You may be wondering how many cords of wood for the winter you need for your wood burning stove especially if your home, cottage, farmhouse or off the grid cabin are rural.
If you are new to using a wood burning stove for heat, this question can be somewhat intimidating. How do you figure out the amount of wood you will need for the entire winter? How much should you have to not run the risk of running out mid-way through the winter?
The answer is not so straightforward. It isn’t so much an exact science but rather an art that depends on some specific factors. You will be better at determining the right amount once you have more experience using heat from a wood burning stove.
What’s a cord of wood?
Typically, firewood is measured and sold by cords, 1 cord of wood measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet which makes the size of a cord of wood equal to 128 cubic feet.
You might need to know how many pieces of wood in a cord if you are getting firewood, preparing to stack your own wood, or maybe just curious.
A full cord of wood usually consists of 600-800 pieces of split wood. That makes it 200-275 pieces in a face cord. Cords of wood are measured by the volume of the wood, so the number of pieces can vary depending on how it is split and the type of wood you are using.
When measuring by cords, if you decide you need 3 and ½ cords for the winter, round it up to the next full cord to be certain you don’t fall short in those remaining cold months. If you tend to burn less wood or are using a wood burning stove as a second way to heat, then a face cord of wood, which is one-third of a full cord should do it.
Factors that influence how many cords of wood for the winter
Now you know how wood is measured and sold, you should be able to better calculate how many cords of wood for the winter you will need. Below are some factors to take into consideration:
The climate and winter temperatures where you live have a key role in determining how much firewood you will need. Northern areas tend to have colder and longer winters, so if you live in those areas, you will need more wood than someone living in a more southern region.
The season for burning wood can begin as early as September and continue into May, depending on where you are located. Also, you may want to consider how a rather cold winter may increase the need for firewood. It is always best to lean toward having too much wood than not enough.
Sources of heat
Is burning wood your main source of heat? If you heat your home mainly with propane, gas or electric and your wood burning stove is merely a backup, then your amount of firewood will be a lot less than someone using firewood for their main source of heat.
How often you use the fireplace will also influence the usage of wood. If you don’t live on the property year-round, then the usage of wood will not be as much as someone that lives there year-round. Also, take into consideration how much time is actually spent in your cottage or home.
Square footage is another factor to consider for how much wood you will need. Of course, the bigger the area, the more energy is needed to heat it. For example, a 3,000 square foot home will need a lot more firewood than a 800 square foot cottage.
Insulation is a key factor regarding heating when using a wood stove. If the home is well insulated, it makes a huge difference in terms of trapping the heat and keeping your home warm.
You can improve the insulation of your home by replacing older windows with newer more energy efficient ones, fix doorways or window frames that are drafty and repair or replace any damaged or old insulation.
Your firewood use is impacted by your efficiency and output of your stove. More modern wood burning stoves are more efficient in regards to the output of heat for every piece of wood you burn.
Newer wood burning stoves have an efficiency level between 60% and 90%. This is particularly the case when comparing them with wood burning in an open fireplace, where a large amount of heat is typically lost through the chimney.
When storing your wood, you need to consider how much space you have to keep it out of the elements. DIY storage pallets, covered with a tarp, garage, or storage shed all work well to keep your wood protected from rain, snow, and ice.
If your wood is not stored properly, it will absorb moisture which will make it burn poorly in your log burning stove. So, prepare your storage areas prior to buying cords of wood.
Kind of wood
The type of wood has a huge impact on how efficiently your wood burns and how it heats your home. Typically, hardwoods are better than softwoods, as they seem to burn at a slower rate and make less smoke.
Softwoods are less dense than hardwoods, that’s why you need a hardwood which will result in a cleaner burn and it requires less tending to and has less soot buildup and ash. When heating an indoor space, you need to have a slow and low burning rate.
You can use softwoods for heat, however, they come with some cons that make them not the best choice for firewood. You will go through more wood as they tend to burn faster and yet you get the same amount of heat. These types if fires require more attention, making them not the best option for staying warm throughout the night.
A lot of smoke will happen during burning when using softwoods. It is alright when making a fire outside, not so much for a fire in your indoor fireplace or wood stove. You will have ash and soot buildup in the chimney, requiring more cleaning and maintenance.
Hardwoods cone from the following trees:
Softwoods come from the following tress:
How much moisture is in your wood? This is another factor to consider. When wood is correctly dried out, it is called seasoned wood. That puts it below 10% of moisture.
Best choice for burning wood in a wood stove or fireplace is seasoned wood. There are times you will end up with wood that is between green wood and seasoned wood. This can most likely happen if you are cutting and drying your own wood.
Green firewood is wood freshly cut and has not had anytime to go through the drying process. It usually contains up to 50% moisture. You will hear a bunch of crackling and hissing sounds as it is burning. This is due to the moisture that is trapped and needs to evaporate before it can burn correctly. If possible, avoid using green wood as it is not efficient and causes buildup of creosote in your chimney.
If you have read this far, you probably have a better understanding of the factors that influence the use of firewood. However, it still may be unclear how to adapt that into a real-life scenario. Below are some examples of real-life situations to help demonstrate how you can determine how many cords of wood for the winter you will need.
1000 Sf. Cottage
Say you own a newer 1000 square foot cottage in Vermont that is heated mainly with a wood stove but also has gas heat as well. You would need to heat it every day in the evenings and on weekends and it is in pretty good condition regarding insulation. Also, the wood stove is newer and higher efficiency.
New England, especially, northern areas have cold, snowy, long winters with temperatures that can go below freezing for several months.
For this situation, you will most likely go through two to three cords of wood for the winter season. Taking into consideration how warm or cold the winter is, this can vary. It’s always better to get too much firewood than not enough.
2000 Sf. Rural Home
If you have a 2000 square foot home that is older, say in Michigan that is heated mostly with two wood burning stoves, you would need to heat the home for the entire day, as most likely people will be in the home during the day. Being that the home is older, it’s possible that the insulation is not in the best condition, along with some gaps in the doors and windows. Both wood burning stoves are newer and of higher efficiency.
Michigan has many snowy, cold winter nights for at least three months or more with temperatures getting below freezing. Although temperatures can be weakened by the slow cooling lakes, but you will experience lots of snow. For this situation, you will need 6-8 cords of firewood. Again, this can vary depending on the weather, but it should prepare you nicely for the winter months.