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The Economics of Firewood

Living Off Grid often means you are using some alternative method of heating your home.

Traditionally wood is seen as the most economical, but is it really cheaper than say propane?

Well lets do the math.

If you use 2000 litres of propane per year (roughly November to April) to heat your off grid home, at 75 cents per litre that comes out to $1,500.

To get the equivalent amount of heat from wood you would need 3 full bush cords for the same November to April time period. At $350 per bush cord (pretty standard rate in Ontario), you are looking at $1,050.

Okay, you saved yourself $450. That makes wood cheaper yes?

Technically, yes.

But what about time consumption?

Once you get those 3 full bush cords you also need to cut the wood with an axe or a mechanical log splitter and then pile up the wood.

Then whenever you need to carry the wood into your home to be used, you need to go through the whole process of carrying it in, lighting a fire in your fireplace or wood-burning stove, and then keep feeding the fire.

You also need to either brush snow off your wood pile regularly, or build a roof that goes over the wood pile, possibly with a large tarp to prevent snow from drifting / blowing in to your wood pile.

Clearly, wood is not the best option for lazy people.

So how much TIME is required to do all that extra work?

Well if you end up toting around wood, chopping it into kindling, etc for 30 minutes (at least 30 minutes minimum) each day, over the course of November 1st to April 30th (181 days) you will spend at least 90.5 hours per year doing all that work.

Is it exercise? Sure. And exercise is good for you.

But how much do you value your time?

Personally I see my time as being worth at least $30 per hour. That is the minimum rate I charge clients in both of my two businesses.

But maybe you only value your time at say, minimum wage. So $15 per hour in Ontario.

90.5 x $15 = $1,357.50

So is wood still cheaper?

$1357.50 for TIME + $1,050 for wood = $2407.50

As opposed to propane. You click a switch on the thermostat and the propane heat starts warming the place up. But you are saving $907.50 worth of your time by being lazy.

What if you cut the wood yourself?

Well first you need to determine how many cords of wood do you need during the colder months? Do you need 3, 4, 5 or 6?

A single person living in a small house might only need 3 cords. Two people or a family living in a larger house are going to need a lot more firewood.

You should also know how much a cord of firewood is:

4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet of wood.

So a single cord of wood might require you to cut down at least 3 large trees. (Or 2 very large trees.)

Really it depends on the size of the trees available...

So lets say you need 4 cords...

So that is 12 large trees that need to be cut down with a chainsaw, clean the branches and twigs off of it, cut the trunk and larger branches into logs with the chainsaw, and then split into smaller pieces suitable for burning, and then pile them in neatly in rows that you can use during the winter.

All of that is very time consuming. Cutting down a single large tree and processing it will take you about a day. Less time if you have help. So about 12 days to make 4 cords of wood.

Or you could just buy 4 cords of wood for $1,400 from the professionals who do it as a living.

You will also need:

Chainsaw + gasoline + an axe or mechanical wood splitter.

Minimum price of a gas chainsaw at Canadian Tire? $199.99 + HST. Highest price? $669.99 + HST.

Average price $434.99 for a gas chainsaw.

Plus 13% HST, so $491.54 total + however much gasoline you end up using. Lets say $500 even.

Plus repair costs whenever it breaks down, say once every 3 years. Or buy a new chainsaw every so many years. Whichever. Lets assume the cheaper chainsaw breaks more often than the more expensive ones.

So you do all of this work, the cost of the chainsaw is still $500, and you only really saved $900 instead of just buying 4 cords of firewood from your local professional woodcutter.

What about the Trees on your property?

Really depends how many trees you have on your small/medium/large property.

If you have a tiny property you might not be able to cut down 12 large trees each year without seriously effecting your privacy and the general sense of beauty/pride you have in your property.

A very large property might have ample trees that come down during windstorms that you really only need to collect the trees that fall down naturally and cut them up.

Can you just do a mix of both firewood and propane?

Absolutely. Sounds awesome.

You could simply have firewood for your fireplace and wood-burning stove, which you use for cooking/preparing food, and then use propane most of the time or whenever you feel lazy. Having both options available is certainly a thing to do.

Conclusions???

You really should do what is right for your situation.

You are the best judge as to whether you want to be spending your time getting exercise by collecting firewood or whether you would prefer to just buy propane. Or a mix of the two. There is nothing wrong with doing one, the other, or a mix of both.

Is propane lazier? Of course it is. But it also saves you a lot of time and effort.

So you have to ask yourself, which option is better for you?

Personally, I like having all my options available if I need to. A mix of the two works well for me. The romance of the fireplace, the convenience of the propane heater.


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