It's our second winter on the homestead and one of the biggest priorities for me was to figure out how we would stay warm without spending a lot of money. Electricity is expensive in our area, which means our electric furnace costs a fortune to run. Originally our 1940s-era house had an oil furnace. An electric furnace was installed about 15 or more years ago, and while it runs great, we'd rather not turn it on much, if at all. So here we now are, trying to figure out the best and least-expensive ways to stay warm while living in a rambling two-story 3,800 square foot house.
Last winter we installed a pellet stove in our living room. The pellet stove does a great job of heating both the formal dining room and living room. This past summer we put in a Jotul wood stove in the Corral (our den / man-cave), which heats that room very well but doesn't do much to help warm up the rest of the house. Meanwhile, the entire second floor of the house where our bedrooms are located are bitterly cold now that winter is here and we've left the heating system off. But, we've got a plan, which I'll get to in a moment...but first, let me tell you about how to heat with a wood stove for free!
If you have a community trail nearby and can hook up with those who maintain it, a possible source of free firewood is found in the cleanup of recently fallen trees. Along the banks of Morse Creek where we live, there are a number of mature alder trees. Strong winds this autumn knocked down several, and apparently this happens every year. Our homeowners association offered the trees up to anyone who wanted them as a way to help clean up the fallen trees that were crossing the walking paths near the creek. My husband took advantage of this offer and went out with his jeep and trailer.
We ended up adding to our woodpile quite a few logs from two different alder trees that had fallen. There was enough wood that needed further splitting that we decided to invest in a wood splitter.
As a stay-at-home dad, this has been a nice chore for him to spend his afternoons cutting and stacking firewood. The firewood from the fallen alders needs to cure, and so it won't be used until next year.
Wood that we are able to use this year came from other sources, mainly people we'd met through Craigslist who had listed wood for sale from trees that they'd taken down in their yards as part of construction or landscape projects this past summer. Another offer on Craigslist was from a man who was moving and wanted to get rid of a pile of firewood he had next to his house. From these, we've spent about $30 total and managed to accumulate enough seasoned firewood to use this year.
One whole side of our property is now taken up with wood piles and our wood splitting area.
Meanwhile, there is still the question of how to keep warm in our upstairs bedrooms at night. Initially, I'd thought that a couple of small space heaters would solve the issue, but it turns out that our old wiring does not supply enough amps to run two small space heaters upstairs at once. And not only that, the wall outlets are so few and far between that you can't put a space heater in a spot that helps. So like an idiot, I plugged a space heater into an extension cord. After a couple hours I noticed the cord had gotten really hot (thankfully the old wiring scares me enough that I checked on it). I'm lucky I didn't burn the house down. Lesson learned: you're not supposed to plug space heaters into extension cords because they draw more amperage than an extension cord can deliver which creates a serious fire risk. I wonder how many other people don't know that. I sure didn't know this was the case until discovering how hot the extension cord became and asking my husband about it. He was horrified I'd tried to do that.
Anyway...back to trying to keep warm at night. The solution for us (for now) is to use heated blankets on our beds. Set on low, they keep us warm all night. We purchased blankets with the highest safety ratings. The blankets use very little electricity.
The other way we're managing to live in our cold house is by wearing warmer clothing. No more running around barefoot in t-shirts and shorts while in the house in winter. We're wearing thermal underwear, socks, slippers, and sweaters. There are days when I also consider putting mittens and a knitted hat on. I'd rather wear warmer clothes, though, than receive $500 monthly PUD bills like we did our first year here.