Episode-2108- Ben Falk on Heating Though the Northern Winter with Wood

Ben Falk in a Typical N.H. Winter

Ben developed Whole Systems Design, LLC as a land-based response to biological and cultural extinction and the increasing separation between people and elemental things. Life as a designer, builder, ecologist, tree-tender, and back country traveler continually informs Ben’s integrative approach to developing landscapes and buildings.

His home landscape and the WSD studio site in Vermont’s Mad River Valley serve as a proving ground for the regenerative land developments featured in the projects of Whole Systems Design. Ben has studied architecture and landscape architecture at the graduate level and holds a master’s degree in land-use planning and design.

He has conducted more than 300 site development consultations across the US and abroad, and has facilitated dozens of courses on property selection, permaculture design, and resilient systems.

He has given keynote addresses and presented dozens of workshops at venues ranging from Bione ers to the Omega Institute. Ben is the author of the award-winning book the Resilient Farm and Homestead (Chelsea Green, 2013).

He joins us today to discuss Winter preparations, firewood processing and storage, heating your home and domestic water with WOOD. Like why isn’t everyone doing this?  We also chat about his permaculture site in year 14 – huge fruit year here despite cool rainy summer.  About 20 types of fruit and another 50 varieties within that.

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18 Responses to Episode-2108- Ben Falk on Heating Though the Northern Winter with Wood

  1. I have not listened yet, but here are my thoughts:
    I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I heat exclusively with wood. Our temps go from a high of 30C in summer to -25C in winter. My season usually starts Nov 15 and ends May 15th; six months of wood heat. I keep at it, stacking , splitting, storing. As I type this I received a gift of 8 cord, blocked in my driveway. Now , without an ATV, I move it with a wheel barrow. @54, this ain’t easy. But I love the independence it gives. I heat my dishwater, cook off it and I even had a steel plate made so I can divide my stove in two zones and cook on one side, while burning on the other. My stove is a Regency Mid size. Made in BC. Any others out there own one?

  2. We started heating with wood last year, we live in a super insulated passive house design in Central NH and the electric heat was still expensive, installing a small wood stove and heating exclusively from wood changed how much we enjoy living in the house during the winter. With the electric heat we would keep the house at 63 or so degrees, with the wood stove we can get the house up to 70 and then let it cool back down and warm it back up. Even with that we only burn 3 cord a year, and this year with the mild temps we haven’t had a fire yet. I didn’t grow up burning wood and I found this book to be the best I have read on the subject.


    • What is your typical electrical usage in the winter while heating with wood? 3 cord isn’t bad if that is the only heat you are using.

    • I assume that three cord is Hardwood. I’m a little further North in PEI and I burn about 2 1/2 softwood and 1/2 hardwood. I don’t think however we get the cold that Central NH would get, we are surrounded by water, so that moderates our temps somewhat

  3. Looks like stitcher isn’t getting automatically updated. Looks like you must’ve done something when I mentioned it hadn’t updated 2104-2106. So now stitcher feed is at 2106 but no 2107 or 2108. Other podcasts are updating normally so not sure where the disconnect is.

  4. If keeping your freezer frozen in the winter is your greatest challenge when there is snow on the ground why not put the freezer outside where it’s freezing?

  5. It’s only
    A challenge when it’s warm out. They are in cold uninsulated places.

  6. I’ve enjoyed the Meatloaf/Steinman talk and songs over the last couple of weeks. They are definitely 2 talented gentleman. I seem to recall VH1 interviewing The Meat at one point and they asked him how much weight he was trying to lose. Don’t remember his exact words, but he said something like: “I want to lose just to the point that people still call me Meatloaf.”

    I have the VH1 Storytellers Meatloaf DVD and it’s cool to watch every once-in-a-while. It tells a lot of the background to his songs and his career. Might be a good TSPAZ item of the day.

  7. Quaking tooth aspen is another predominant wood up here, but it smells like cat piss when split. Luckily my four acres has 40-60 foot spruce that are dying and I knock them down as they die or a storm takes them down. I like yellow birch and beech but a bit harder to come by here.

  8. I’ve recently purchased a house (that I’m presently renovating and haven’t yet fully moved into) that is on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Kingston. I have 14 acres, 10 of which is a hardwood forest). The house is heated by an exterior Heatmor wood boiler that circulates two heated loops of water to the building. (One loop to the furnace-heat exchanger and hot water heater for the house and the other loop to another furnace-heat exchangers for the indoor pool and hot tub side of the dwelling). There’s also four thermal solar panels on the roof that assist with the heating (depending on the system balance which I control with a variable valve). Since this will be my first winter in the place I’ve yet to determine how much wood I will be going through and I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy trekking the 40 feet once or twice a day in order to feed the boiler. (I do have electric baseboard heaters as backup).
    There’s also a 2000Watt PV solar panels system on the roof that is tied to the grid, lowering my grid usage. (I also have my own separate 2000W PV panel system that has it’s own battery bank as a back up).
    I’m just so thankful that it was a previous owner that built this complex heating system rather than me having to do it. (Although I notice that there seems to be many area residences here in the country that have Heatmor boilers, although likely none that have two separate heating loops).
    I managed to buy the place it for a very good price since despite it being by far the most shown house in the area that summer when it was on the market the wood heating system just seemed to scare everybody else away and over several months I was the only person who made an offer on the place. (There’s a lot of retirees around here and the system just scared them all away apparently).

    • How big is the house?

      If I had to take a guess, 10-12 cords. Maybe more, maybe less.

      • The house part is about 1800 sq. ft. I believe and the pool part is about the same.
        The amount of wood that I’d be using of course would be drastically influenced by how often (if at all) I would want to heat up the pool during the winter season.
        Right now I’m just getting outside wood delivered for this winter but come springtime I’m going to be harvesting my own hardwood from the 10 acre forest. (There’s so much dead and fallen wood back there that I wouldn’t need to cut down anything alive for many years I wouldn’t think).

  9. It would be nice to have a list of the plants and trees that Ben mentioned that are his favorites.

  10. Solid episode. Loved it.

  11. Ben, i have a 2/3 cord firewood rack ab 6 inches off ground. I cover top with an old grill cover but side and bottom are exposed. Any thoughts on that for keeping wood dry? Thanks!

    • Yeah top covered good with no depressions for water to seep into and sides open are good. Hard rigid boards like scrap roofing allows an overhang and dripping away from the wood though.

    • last one for you Ben.

      I bought 2 cords three years ago. used 1/2 two years and another half last. So, I still have a cord left over. It’s under cover, off the ground, air can get through.

      Is there a time constraint when wood gets too old to use for heating? Does that make sense? or just so long as it’s not rotting it’s still good to go?


      • I’ve burned wood that was many many years old, including some pieces of my house from the late 1700s that got replaced. It burns a lot faster 😉

        For simple cover, I stack my wood between trees and posts 8-10′ apart on top of pallet halves. When I split, I try to make a good number of wide, flat pieces with bark on them from the larger rounds, and I make the top couple layers from those to shed the water that makes it down past the trees. Stack with the bark up as much as you can.

        I process 10-12 cord a year from log and burn about 5 (all hardwood), Southern NH.