a little chunky), but I’m willing to give it another try.

2.  Better to have too much firewood than not enough.

There are some complicated calculations around for figuring out how much wood you’ll need if you’re heating with with a wood stove.  Annoyingly, most articles will start with ‘it depends’.  Unfortunately, it really does – on where you live, the temperature that particular winter, how well insulated your house is, what kind of wood you’ll be burning, how efficient your wood stove is, whether or not you’re burning wood full time or just using it to augment your primary heating system during cold snaps… you get the picture.

But if this is any help, we have a 700 square foot house, medium insulated (heritage log cabin with single pane glass augmented with storm windows), burn wood exclusively for heat from October through April in an old, probably inefficient wood stove, and live on the West Coast where temperatures are usually quite mild but damp.  Also, I work from home so the fire is burning most of the day.  How much wood do we burn? About 2 cords per season (a ‘cord’ is a pile 4′ x 4′ x 8′, densely packed).  For us, that’s about 4 or 5 trees’ worth, all dead fall and windfall red alder, maple and hemlock from the previous winter.  So for a modest-sized, well insulated home with a new, efficient wood stove burning wood exclusively for heat (with no other major heat sources), most people in the northern States and Canada would be safe with 4 cords or so – but always better to have more, in case it’s a cold winter. (UPDATE November 30, 2013: After a renovation in 2012, we now have about 1000 square feet to heat, including an addition that is nice and open, but the far end being quite far away from the wood stove. The two new rooms have electric baseboard heaters (because the building code requires it), but we don’t use them unless it’s REALLY cold, which last year it wasn’t.  Also, the new building is SUPER insulated, so that’s helping with the heat retention.  In the 2012/2013 season, we used about 3 cords, from October to April.  That’s burning pretty much full time, since I work from home.  This year, 2013/2014, we started using the stove in mid-October, from mid-morning to a stoke-up at 10:00 pm or so, and have used about a cord so far).

3.  Wood stoves are really versatile – especially in a power outage.

I was just reading an article at Mother Earth News talking about eight different alternate power possibilities to use during power outages.  The consensus seemed to be that having a wood stove that could also be used for cooking is the ideal situation.  Obviously, if you live in the desert with no wood supply, that’s a bit of a challenge.  But for the rest of us, it would seem that having a reasonably efficient wood stove in a rural area is smart insurance.  Most winters we have a lot of power outages, and it’s the wood stove that allows us to still have tea, cook our food, and stay warm.  We could use our little Kelly Kettle (which is sort of a mini metal rocket stove), but it’s sort of a pain, as it needs to be used outside.  Or a camp stove, like some recommend, but during a prolonged power outage, propane and butane canisters sell out extremely quickly (provided the stores still have power!).  So a wood stove seems like a good investment.  We’ve used ours to boil water, cook eggs, make toast, and keep big meals warm in cast iron pots.  I can’t recommend enough having one that has a surface you can cook or heat water on.

4.  You NEED fans to push the warm air through your house.

Our old wood stove had a fan that gave up the ghost not long after we moved in.  Which was OK, because it was loud – too loud.  I wanted to replace it with something quiet, and preferably non-electrical.  The solution?  A stove-top Ecofan.  I got the Airplus model (in nickel) and I love it!  It does exactly what it says it does, and more.  It’s silent, starts turning as soon as it’s sensors reach a certain temperature, and uses no electricity.  Which is great, because in a power outage, you really want your wood stove to be performing at peak efficiency.

We also have a hard-wired ceiling fan at the top of our cathedral ceiling, which pushes the warm air back down into the living area and throughout the house.  Obviously, the bigger your house the more you’ll have to think about how the warm air will flow.  Last year we had an issue with our bathroom being freezing in the morning, because it’s furthest away from the wood stove.  So we used a plug-in oil heater, which kept the bathroom toasty, but racked up a rather large electrical bill.  Plus it didn’t work when the power was out (then again, neither does the ceiling fan).  Last year, I had the brilliant idea (!) to keep the bathroom door open (except when in use, of course) and voila!  The bathroom is warm in the morning.  Well, maybe not warm, but at least there are no icicles hanging from the shower head.  Problem solved.

5.  Good insulation is your friend.

This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people still have single paned windows and big air spaces around their doors.  Especially in old houses, which you’ll likely find on properties you might be considering for your modern homesteading adventure.  We live in an 80-plus year old log cabin, so spent quite a bit of energy ensuring all the cracks and crevices were filled with insulation and chinked.  It does still have single paned windows in the original building, though, so replacing them with triple-glazed wood windows is on our list of eventual renovations.  In the meantime, we’ve installed storm windows on all the lower windows.  Seems to do the trick.

