I got home from work on Monday to two large bags, stacked full with firewood. As our new home came with two tiny ovens in the toilet and bathroom, and was otherwise only supported by a fireplace, we knew we had to restock before winter arrived in earnest.
An air-to-air heat pump is on the list of upgrades we’ll do eventually. But since it was more critical to get some professionals to redo our electrical system, we will not get to it this winter.
So alas, we are stuck with roaring fire as our primary source of heat. It can get a bit nippy in the morning, but fire makes up for that with cosiness factor in spades.
Although sometimes, I must admit I am struck by the thought of “Who let these irresponsible millennials run amok with a whole half of a house? And with a fireplace, no less??”
But I digress.
In many ways, firewood and forests can be viewed as very similar to money and financial independence. If you don’t own your own forest, you will have to buy firewood from someone else.
On the other hand, if you own your own forest you could have a nice supply of firewood, so long as you manage your forest properly and don’t take out too much.
It’s no good taking out too much “cash” (AKA firewood) from your forest either. Firewood is best if it has a water content of around 10-20%. It might be tempting to take out as much firewood as possible to keep safe, but if you don’t use it for several years it might have lost some of its best heat capacity. Much like cash looses to inflation over time.
The relationship between firewood and forests is also an excellent example of why it is important to manage our planet responsibly, as opposed to just burning through resources like there’s no tomorrow.
If you cut down all your forest this year, you might earn a pretty penny selling wood. But what is going to keep you warm next year? Or the year after that? Forests take time to grow.
It should come as no surprise that a part of my dream and goal is to own enough land to support our household and then some. In both food and firewood. Ideally, we would have a forest (or areas we can re-forest) large enough so that the net carbon capture by the forest would exceed the net carbon release we supply by burning some of it.
We would probably supplement our energy consumption with solar and wind as well, but there is something more than heat provided by a dancing flame. Or perhaps that is just my Norwegian desire for “hygge” shining through?
But how do you go about acquiring firewood in the best possible way when you do not own your very own forest?
Stores and gas stations all over Norway start selling firewood in 60 L (16 gallon) plastic nets once temperatures start dropping in autumn.
While this might seem like the easiest way, it is by far the most expensive one. Prices often lie around 70 NOK ($8-9) per bag, and you’ll need several bags to last you over a winter.
How do we usually save money in this frugal world of ours? By buying in bulk. It works for firewood as it works for food. Buying in bulk directly from the farmer is the easiest and cheapest way to source a winter’s worth of firewood.
You might be amused by the unit firewood is sold in bulk for though. It is called a “favn” or fathom. Traditionally meant to indicate how much a grown man could “fathom” with both his arms outstretched. Along with “a man’s height”, “an arm’s length” and the foot, it is one of the oldest units of measure in Norway.
It has been standardized though. A fathom of wood is supposed to be 1000 L (264 gallons) of firewood, stacked or un-stacked. Usually pure birch or mixed.
Pro-tip: You can get a long way by asking what the mixed wood is made up of when you call around to find the best deal. Pine trees usually burn fast and don’t provide much heat per weight, but almost all leafy trees provide good, solid firewood.
I once read oak is the best, but who would take such lovely, expensive wood and throw it in the fire without building something out of it and using it for 100 years first???
For us, Mr. Frugasaurus was able to find a local vendor who wanted 600 NOK ($70-80) per fathom, with two fathoms as the minimum order when delivering (an extra 400 NOK) to us savage car-less barbarians. Hix mixed bag was mainly rowan, with some birch and beech tossed in. All dry and excellent firewood.
Which means that, even with delivery, we got 2000 L worth of wood for 1600 NOK. Buying the same amount of wood in small 60 L bags throughout winter would have cost us over 2300 NOK, plus the added anxiety of having a small storage in house and “what if we run out?”.
With our climate and willingness to put on woolen sweaters, my finger-in-the-air guesstimate (made from growing up chopping, stacking and burning wood) is that we should need about one fathom per winter. Meaning that, if we’re lucky, we have about two years worth of fuel currently sitting happily in our basement.
The best part of the whole ordeal is that the farmer wants the 1000 L bag back. They’re not cheap, and they can offer a better prize if most of them are returned. They might be plastic, but at least they are re-used.
Power outages are becoming more and more common. We have built a society which is fragile and used to 24/7 shops and take-out delivery.
This autumn, the Norwegian government actually saw the need to publish an emergency preparedness brochure. The whole thing smacked of second world war flyers, and one of the most important things is to make sure you have access to clean water (9 L per person, per day), food and, of course, a source of heat which is not based on electricity.
As they point out in the brochure: You can survive without food and water for three days, but a Norwegian winter can kill you in three hours. If the power goes out, you best have some alternatives.
So there’s that. Our move from apartment to old house has also made us more prepared and resilient to emergencies. We’re still not Frugal Pharmacists level prepared, but it is a definitive upgrade.
Plus there is a decent-sized stream with fresh water running just down the hill from our house. So we have that covered too.
I will not deny that part of my love for the fireplace is probably because I grew up with it. Most houses in Norway are equipped with one, even if they have other heat sources installed as well. We never really did make a national grid for gas for cooking and heating like in the UK and other places, so wood stayed on. We have copious amounts of forest too, and with careful management, they can keep lots of people warm.
Do you have a separate, non-electric source of heat if the power goes out? Do you even need one in your area? Or are you so central that you live by the assumption that they’ll get it fixed ASAP? Did you grow up with fireplaces and firewood? I’d love to hear fire related stories to keep me warm in the rapidly chilling season!