Despite the prevalence of electric and natural gas heating, old-fashioned wood heat is still a standby for much of the world and throughout the United States.
In a fireplace or in a wood stove, heating a home with wood is reliable and a dependable option for primary or supplementary heating alike.
But unlike electric and typical natural gas heat, your fuel source will be distinctly limited by the amount of firewood you have on hand.
Running out in the middle of a cold spell or, worse, in the middle of winter would be disastrous. So, how much wood do you need to heat a house?
You’ll need anywhere from 4 to 6 cords, or approximately 525 to 750 cubic feet, of firewood to heat an average 2,000 sqft home through the winter.
Calculating fuel costs for heating is always tricky because there are so many factors involved, and it can be even trickier since wood is an imprecise fuel for many people. There are also ways to get free wood for your stockpile that won’t impact your budget.
However, you better get these estimates right if you want to budget appropriately and, more importantly, and sure that you have enough wood to make it through the winter. I’ll tell you everything you need to know in the rest of this article.
How Much Wood Your House Will Need Depends on Several Factors
Most conversations about firewood for household heating revolve around the type of wood you are using.
While it is true that different species of wood have different BTU ratings for the total amount of heat they produce, this is actually far less important than other factors in the equation when it comes to heating your home effectively. Factors like:
- The size of your home
- Your lifestyle inside your home
- The weather in your area
- The type of wood-burning appliance you are using (and its efficiency)
- The insulation factor of the structure
All of these are far more important when it comes to effective heating than the type of wood you are burning.
By understanding these factors and learning how to effectively assess your home, or any other structure relying on what heat, you’ll be able to come up with a reliably accurate figure for how much wood you’ll need.
Remember: All Houses are Unique!
Before we go any further, you must understand one crucial “X factor” in this equation: every home, more or less, is unique.
There is no clear-cut formula that you can rely on based on measurements, age of the home, and things like that when it comes to determining how much wood is needed to reliably heat it. It is more art than science.
In this regard, nothing beats the experience of actually living and using wood heat in the home.
If you’ve lived in a home for any length of time, you’ll begin to understand instinctively how much wood you will need based on the forecast for the winter or the cold season.
This, of course, is no help at all if you are brand new to living in the home, or are installing a wood-burning appliance in your existing home.
Even so, there is a solution for this: If you are moving into a new home, ask the previous occupants if at all possible how much wood they needed for the winter, and when they typically started using their stove or fireplace.
If you are installing a wood-burning appliance in your own home, find someone else in your neighborhood with a home that approximates yours in age and design that also uses wood heat and ask them how much firewood they use and under what conditions.
An informed real-world baseline is worth pages and pages of figuring and prognostication.
Keeping that in mind, let’s move on to the various factors you’ll need to understand to start getting a handle on heating your home with wood.
How Big is Your Home?
One of the first and most obvious factors concerning the wood heating of your home is the size of the structure itself and the layout of the rooms.
There are a few rules of thumb here that you can rely on: the bigger the home, the more wood you will need to heat it.
The taller your home is, the more wood you will need. And the bigger the rooms are, the more wood you will need.
Bigger is definitely not better, here, because to effectively warm a larger home you will usually need multiple fireplaces or stoves, and that means you’re consuming two or even three times as much wood to constantly heat the whole thing.
It is much easier, and far cheaper, to heat a small cabin with a fireplace or stove.
The way you occupy the structure also matters: if the whole family is willing to spend much of their waking hours in or adjacent to the room with the fireplace or stove, you won’t need to burn as much wood.
If everyone wants to spread out through the house normally, you’re going to need more.
Are You Willing to Dress Warmly?
Another factor concerning how you live in your home is how you dress in your home, or rather how you are willing to dress.
If you want to walk around in your PJs or underwear, you’re going to need to burn your fireplace or stove full blast to stay comfortable in the winter.
But if you’re willing to bundle up with a sweater, warm pants, socks, and slippers you’ll stay far more comfortable with less ambient heat from the fire.
Consider that burning your stove or fireplace around the clock is going to consume a ton of wood no matter where you live and no matter how harsh, or mild, the winter actually is.
I won’t say it can’t be done or that you shouldn’t do it, only that your unwillingness to dress warmly in your own home for the season is going to cost you a lot.
What’s the Weather Like in Your Area?
Another major factor that will be at the forefront of most homeowners’ minds is the overall climate in their area.
Simply stated, if you live in a place that is cold all the time or has notoriously harsh, brutal winters, you’re going to need a ton of firewood.
On the other hand, mild winters require less firewood, all things being equal.
This is also on something of a curve, because when the days start getting shorter and the nights get longer and colder your house will remain reasonably comfortable with less heat.
You’ll have sporadic days of light usage before you have more days of longer or around the clock usage.
This is where a good forecast from your Farmer’s Almanac and experience make the difference.
How Efficient is Your Wood Burning Appliance?
Don’t discount the efficiency of your wood-burning appliance. A modern wood-burning stove can be marvelously efficient, and even supply heat to adjacent rooms if set up correctly.
A bright, hot total burn will supply more heat per unit of wood than a slow, smoky burn.
In this regard, most wood stoves are more efficient than fireplaces, which send the vast majority of their heat right up and out through the chimney.
But in any case, keep your stove, your fireplace, and your chimney properly cleaned and maintained for maximum efficiency and your firewood will go further.
Is Your Home Well-Insulated?
Many homeowners fret and fuss over insulation, and it is indeed a factor when it comes to keeping your home warm with wood heat.
You never want to let the heat out, but the heat that is earned through burning wood is particularly precious!
Thick walls, modern windows, and state of the art installation will go a long way toward keeping heat in and the cold out.
If possible, beef up the insulation and all parts of your home, but if you are forced to choose, maximize the insulation in and around the room where you are actually building your fire.
Is Your Home Drafty?
Lastly, but definitely not least, you’ll want to become fanatical about tracking down and stopping drafts if you are heating your home with wood.
Worse than poor insulation, a draft that allows cold air to seep or surge into your home will essentially mean that all that effort, time, and money you spent on acquiring your firewood goes to waste.
Chances are you already know the major culprits in this regard. Leaky door jambs, gaps under doors, poorly sealed or caulked windows, basement vents, damp attics and much more will rob your home of its precious, precious heat.
Perhaps even more so than insulation it is well worth your time to track down every single draft that you can find with single-minded determination.
If you are hunkering down in the room with the stove or fireplace, remember that you can quickly and easily stop drafts by stuffing blankets or towels under door jambs and hanging heavy blankets or drapes over windows.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.