The last firewood
Spring has arrived in the mountains at last
The weekend was cold and blustery, but the past couple of days the temperature has risen into the 60s, the sky has been mostly clear, and winds have been light. As if to emphasize that spring is finally here, a hummingbird just whizzed by my window. We used to have a friend in Santa Fe who kept a garden diary; she reported that in her yard, the hummers always arrive on April 14. It takes them a little longer to get up here, but now they have arrived, and spring is officially in progress.
The timing was perfect; we have just used up the last of our firewood. We've discovered that the fireplace makes a nice supplement to the propane-fired furnace for keeping the house warm in winter. It's a high-efficiency fireplace that draws air for combustion from outside the house, so we aren't losing heated air up the chimney. Except in the very coldest part of the winter, we can often do without the furnace altogether – as we did about a month ago when we ran out of propane.
A few years ago, Consumer Reports tested high-efficiency fireplaces and wood stoves and came to the conclusion that heating a home with such a fireplace would cost just about the same as running a gas-fired furnace. CR made some assumptions, however, that relate more to running a fireplace in their neighborhood in Connecticut than in the mountains of northern New Mexico. For example, CR's comparison involved natural gas piped into the home; propane, delivered in a truck, costs about twice as much per therm as natural gas.
And then there's the firewood. CR used oak, purchased for about $800 a cord. In our fireplace, we use mostly pine, which produces about a quarter less heat than the same volume of oak, but we pay only about $100 to $150 a cord. We buy it in the spring, when the lumberyards are switching from their winter business (firewood) to their summer business (lumber) and they need to make room for inventory. A couple of years ago, we got a really good deal on some piñon – it's a slow-growing tree, like oak, and so its wood is denser. The area around Santa Fe had an infestation of beetles that killed many trees, and the Forest Service wanted to get the dead trees removed as far as possible. We did have to put the wood under a tarp in the sun to bake the beetles to death, but we had all summer to do so.
And sometimes, the wood is free. For example, when we cleared space on the lot for Five O'Clock Somewhere, we tried to situate the home so as to preserve as many trees as we could, but we did still have to cut down a few. And there were some dead trees that could have blown down and caused damage in a windstorm, so those had to be removed.
Finances are, unfortunately, tight this spring, so we may not be able to cash in on the spring firewood sales. But still, using the fireplace makes sense to heat this place. And noting beats the warm cozy glow.