Family and friends text or call us all the time with, “hope you’re staying warm up there!” When we first moved here, staying warm was definitely a main priority, and we made our house a home with our awesome woodstove: Johnny.
Last Winter was a learning curve with fires and woodstove heat, plus we had to purchase our firewood and some of it wasn’t seasoned completely. We often had nights last year that sweated us out of the cabin! Because once he’s all fired up and hot, that stove gives off heat for hours and hours without even adding any more wood to it. Since we had little control over our firewood situation last year, as far as how dry it was, the length and size of the pieces, and what type of wood, we had a harder time keeping our heat consistent, though we still stayed nice and warm.
This Winter has been much better. We cut, split, and seasoned all of our own firewood, so we had control over the size of the pieces and we know exactly how long and how well each batch has been able to dry. I used to work for the Forest Service, and fought wildfires for a couple of seasons, but I feel like I’ve learned more about fire just from having a woodstove than I did fighting fire. We have a good routine for building and maintaining our fires every night to keep us warm and comfortable: not cold and shivering OR sweating and miserable! Ok, every once in awhile we still sweat ourselves out…
How we keep ourselves warm:
- I have learned never to underestimate the importance of various sizes of good, dry, and plentiful kindling. From newspaper to cardboard to small split pieces of firewood. There’s no easier way to start a good fire than to have a succession of kindling of all sizes. You can’t put a big piece of wood on a crumpled piece of newspaper, just like you can’t just light a match under a piece of wood and expect it to go. Kindling is the shit. Especially when you’re just getting home from work and it’s cold in the house.
- Type of wood is very important. We have figured out a pattern of types of wood throughout the evening to heat the cabin quickly, then keep it warm through the night. We start our fires in the late afternoon with pine. Pine burns hot and fast. We’ll leave the damper on the stove completely open so that fire gets nice and hot right when we’re starting to warm up the house.
- Depending on how cold it is outside, we’ll burn pine or juniper while we’re still awake, adjusting the sizes of pieces to keep us warm but not sweating. We always have three windows cracked; two downstairs and one upstairs. Helps with oxygen flow. We also do all of our Winter cooking over the woodstove, so burning pine gets it hot quickly so we can make dinner and warm the house at the same time.
- Right before bed, we’ll add oak to the fire. Oak burns slow, and we are fortunate to have a ton of it around our property. So we were able to harvest a ton of it last Spring. Buying cords of oak is very expensive ($250/cord), twice the amount that pine costs ($125/cord, and that’s early in the season, during Fall and Winter it’s more like $175/cord), so being able to cut and split our own is awesome. And we will go through approximately 2 cords this Winter.
- I have an alarm set on my phone for midnight every night, and if it feels chilly in the house, one of us *might* get up to add more oak to the fire. Those few pieces of oak pretty much keep the cabin cozy all night long. If we don’t have to go to work, we’ll get up around 5 or 6am to start the fire back up and put the kettle on, crawl back into bed for an hour or so, and by the time we get up we have hot water for tea or coffee and the cabin is warm and comfortable. It’s a good system.
So we find it kind of amusing when people almost sarcastically ask us, “so you freezing up there?” or “are you staying warm up there?”, like we live in an ice box or something. Or like we live so primitively that we couldn’t possibly be comfortable in the Winter. I have friends who keep their homes at 55 or 60 degrees because otherwise their heating bill is too expensive. I remember when R and I had $200/month heating bill during the Winter in Utah. Now, we keep our cabin at a comfortable 70 or 75 (whatever we want, really), for free.
And let’s be honest, you just can’t beat the atmosphere of sitting in front of a woodstove fire with a glass of wine or whiskey, while dinner cooks over the fire, and zero manmade sounds outside. Just the woods. So yes, we are staying quite warm, thank you 🙂