The third element of Maslow's hierarchy is warmth. Obviously, in Alaska, this is a prime concern, because our winters are long. Below is our experience heating with wood, and below that, a comparison of BTUs generated by various heating fuels.
Since we live in the middle of a forest, we decided to heat our cabin with logs that my husband cuts throughout the year. The wood is stored in a huge wood “corral" behind the
outhouse. We estimate that we have
about 9 cords of wood (a cord is 4x4x8 feet) or about 30,000 lbs on
hand for indoor fires. The corral has an “entrance” for newly
cut wood that needs to age and an “exit” for aged wood ready to
|My lumberjack with mosquito net|
Up to now, we have covered the huge pile with several thick tarps, tied down with bungie cords. However, the past few winters have featured the unwelcome visit of rain, believe it or not, in January and February, followed by cold snaps and heavy snow. This combination has sandwiched thick ice between layers of heavy snow, cementing the tarp to the wood, making retrieval difficult. Next summer, we plan to build a roof over the whole thing, preferably with an extension that can cover a work area during rainy or snowy days.
Our most accessible trees for fuel are spruce, birch, and alder (we don't count willow, which is a poor fuel source). Spruce smells great because it is a resinous wood but it can build up a gunky creosote layer that clogs chimneys the way cholesterol clogs arteries. Many people north of us, in ecosystems with fewer trees, do burn it inside, but we favor it for aromatic, outdoor fires in a rock lined fire pit near our lake shore. It generates 15.5 million BTUs per cord. The second choice, alder, grows everywhere, like an Alaska-size weed, but it burns really hot – so hot, I've read, that “in the olden days” it was used in forges (on the other hand, it generates 17.5 million BTUs per cord – less than some other woods). Whenever I burn it, I see a tornado-like vortex form as the heat rises. So, generally, I soak it for use in my meat smoker, and make some rustic furniture with it, but mostly I burn it outdoors as a trash tree or to help damp or rotted spruce burn better. Our third option, and the one we prefer for burning indoors, is birch. It generates the most BTUs: 23.6 million per cord. When nicely aged and dry, it is light and burns cleanly. The ash in the chimney is easy to clean out (not sticky). Every spring, I dump a winter's weight of ash in my gardens (free source of nitrogen).