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Friday, 12 October 2018

Wood - energy costs and pros and cons

I must admit I was a wood novice before I moved here - in the UK, logs came in a sack and were for Christmas as an illegal supplement to the smokeless coal I normally used in my London Edwardian fireplace. Here, firewood provides the Autumn interest. The people of the valley take long walks on the hillside paths, estimating the size and quality of their neighbours' wood reserves. In Africa, wealth may be measured in goats; here, it's the size of your timber stacks. This week they've been thick as flies on the church road as I've been working - and having to answer several queries a day about (a) how much I paid for my bulk logs (b) who from (c) wood condition and quality. The consensus is that this year I've paid neither too little nor too much, and most have nodded in quiet satisfaction that their nephew / brother in law / wife's sister's mother could have got the same a little cheaper. All my heating, cooking and hot water comes from wood - so how does it figure out?

An invaluable guide for the obsessional is the Wood Fuels Handbook pdf. I'll cut to the chase. 

I use only air dry red beech - which given the very dry alpine air here, samples out at between 11% and 14% moisture content. It burns hot and clean and with little ash residue. I buy it split but uncut for a cost of about £66 per srm or bulk cubic metre, containing around 400kg of wood. Each m3 is equivalent to around 1,850 kWh, so a cost of about 3.6p per kWh - comparable to gas and oil in the Uk at about 4p per kWh. However, the pros and cons are significant

Cons
====
- You have to feed the stoves. I have a 23kW central heating range cooker and a 7kW oven in the Winter living room. Each day you need to carry fuel indoors, and feed the beasts every 30/40 minutes. And no, you can't turn it on remotely with your i-phone at the airport so the house is hot when you get home. 

- You need to plan. You can't burn wood on a low setting - it buggers the flues and creates tar deposits. You need a high temperature burn, so you need to capture the heat in a thermal store which then supplies radiators and underfloor heating. Cooking and living need planning. 

- You need to clean the ash out and dispose of it daily.  

- You need somewhere to store it. 

Pros
====
- The smell of woodsmoke - as Austrian as a dirndl. I love it. 

- You don't have to pay what I do. Many in the valley scavenge wood for free or buy standing wood from the Austrian equivalent of the forestry commission for very little. Your tree is marked with a number, and it's up to you to fell it and remove it. The local Council doesn't bother clearing fallen branches - every home has a chainsaw*, and they disappear rapidly

- In a fuel emergency you can burn any dry wood in the stoves - floorboards, furniture ...

- Having all your winter fuel in advance, safe from strikes, Putin, price rises etc is wonderfully reassuring.

Ready for Winter ...
* and a rifle. Even sweet old ladies will have a Moisin-Nagant and 200 rounds in the hall cupboard. Like the US, Austrians have a right to bear arms - except pistols and semi-auto weapons. Unlike the US, they very rarely shoot eachother.

8 comments:

jack ketch said...

Um so ein Dirndl zu tragen, braucht man schon ordentlich Holz vor der Hütte.

The phrase "Logs infront of the hut" is a euphemism for 'bosom' . Not a lot of people know that. So that quote above means "inorder to wear a traditional Austrian dress (dirndl) one needs big tits"

Whilst we're on the subject of fire wood and Austrian.

Thud said...

I lost an extremely large beech and an oak here over summer so I reckon I have a minimum of 3-4 years on the floor to cut, spare chains, petrol and splitter do add a little cost so not exactly free but good enough.

Andrew Scarborough said...

I have supplies of hornbeam, ash and beech for about two years. Plenty of coal and smokeless nuggets too. Can't light a fire though, smoke finds its way into my neighbour's house. Spring priority is to have flue liner and cast iron stove fitted, may even get it done this autumn. I hate paying for wood, scavenging over the year provides most of what's needed, supplemented by a little coal.

right-writes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
right-writes said...

So you are very green then Raedwald... I know this.

The UK has converted Drax, the former coal fired power station to wood which it ships all the way from Canada in retired tea clippers...

... Or maybe I have that wrong, maybe they are using heavy (crude) oil burning bulk carriers.

But still green... Government green.

Like the firearms, and the wood, we poor messed up immigrant infested Blighty have had everything removed and soon we will have everything else removed too.

My motivation for leaving the EU has always been that we can then start on breaking the bureaucratic stranglehold caused by our own bunch of government thugs, through direct democracy.

The way things look now though, the only way is out.

(Previous comment deleted, forgot to name and shame Drax)

Dave_G said...


I live in a forest and pay £50/year for a scavanging licence that provides all my heating. All I need to do now is finish my micro hydro system.... Smug? You bet!

Cuffleyburgers said...

My firewood is free, mostly pine but in quantity and dried over the course of a hot tuscan summer produces plenty of heat.

I save the olive wood for the barbecue although the biggest bits are good for the main fire during the coldest weeks of the year.

Chainsaw? Check.

Rifle? Check

No intention of going back to sad old betrayed blighty, where you are ot allowed to get a decent pizza.

For christs sake.

Domo said...

Small stove in the front room of the last house, burnt anything I could scavenge, handy if you have a friendly local tree chopper, or live near some woodland of dubious ownership.
I found it simplest to burn branches, rather than logs, if I couldnt snap it by standing on it, it wasnt worth the effort, but I only had a small stove for fun