The article went on to explain the shortage began when propane supplies took a hit during last year’s late harvest when farmers needed the fuel to dry a bumper crop of grain. Then the situation snowballed into an insane perfect storm as the “polar vortex” swept across the nation shoving temperatures into record-breaking lows. Increased demand reduced or depleted already low supplies, resulting in rationing, price-gouging and supply cut-offs in some areas.
We have a forced-air gas furnace and hot water heater both powered by propane. But, we also have a wood-burning furnace in the basement that is our main source of heat for the house. I shared my experiences with wood-fueled heat and learning to build fires in the furnace without burning down the house in the chapter titled, “I’m Not Having a Hot Flash—We’re Burning Hedge!” in my book. I referred to the wood furnace as a “big hulking, smoke-belching, black behemoth.”
As I write this blog, Bill is out cutting more wood. The varieties available in our timber include oak, walnut, mulberry, elm, hackberry, hickory and hedge. Of these, hedge is the hottest burning wood. (I jokingly asked Bill if burning mulberry produces purple smoke! It doesn’t. But if it did, we’d be the talk of the neighborhood among Kansas State fans!)
Pictured below from left to right are the different types of wood we burn: hedge, locust, oak, mulberry, red elm and white elm.
The densest, driest hardwoods provide the best heat: hedge (aka osage orange), locust, hickory, oak, mulberry and sugar maple. They burn slower and put off more heat per volume. Slightly less dense but acceptable varieties include ash, walnut, hackberry, elm and sycamore. Less dense, softer varieties that will burn quickly, but not provide much heat are soft maple, catalpa, cottonwood, willow and box elder.
Regarding moisture content, I’ll state the obvious: Wet wood doesn’t burn. Wood from live trees is considered “green”: it has high moisture content and will smolder and smoke. As I pointed out in my book, “Building a fire that smolders and smokes excessively will, over time, cause a build-up of creosote, a highly flammable black, tarry residue, in the chimney. If enough creosote builds up, the result could be a pyrotechnic extravaganza erupting from the chimney. Then, the house burns down.” Rule of thumb for selecting firewood: The deader, the better!
Hopefully, the propane supply situation will ease before it reaches major crisis proportion. Until then, my advice to those of you who have wood-burning stoves or furnaces:
“Ladies and gentlemen, start your chainsaws!”