Note: This post was written when we lived in a house. We keep the RV thermostat at 65F to avoid condensation.

With the thermostat currently sitting at 55F(*), we hope to save a pretty penny this winter on heating – in fact, it’s been several days since the AC last switched on. Wearing layered loose clothing and getting up and lifting some weights from time to time, 55F is no big deal. Of course for those who are used to 75F and prefer to wear shorts and t-shirts during winter time while sitting perfectly still, 55F is a big deal. If wearing more than one layer feels too unusual, a space heater might be a good solution. The idea is to heat the occupied room with a space heater and leave the rest of the house cool. It is not the optimal solution. In general temperature gradients, where one side of you is warm while the other is cold from having the space heater on one side of you, or changes in temperatures from walking from a warm room into a cool room or even vice versa, feels more uncomfortable than constant cool temperatures. Your choice.

(*) 55F is the lower limit for the thermostat because the water pipes are compromised at lower temperatures. Do not put the thermostat below 55F.

After buying a space heater and realizing that we already had one (note to self: get rid of more stuff! Buying something because you forgot you already own one is very embarrassing when you run a frugal blog), it was decided to increase wood stove usage. Indeed, we have a wood stove, but mostly being lazy and all, I prefer to adapt to the cold rather than try to fight it even it that means lifting tons of pig iron – hey, it’s a good way to get buff for the beach.

Luckily firewood can be gathered for free on craigslist. However, free firewood comes with some caveats attached. Unless you are lucky enough to get first dips on somebody’s firewood because they just switched to an alternative heating source, free firewood usually means either scrap wood or rounds from somebody’s backyard. The main motivation for the giver is to get rid of it. The main motivation for the taker is free heating.

Scrap wood like 2x4s, boards, and so on is usually a risky proposition. Often it will painted or treated with a fire retardant which makes it useless for heating purposes. We have gone on several wild goose chases for free firewood where much of it turned out to be unsuitable for burning. On the other hand, clean scrap wood is dry and burns well. After realizing the important cost of gasoline to pick it up we are no longer going out of our way to get it. The problem is that we have a compact hatchback and there a limit to how much wood will fit into the back. Maybe 10 day’s worth of heating. Thus it is not worth it to spend more than $10 in gas to go and get it. Frankly, I think we will move this limit even lower due to our limited load capacity. Speaking of which, we have been talking about getting a truck the next time we buy a car in oh say 10 years.

Unlike rounds which are usually chain sawed to the right length, scrap wood comes at odd lengths. DW initially suggested that we get a power saw. No no no no! Much like the powered screwdriver, the automatic egg boiler, and bread making machines, power saws are just yet another sign that the world has gone crazy. Sawing, like screwing (ahem!), boiling eggs, and baking bread can be done manually. To cut wood of this size “manually”, you need a bow saw or a frame saw. Now, it turns out that it is IMPOSSIBLE to buy a bow saw or at least it is impossible around here. We tried three different hardware stores and all they had were tiny hacksaws and of course … power saws. Therefore I had to bite the bullet (viz. shipping costs) and get it online. I got this bow saw. It just arrived today and I was quickly out cutting some of our longer scrap wood. Boys and their toys. It was somewhat pricey, but I know Bahco from when I was a kid. My dad got a set of Bahco screwdrivers which lasted forever unlike the flimsy 14 piece sets one usually gets from hardware stores. Buying quality is usually much cheaper in the long run. In addition, it is much more enjoyable to use a good tool or a good anything for that matter. This saw goes through wood like butter, I mean, I used my grandfather’s bow saws before, but this one is like magic. Also sawing substitutes for pushups. I just have to remember to use my left arm as much as my right arm. Now all I have to do is to train DW in the use of a bow saw and her skills will be complete (she is not a jedi yet).

The other choice of free wood is rounds. Rounds are a better option. They are always burnable. They are usually also from unseasoned (freshly cut) wood and thus no good this season. Thus these are an investment for the next winter. Fire sized rounds with a two feet diameter are also quite heavy. Getting them into the car without scratching anything is good cross training. So is splitting rounds. I already had a sledgehammer so instead of getting a $30 dollar splitting maul, I got a $7 splitting wedge. The link is just to show what a splitting wedge looks like. Don’t buy this online – at 4lbs, the shipping cost is brutal. We got ours a Home Depot. A splitting wedge is less convenient than a maul, but more versatile because it allows me to split the gnarliest rounds. Never get a specialized tool, if a versatile set of tools can do the same job. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of using the sledgehammer at full force and actually hitting what I aimed at. Later it was discovered that thin pieces of wood can be broken in half by hitting them hard with a sledge hammer. Now I understand why hammers have been used as weapons. Don’t forget the safety glasses. There will be large and sharp pieces of wood flying everywhere.

Now the real question is whether we actually saved anything since we bought a saw, a space heater and a wedge on top of the gasoline. The answer is a solid yes for next year, but the jury is still out for this year. I am guessing that we have spent about $100 so far to avoid spending money on AC heating. Clearly this is an investment but it is yet to be seen whether this will be a good investment.

Originally posted 2008-01-19 07:59:44.