keeping warm

This winter may have been a mild one, but it still had a steep learning curve as far as heating and winter preparations go.

We moved in May 20th, 2011.  We had no idea that you’re supposed to order your winter’s wood as early as February (some even say two years in advance for good seasoned wood).  A move is never cheap so purchasing the $825 dollars worth of wood never seemed do-able.  We figured we would use up the remaining wood left by the previous owner along with the huge branch that had fallen off of an old Pine beside the house, and then use the propane furnace the majority of the time.  It wasn’t ideal, but we were ill-prepared and we would make do.

In October another large portion of the great pine came down.  She took out power lines and snapped the hydro pole.  We’re grateful that, with one last glance to make sure there were no children or people playing beneath her branches, she leaned hard toward the road and came down with a whisper.  The remaining third that remained was headed for our house so we had it taken down for $600, but the agreement was that they take the wood for their own use.

Then we had our insurance guy come for house inspection and he found that the WETT certificate we were provided with at the time of the sale wasn’t even for the current woodstove.  It was fraud on the sellers part, but we were on the hook for it because it wasn’t worth taking them to court over.  The pipe went through the log wall with barely 2 inches clearance when it needed 16 or 18 inches.  So in order to make it safe and insurable we had to fork out another $530 for the repair and new WETT certificate.  At least then we could use our stove safely.

That same week we had our second propane delivery of $600.  The first one was $400.  They come every 6 weeks.  We have been trying to use the woodstove as often as possible, but with wet, punky wood and barely seasoned pine, it made it tricky to keep the fire going if you were even able to start it.  We used it mainly in the late afternoon until we went to bed and the rest was taken care of with the propane furnace.

Then it was February so it was time to order our huge load of logs for $825 which now sits on our front lawn taunting us.  The wood guy still had some seasoned hardwood so we ordered a truckload of that for $100.

All in all, we’ve paid out $1400 for propane which was set at 65* all winter and we have a ways to go before winter lifts.

We’ve spent only $100 for the seasoned wood which may or may not see us through to the end March.

The $825 worth of logs needs to be cut, split and piled so it is seasoned for next winter and we’re hoping it might even see us through two winters, but like I said, the learning curve is steep and we won’t know for sure until we’re there.  Our goal is to use wood all the time and only let the furnace kick in overnight and when we’re away.

Oh, but did I mention that our furnace conked out at 2 am this past Saturday morning.  It was minus 12.  We have been sleeping in the living room in order to be able to keep it going through the night.  It is shaping up to be another $400 to repair it, but we won’t know until it is done sometime today.

So we have a yard FULL of wood, but the majority of it won’t help us until next year.

When we lived in town we had a simple gas fireplace which heated the whole house without duct work.  It was stifling hot upstairs and cold downstairs.  We were on equal billing so we paid $150 per month all year.  That is $1800 per year.  Two weeks before moving, the blower in it conked out and we had to fork out another $500 for the next owner.  Hoping we would be given the same courtesy.

Depending on how long winter hangs on we’re not doing too bad considering this is a bigger house.  I think we’ll need heat until the end of April at least.  So we’re likely looking at another $400 to $600 for propane and maybe even another load of seasoned wood.  Ouch.

I have visions of closing off the large new addition and living in the old cabin during the winters so we don’t have to heat it.  It would be a fairly involved job of creating a kitchen in our living room, but I like the idea of a cozy little room where we cook and eat and live just like the settlers did.  I am not sure we’ll ever do it.

Either way, we should be better prepared next year.  We hope.

Now we just need to buy a chain saw, safety gear, and a saw in hopes of getting that wood cut up before too long.  Oh, and Mike needs to learn how to use a chainsaw safely.  No biggy.  Oh, and rather than getting an income tax return this year, we owe the government $300.  We were kind of counting on that imaginary lump of money to cushion us a bit.  Not this year, I guess.

Needless to say, winter has drained us financially, mentally and physically, but I guess that’s how it goes when you live through long Ontario winters.

Winters in the north are a little rough and fairly expensive when you don’t know what you’re doing.  We are constantly splitting and bringing in more wood, but it is good work and needed exercise.  It connects us, ever so slightly, to to people who fell the giants trees that now make our walls.  We won’t need a gym membership or to take time to run if we work with the rugged land.  I like the idea of life being more basic.  Less stuff more life.  Using our bodies more and machines less.  But it is a fine balance and takes good time management skills.  And I won’t lie, I wish was a little more affordable, but everything seems to be a matter of short term pain for long term gain.