Will You Heat with Wood this Winter?

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned about heating our home with wood.  I think even if we lived in my brand new timber frame dream house, I’d still consider wood as a primary heat source.  It’s versatile, renewable (at least in our part of the world), it’s been deemed ‘carbon-neutral‘, and for me, it provides a connection to all my ancestors, who had nothing but wood to heat with.

Your situation will be different, though.  Think about your options, and how willing you are to do the work required (sourcing wood, cutting, splitting, piling, hauling, cleaning chimneys, etc.).

If you do decide to heat with wood, chances are you’ll be very happy you did.

If you already heat with wood, do you have any tips to share?  Please do in the comments below – newbie homesteaders will thank you!

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Revised on December 1, 2013

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Victoria, FYI: As I have shared with you before I spent 2o years in the mountains of Vermont. My brother still lives there and is has been a logger for 25 years. He sells firewood for a living. (he also heats with wood of course) I shared your tips on heating and wood and he said you were absolutely dead on! He is a fan! Unfortunately he doesn’t do much on the internet so he has asked me to copy and send your articles to him!


Anonymous October 24, 2010 at 12:04 am

Thanks so much, Denny! That’s such a compliment coming from someone with that much experience. I very much appreciate your sharing that…


Susan McKenzie October 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Victoria, your articles are really giving me food for thought. We have a 2-acre rural property that someone just deeded us… and my husband and I are considering what type of house to put on it. Looking at your photos on Facebook makes me wonder…. how much work was it really, how long did it take, approximately what expense… and how do you feel living in smaller home, especially during winter. Our property is in the high desert but trees are only an hour away, so I’m sold on woodstove… I’m also considering solar power because we get a lot of sun all year long. I would love to see the “indoor” photos when you get a chance! I’m very much looking forward to your next article – you are a fabulous writer!!!


Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

A new property – how exciting! As for the details of the cabin, I’m working on a series of articles explaining just those things. Hoping to roll them out over the next 4 weeks or so. As for living in a smaller home in winter, it’s definitely on the small side! But we’ve got a little family, so it works. And it’s only temporary, as we’re planning an addition next spring that will add another 500 square feet or so and two bedrooms. If we were a family of 4, it probably wouldn’t work. As it is, I do curse the kitchen sometimes, as I’ve got all these countertop appliance and hardly any counters! ;o) An expanded kitchen is on the books for 2012 (or next year if funds allow). It’s definitely an adventure! My ideal house size would be somewhere around 1800 square feet – that would provide room for a cold room for food storage, lots of other storage, 3 bedrooms and ample living space without it become so big that it becomes hard to look after. I can barely keep up with the cobwebs in our little 700 square feet! As for indoor pics, there are a few on Facebook under the album “Before and After”. I’ll be posting the renovation pics in another article in the next few weeks as well. Thanks for the feedback, Susan!


Maria Hidalgo-Ferretti October 31, 2010 at 2:43 am

Great article Victoria! Your advice is so useful, even for us who live in the suburbs and use our wood burning fireplace during winter. Thank you for sharing your experiences.


Victoria Gazeley November 1, 2010 at 1:48 am

There are so many nuances to burning wood, especially in suburban areas where there are more and more limitations being put on wood burning (for good reasons, often). Makes it more and more important to make sure we’re all burning clean! ;o)


Margie October 23, 2012 at 9:26 am

Thanks for this! Especially, your estimate for amount of wood. We’re about 700 sq ft too and work in town so we’re not constantly burning, but it is our main heat source. We currently have 2 cords but were thinking we might require more like 4. This put my mind at ease (it’s our first winter in the cabin). The fan – is on my xmas list! We have kept a thermometer in each room and I really think a fan would help regulate. As a back up, we do have an indoor propane heater. Thanks for sharing!


