It is that time of the year when people will be burning wood in their stoves to knock the chill off the house and by noon some of them will have all of their windows and doors open to let out the excess heat generated by burning the wrong kind of wood.
I doubt that they would turn up the electric or gas heat that high, but they seem to think that using wood is a free source of heat.
For nearly all of us, it has been several generations since we have used wood as the sole source of heat in the house and the lack of experience shows in how people choose species of wood to burn and in how we use it.
Many folks seem to think that you have to burn oak or hedge to have a warm fire, but when you only have to knock off the chill in the morning, cottonwood is the best source of heat because it burns with less energy than oak and it dies off quickly. In the old days, people cooked over cottonwood in the summer for those very reasons.
You did not want to heat your entire house just to boil a pot of water or heat up some soup. The same goes for chilly mornings.
While oak is the gold standard for firewood, black locust is the platinum level.
Oak is generally slow growing, although I have seen exceptions where conditions were just right for fast growth.
On the other hand, black locust grows really fast compared to oak and it has half again as many Btu's as oak according to research conducted by Kansas State University. If you are looking for great firewood, choose black locust over oak.
Locust also splits more easily than oak as demonstrated by Abraham Lincoln when he was splitting locust to make fence rails.
It also grows faster and it sprouts new shoots every time that you cut it.
Because it is a legume, the young shoots are preferred by deer that will thin out the shoots from very many to just a few so that you may also harvest your meat from this tree.
In the spring, black locust flowers can sort of be heard because of the swarms of honey bees that gather to harvest the nectar and pollen from this tree legume.
The tree also spreads by roots that grow out into open fields so that you never have to plant this tree more than once in several life times if it is managed well.
As for the cost of firewood compared to oil, gas, or electric, I am betting that firewood is more expensive than all of the alternatives. Sure, you may have a ready source on your farm or someone is giving it away free, but how much gas or ethanol do you have to use to cut, split, and haul it to your house? At nearly $4 per gallon plus the cost to maintain a chain saw and splitter, that free firewood adds up pretty fast.
Page 2 of 2 - If you are burning that firewood in a fireplace and also heat your house with any other source, than your firewood is also pulling a draft of pre-heated air up the flue and that is costing you money, too.
If you are burning wood in a stove that does not get the heat up to the point where the fuel becomes a true gas and not just vapors and boiled water, than you are also wasting money.
Using firewood to heat and cook is a great idea, but it is not likely that it is the least expensive way to heat your house and it has the additional liability of being a fire hazard, for which you may also be paying an extra fee to your insurance company.
Burn wood if you must, but remember that it may not be the least expensive source of fuel and that there are differences in heat values of tree species. Use the best species for the appropriate time of year to save on your wood.
Or, make sure that you house is insulated very well and use a cleaner source of heat.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.