Here’s hoping mother nature takes mercy on our bank account.


go gently + be wonderful


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  1. Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:06 am by KC | Permalink

    Thank you for that sobering look into heating an old log cabin. The idea of living in the woods in a cabin is so romantic to someone( ie me) who lives in the desert where heating is never a problem. Cooling on the other hand… This life style isn’t easier, but it is more satisfying.

  2. Posted March 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm by heather | Permalink

    hello! i came across your space via rythym of the home. i’m in the US but i figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw it out there- here we can get permits from our state department of environmental protection to harvest wood. a friend of ours heats exclusively by wood stove, and with a $30 USD permit he harvested about 2 years worth of wood. it is a labor of love for hime, he is doing all of the cutting, hauling, splitting. but financially it is a near miracle as delivered wood down here is also very pricey. just a thought! here’s to spring bringing prosperity!

  3. Posted March 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm by Margie | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to read of your winter-time struggles! I have lived in Southern California all my life and it never occured to me what people go through to stay warm in the North! Your post really opened my eyes and I send good karma for a little winter mercy.

  4. Posted March 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm by Earthenwitch | Permalink

    There is nothing like not having enough wood, is there? Our house is exclusively heated by a woodstove, so there’s no back-up except a fairly horribly expensive electric plug-in heater if we needed it, and we have had a couple of winters where we’d not got the wood sorted in time and ended up burning wet wood either because it wasn’t seasoned properly or because it had literally got wet in our utterly useless woodshed. Fortunately, this is mostly past now (though hopefully this is the year when we’ll build our small barn for wood storage and for the saw bench); we’ve got better at remembering in the summer that it’ll be a lifesaver in the winter, and setting time aside for chopping and stacking wood.

    Hope the weather is mild for you!

  5. Posted March 13, 2012 at 8:55 am by Willow | Permalink

    a couple sayings for you about firewood:
    “you can judge a man (or woman) by the size of his woodpile”
    “fire wood warms you up three times, once when you cut it, once when you haul it, once when you burn it”
    we heated our place (a housebus) one year cutting all our firewood by hand with a tiny folding saw. it was kind of rediculous but you make do. it wasn’t the most comfortable winter, our place was often pretty chilly, but it felt good!

    • Posted March 13, 2012 at 9:06 am by erin | Permalink

      This is so great!
      I would like to make a canvas out of those quotes…hmmm.
      We can’t afford a chainsaw right now so we are likely going to cut what we can by hand with saw and then between a friend and my dad perhaps we can get the really big ones cut too…
      Thanks for the encouraging words 😉

  6. Posted March 13, 2012 at 10:25 am by Misty Pratt | Permalink

    My hubby got his chainsaw certification about 10 years ago, and despite the fact that we live in suburban Ottawa, he’s itching to saw down the ugly tree in our front yard. So watch out for your husband…he may become chainsaw happy :) Sorry for all your financial woes…I hope the spring/summer brings you some relief!!

  7. Posted March 13, 2012 at 11:06 am by Margot | Permalink

    Erin, I’m sorry it has been such a difficult winter. I promise it will get easier. When I lived in Newfoundland many people heated with a wood furnace, and although it was a lot of work it is a much more comfortable heat. And seasoned hardwood will create a much warmer and longer lasting fire, so you’re on your way to an easier and less expensive winter. You could try bringing in extra wood, and setting it up near the fire to help dry it out before you use it.

    Perhaps you need to find some friends with chainsaws/knowledge to come help you out with the cutting of all those large logs! I’ll be thinking about you, and sending happy warm thoughts your way :)

  8. Posted March 16, 2012 at 7:47 am by Linnea | Permalink

    I hear you on winter heating woes.
    We do the portioning of the house thing.
    It’s a bit crammed and takes good effort but can work. I think it gets us outside more too and when we put everything back in April it makes for a delightful spring clean. My only disclaimer is that we do this for just 4 months and have managed to live in a cutaway van so a kitchen and bedroom seems like extra. :-)
    (we portioned so that we lived in our kitchen & 1 bedroom, leaving main bedroom, office, and living room unheated)

    • Posted March 16, 2012 at 10:26 am by erin | Permalink

      Glad to hear we’re not the only ones actually thinking of closing off part of the house!
      I think it will be worth it for us even though we would have to make a kitchen in our living room including buying a stove, and moving some plumbing …I might just want to keep it that way and use the back part for storage or extra…hhmmm.
      Thanks for sharing!

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