Victoria Gazeley October 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

You’re so welcome! I had no idea how much wood we’d use that first winter. So glad you found this helpful… :)


Victoria Gazeley October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm

So glad it was helpful! It was a bit of a crapshoot the first year, but I think we’ve got it dialed now… :)


Kellie Dawn Griffin December 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Great tips! My husband and I have been using wood stove heating almost exclusively for close to 3 years now and have almost perfected keeping the house at just the right temp. Keeping doors open and judicious use of fans has helped keep the rooms all warm but not too hot–even the ones far away from the stove. Using the right wood (hardwoods and poplar) that is absolutely dry seems to be the best option for low-smoke, long burning fuel. Keeping the ash pan changed so there is proper air flow but still keeping a nice bed of ashes in the wood-burning area at all times helps also. My favorite thing about our stove is that when the power goes out I don’t have to worry about no heat or no hot food. I’ve cooked soup on it and I’ve even heated water on it overnight to take warm baths with the next morning when my hot water heater went out over a long weekend. The water was hot enough to use only one or two pots full in a tub of cold water! When the air is very dry I also place water on the stove to help humidify the air. You can also keep dishes/food warm when you are cooking a big meal and don’t have a lot of counter space, lol! Thanks for sharing!


Victoria Gazeley December 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with wood heat. It really does take a lot of ‘worry’ away… Unfortunately, our stove doesn’t have much room on the top, but there’s enough for a small fry pan and a mid-sized pot or kettle. Thanks for stopping by!


Gman4141 December 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Victoria, excellent write up! Thank you!


Victoria Gazeley December 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm

You’re so welcome! Thanks for stopping by… :)


Raymond E Anne December 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm

As to the power out/no fan problem, a car heater fan can run off of a 12Volt battery, that can be recharged with a solar panel. Time to consider a 12Volt system anyway. Lights, fans cooking.cooling and refridgeration all can be done with 12Volt units.


Sarah March 30, 2014 at 11:34 am

Victoria, Thanks for your terrific website! My husband and I own a small home (1300 sf) in the country and would like to add either a fireplace or a wood burning stove. I have read that new regulations were passed recently that greatly restrict the use of wood burning stoves. I’ve also looked at these stoves online and the ones I’ve seen are extremely expensive. Can you recommend any stoves that are reasonably priced and are compliant with the new regulations? Thank you, Sarah


Sarah March 30, 2014 at 11:53 am

Victoria, in reference to my questions above, I just remembered you are in Canada, so I wouldn’t think you would be familiar with US regulations regarding wood burning stoves! However, I would be interested to know whether you have any recommendations on brands/styles etc. that are reasonably priced. Thanks again, Sarah


Victoria Gazeley April 8, 2014 at 10:25 am

:) No worries! We purchased a US built stove from England’s Stove Works – one of their less expensive versions.


MsMalin June 29, 2014 at 8:06 am

Loved the article, there i a lot of truth to it I’m from the north part of Sweden, and having grown up heating out home with fire for our long winters I’d like to add that while fans work wonders, we have always used a old self circulating water system at my childhood home. It works so that the fire heats water that heats the radiator in the house the water pipes has to be very wide to give the system room to work but that allows it to work dutin the times the power is out as well.


Victoria Gazeley July 1, 2014 at 11:19 am

I so wish we had a system like that – heating water with the woodstove. I’m not sure our building code allows it, but worth checking out. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts… :)


boating holidays uk 2014 July 23, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I used to be able to find good advice from your blog


Matthew July 29, 2014 at 5:17 am

Piece of advice on moving air around with fans:
It’s easier to move cold air along the floor to your stove then to move warm air from the stove. The warm air wilk just naturally replace the cold air as it moves around.


Country Bumpkin October 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

You make some really great points! Choosing a stove that you can live with is hard enough without worrying about breaking the bank. I have always lived in a home with a wood stove from my grandparents house to my parents house. There is something about wood heat that is so much better than gas or propane heat. Or at least in my opinion. My boyfriend recently purchased an outdoor wood stove and it is amazing. It heats the house, the garage, and once you stack it up good you can leave it from a good 7 hours. However, I wanted something a little different so I decided to do some research and ended up purchasing a Kitchen Queen Wood Cook Stove. I am in love! I decided to go through and not only did I get a great price but they had great customer service. I love the Kitchen Queen because it not only heats my home but I can cook on it and heat my water. I recommend anyone looking to purchase a wood stove takes a look at this link: For anyone who is considering switching to a wood cook stove or strictly a wood stove please check out their friendly and always ready to answer any questions or concerns you may have.


