As fall ushers in cooler weather, people all over the county are turning up thermostats and firing up their electric and gas furnaces.
An increasing number of people have turned back the clock to rely on the same heat source used by early settlers — wood, burned in stoves, furnaces, and fireplace inserts.
For J.D. Bauman, who lives southwest of Marion, burning wood for heat is a three-decades-old practice.
“I’ve been doing it 27 years in this place,” Bauman said. “This is the third wood stove I’ve had in this house.”
Bauman turned to wood as a cost-saving move when using propane for heat became too expensive.
“I had friends that were doing it, living in old farmhouses and using the old-style potbellied stoves,” Bauman said.
“It’s a nice heat — it seems to warm you to the bone,” Bauman said.
While Bauman is a veteran of wood heating, his neighbors, Scott and Shana Thornhill, are newcomers to it, starting their second season of using the wood furnace that is their home’s primary heating source.
“It’s our first experience with wood burning,” Shana said. “We knew how to build a fire, but it’s a matter of keeping it going long enough and making enough heat to come up here.”
The Thornhills have affectionately dubbed the wood furnace with elaborate ductwork in their basement “the monster.”
“I think it’s growing,” Shana joked. “I keep thinking I’m going to find new ducts and pipes one of these days.”
“One of these days you might,” Scott laughed.
Alex Case is among those who use a fireplace insert to supplement their primary heating sources.
“It’s kind of a nice ambience thing,” Case said, “but when it’s really cold it’s nice to have a fire.”
While they use different types of wood heat sources, Bauman, Case, and the Thornhills share a common characteristic. All cut the wood they use themselves.
Bauman noted those who are interested in burning wood as a cost-saving measure should take into consideration the costs of cutting wood.
“You’re going to have to have a pickup, you have to have a chain saw, you have to have the time,” Bauman said.
“And plenty of ambition,” he added.
Unlike Bauman, who works with local farmers to obtain his wood from hedge rows needing to be cut out or trees needing to be trimmed, the Thornhill property has all of the trees they need to fuel their furnace.
“Scott goes down with his chain saw — he loves his chain saw — brings the wood back up and splits it by hand,” Shana said. “He insists he wants to split it by hand. The kids want to help, and they actually help him.”
All agree hedge is the wood that provides the hottest heat.
“Hedge is the clear-cut hottest wood there is to burn,” Case said.
“The nice thing about hedge is that you can throw a big log on at night and in the morning when you wake up you have a nice bed of coals,” Bauman said.
Heating effectively with wood is much more complex than simply tossing another log on the fire, Bauman said.
“You have to really pay attention to what time of the year it is, what kind of wood you’re burning, and how big the pieces are you’re putting in,” Bauman said. “This time of year I burn ash or hackberry. I burn hedge a lot when it’s really cold.”
While Bauman has the benefit of years of experience, the Thornhills have been learning as they go.
“We’re still learning what kind of wood to burn and how to burn it,” Shana said. “We’ve just been doing hit and miss. ‘Oh, it’s cold this morning, we need to try something different tomorrow.’”
Chimney maintenance is a critical component of wood heating, one the Thornhills learned unexpectedly.
“It was one of those really, really cold days, and all of a sudden the smoke started billowing out of the vents,” Shana said. “We had forgotten to clean out the grate on the top of the chimney.”
“A lot of people will burn wood that’s not seasoned,” Case said. “That’s what causes all the creosote that builds up in your chimney.”
Bauman suggested creosote buildup is also more likely when fires are cooler.
“I clean my pipe at least two or three times a year,” Bauman said.
The type of pipe used to vent a wood stove also makes a difference in the amount of creosote buildup.
“The good ones you look for are the ones where the pipe goes straight up from the stove through the roof,” Case said.
Bauman discovered one kind of pipe worked better for his stove than another.
“I put triple-wall pipe on the first stove I had. It was cooling down too fast and caused a lot of creosote and I had to clean it a lot,” Bauman said. “People said use insulated double-wall pipe, and it works much better with my stove.”
Regardless of the type of heating unit, all indicated burning wood provides pleasure beyond any savings.
“It’s something satisfying, and I’m not even the one that splits the logs,” Shana said. “There’s just nothing like going out on a cold winter morning and smelling smoke.”