Rod Zeigler October 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Victoria, extremely well written article from the best point of view, one who was a neophyte and learned as they went along. Until moving to our current home we burned wood as a primary heating source for over 25 years in Kansas. We were extremely lucky to have plenty of Osage Orange, or Hedge wood to burn for most of that time. Where you live will ultimately determine what kind of wood you burn. Ask the old locals about what the best wood in the area is, and they can possibly even give you tips on where to get some to get you going at first. In Kansas for example there is Hedge, which is EXTREMELY hard wood, leaves little ash, and can be hard to cut and split, but I found that 1 cord of dry, split Hedge was equal to 3 cords of dry, split oak. There is a plethora of standing dead Cottonwood and I am firmly convinced that you can freeze to death burning that! It burns fast, like newspaper, and leaves a tremendous amount of ash. If there is a wood that is barely worth burning, Cottonwood is that wood, considering the work involved for the heat received. There are many woods between these two extremes and I have found that expending your energy on the wood that gives the most “bang for the buck” is the best option. Having some pine available for starting is a good idea, but burning it exclusively tends to gunk up the chimney due to the pine tar in the wood. Firewood is a course of study by itself and experience is the best teacher. Using others experiences is priceless!


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 11:16 am

Great advice – agreed!! :)


jacob f October 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

I would like to point out that the 4 cords for Canada is quite optimistic, our home is quite old, but well insulated and draft free for its age. We have burned about 8-9 cords last year. we burn wood from about oct to april, and in the dead of winter the fire never goes out


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 11:15 am

I guess it depends where you live. On the southwest coast, 4 cords is a LOT for a small house. But this year, with a new wood stove and better insulation, we’ve only gone through maybe 2 1/2. So many variables… :)


Mark October 18, 2014 at 4:21 am

My situation is I live in a beautiful log cabin about 60 miles north of Columbus, Ohio. My only fireplace is at one end of the home. I have a wood burning insert in my home from when I purchased it six years ago. It has proven inadequate to heat my home. My kitchen and stairwell are cold. I am puzzled because I love the smell and watching the burning of wood. It is very relaxing. I also own a forest full of trees. Despite this fact, I am considering purchasing a pellet stove because it does self feed the stove. After analyzing this problem, I am considering putting two hearths on the first floor as oppose to one hearth in the basement and one in the combination living room kitchen. I do have cathedral ceiling. What is clear to me is that inserts are terribly inefficient. I do not like the blower. The output of BTU’s is pitiful. So, I believe I will purchase a pellet stove and a soapstone wood stove. Any comments or suggestions?Sincerely,Mark


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 11:13 am

I’m definitely not an expert, but it’s my understanding that inserts in chimney’s lose a lot of the heat out the back of the chimney structure, whereas a freestanding stove expels all of the heat into the room – then with fans, it distributes. But yes, depending on the layout of your home, you may need more than one. Hope the pellet stove works out – my only concern with them was that they require purchase of pellets, and they need power to operate, so in a power outage, you’d be out of luck. But I guess you can manually feed them as well, I’m assuming. I really should look into them so at least I know how they function! :)


Amanda Longpre' October 19, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Tamarack- burns clean, burns hot, very efficient :)

My husband used to go logging with our old pastor for wood in the autumn (he lives in town, but our state allows for wood harvesting in the autumn) for his woodstove.

He always tried to find tamarack (a type of conifer evergreen tree- very similar in appearance to pine) because it burns a lot hotter (the BTU index is much higher than pine and many others) and at least here in north Idaho it is very common. The Rocky Mountains are an excellent source for this particular fuel.

I agree with always making it a goal to overestimate the wood fuel supply- in fact, on the PBS documentary series “Frontier House”, where three families went back to “Montana 1883″ for five months to prepare for the winter and get their homesteads going, it was recommended by the historians to set aside about ten cords of wood for the winter. And of course, it was their ONLY source of heat and cooking, which can make a difference.

But that number can be reduced if one knows which woods (like tamarack) burn hotter, because then you won’t need as much of it- they burn more slowly because they’re dense, and heat more efficiently as a result :)

So I’d say tamarack, if available, is a good win-win in terms of wood heat fuel 😀


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 11:06 am

Sounds great if you can get it! Amazing how much the different wood holds differing amounts of heat. Around here, fir burns hot but quick and alder is pretty good for longer burns (provided it’s not rotten, of course). Thanks for sharing!


Baronet Kevin James Parr February 8, 2015 at 7:16 am

I must say I have been a farmer all my life.I retired early and came to buy ten acres and a villa in very rural Latvia. It was to prove my knowledge of turkey production useless.My best hand with hens child like and all because my ways are so English. The first winter came in and I lost all my English fruit trees and then the hens had to be rescued and my turkey stock slaughtered. The cold was down to 34 C below and the wind merciless.The hens survived and now the summer at 45 above for most of twenty weeks. Housing redesigned and house insulated.I even forked out fora masonry oven heating system with heated walls from one single cooking session is magic. The hens insulated I have designed a winter palace for breeding Pekin hens as pets and garden fowls so decorative the Latvians love them. I need to hatch turkey eggs but very hard to find here and even so must keep away from hens. I decided to fatten and kill turkeys for our own needs as and when I can locate poults or eggs. Harder life in retirement that ever on my English farm. Still far cheaper here and no bills makes Latvia a place to buy as food is so cheap and houses about half of UK. Land is 300 euro per four acre plot and no restrictions if you want to be sort of self sufficient. The cold winter lasts from January to early May and by mid June all doors and windows are open and the job is keeping cool enough to work. We hibernate almost in the two cold months and cook like hell to be occupied. I discovered that my cooking at least impressed and I even raised pork pie pastry very well as no one has ever heard of suet here.Hen housing is a sinch now and walls floors and head room at least five inches thick with wool blocks after doing all the house.The doorway sixteen inches thick curtain that goes over the jambs when leaving the shed. Threbel glazed windows one side are all sealed down in acrilic and toasty warm hens feel as in Barbadoes love the place and even go out in the garden often for an hour at a time as feathered feet and a low bum can be a problem my hens return to a straw yard and back into the warmth. The hen sheds I brought from Uk at an inch thick boarding are only safely used to breed broodies for summer sitting uses. No way can they be any use otherwise out here. It cant be that bad as now us English are all over the place here and the English language spreading like wildfire.People from Boston and Cumbria and Lancashire too have bought plots for building in the forest.Some have managed to buy five bed villas on the coast.Warm no salt sea and fifty miles of mile wide white sand beach and just ten minutes walk from our door is the best secret ever kept. On week days one is all alone with thoughts beach combing but at weekends you may even be invited to join in the barbies and enjoy a beer and sashlic. A meaty tasty Latvian dish like pork in marinade served with onions from a charred oven on the ocean edge from someone that has never met me changes everything. Navarna may be found even at my age. Fish is a Latvians real pride and served with tomato salaza from my kitchen smoked fish from the sea is magic.


James February 14, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Hello Victoria, thank you for an excellent write up. I was very curious about all of this because I have a 1,300 sq ft home with 2 fireplaces, 1 in the main living area, and one in the basement finished rec. room. The main source of heat for our house is ceiling cable heat, which isn’t bad and only adds about $200 a month to my electric bill. There’s no heat in the basement at all. I had the chimney swept and inspected and decided to only use the fireplace in the basement for now. Heat rises, so it makes good sense to me. My problem is the fireplace sucks wood like there’s no tomorrow. We bought an 8 ft truckload of wood to kind of get our feet wet with the wonders of wood heat, but in one week, the entire truckload of wood is gone. The heat rose as I expected, and upstairs is much warmer but that just seems like way too much wood for a week. So I’d decided to buy a new high efficiency wood burning stove and hook it up beside the fireplace in the basement. (The downstairs fireplace used to be a double fireplace so there is an extra flue to pipe the exhaust into) I figure I can use the wood stove for heat and the fireplace for when I want to just enjoy the open fire. I live in West Virginia where the winter is cold but a wood burning stove should help with the heat. I’m all about transitioning to “Green” living. This next summer I’ll be adding solar hot water and eventually heated water into the floors. Your post gave me the knowledge that I’m on the correct path with wood as a primary heat source and eventual back up system, thank you so much!


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

So glad to hear it was helpful. Thanks for visiting!


Scott R February 20, 2015 at 11:35 pm

WOW! What a coincedence!

My girlfriend and I recently moved into a little cottage in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada where the house is heated by an oil furnace and a woodstove. We prefer not even turning the furnace on and just heating the entire house (its not large) by burning wood. Upstairs gets toasty real quick and downstairs pretty much stays just above freezing (~45 degrees farenheit).

Anyways, the whole reason we moved up here? I got a job at Caframo, the company that makes the Ecofan! Just a neat little coincedence that while we’re looking for some advice on heating a home via woodstove we see Caframo mentioned! The Ecofan truly is an amazing product.


Victoria Gazeley March 23, 2015 at 10:29 am

:) We love our Ecofan!


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