Homesteading – Fuel for the Fire

There’s more to homesteading than oil lamps.  This one came with the house. I don’t think it has been used, as there is no wick. I now wonder about the efficacy of burning oil, as well; petroleum products are expensive, and an electric light may cost less to burn. That assumes we would have electricity, too.

When we lived off grid we had oil lamps and a propane stove, heater and refrigerator. They became too expensive to run – the propane cost us more in a month than our previous electric bill. (About $80 vs. $25.) We switched to a wood heater, but this was wicked inefficient and we were too late in the year to get good dry wood. We had thought we were prepared, but we hadn’t done enough research into how much heating and lighting fuel we would need. We were off grid, but still dependent on an oil supply.

Oil lamps, candles and woodburning stoves are all romantic. But unless one has her own olive grove or tallow rendering kettle, oil for lamps is expensive. (Burning tallow, no matter how well strained, smells like – to borrow Thomas Cahill’s phrase – the left wing of the day of judgement.) It has a nice golden glow but it is too dim for older eyes to read by. It’s the same with candles. Most are some form of petroleum. Soy based and beeswax candles are cleaner, but unless one has access to an apiary, making or buying natural candles can be expensive. (Our neighbour up the hill has bees; I intend to go introduce myself soon and negotiate for honey and beeswax.)

Much of our electricity here is made by hydroelectric dams. My father was a generator engineer; I know as much about hydroelectric generation as I need to know. It is efficient and clean. I think that the dams, though, have seriously interfered with our riparian ecosystems; the least efficient of them need to be decommissioned and removed. For us, right now, electricity on grid is the best choice for communication, refrigeration, and lighting.

We are in discussion with our landlord about a woodburning stove. A clean-burning model would be a good choice in this area. Our flue will support the higher temperatures, and wood, especially if one can split it and season it at home, is fairly cheap compared to other fuels. It isn’t cleanest burning of fuels, but we have low population density and few inversions. I prefer wood for heating and cooking. Most practical would be a combination unit that would heat the house (about 1000 sq. ft), provide a place to cook and to bake, and heat hot water. It would make being without electricity safer; we do have occasional outages.

We are unable to get natural gas, as we are way too far north of the pipeline. We will never see that; the cost of laying pipe would be prohibitive, considering the sparse population.

This is my preparedness list for next winter. We will make do this winter with what we have on hand for lighting and heat.

Buy and install efficient woodburning unit for heat, cooking, hot water.

Buy mixed hard and soft wood lengths to cut and split. (Need chainsaw; we can no longer do this by hand. Nicholas will split.)

Make or purchase beeswax candles for secondary lighting. (I never throw out beeswax candle stubs; they can be remelted. Paraffin stubs make good fire starters.)

Look at cost of photovoltaic cells for some lights and water pump. (More on water for the homestead later.)

Look at feasibility of solar hot water heater. (Lots of plans available on internet.)


14 thoughts on “Homesteading – Fuel for the Fire

  1. My grandfather in the 1970’s made a solar shower in the back area of his 7 acre gentleman’s farm. He had taken a water heater tank, ran the water to it, painted the thing black and then inclosed it in glass. After a long day working in the fields, picking or weeding, I used to love to go and hit that shower. Outside in the summer with sun kissing all the parts that never showed. Plus this way Grandma didn’t get mad about the ring I would leave around her pink tub because I was always a walking dust bowl at the end of a day.

  2. I read a couple books on living off the grid and was surprised how prepared you must be to have it work right. It was also dismaying to realize how unprepared the average person (like me) is to live that way, in case of emergency. And it’s not the food or produce, but power that is the trick. I don’t think I would like to live without electricity, but we have taken significant steps to reduce our carbon footprint.
    Have a great day Magdalena!

    • We go to bed earlier in the winter, and work later in the day outdoors during the summer. It cuts down on energy use.

  3. I like the idea I heard about from Sharon Astyk for lighting: solar-charged LED lights, the ones folks usually stick in their gardens?
    They have buckets of sand around the place; and one in a sunny spot in the garden. The lights get put out early morning into the outside bucket in a sunny place, and brought in at night for light, moved to where needed. The rechargable batteries in these lights last about five years before needing replacement. I think it’s a good idea for reading & pottering light at night. Wondering whether to start doing it myself this year. At the moment when we often have computers and tv on in the evenings, solar lights seems like the least part of our energy use problem. 🙂

    • We have a laptop which consumes less energy than a desktop, no television, or stereo. I like the LED idea, but it might not work well this far north. Winter days are often overcast, summer days are long and we sometimes don’t need extra lights! I take it that the light moves, not the bucket, because who wants to carry a bucket of sand around? You could put up brackets to hold the lights.

      • Yeah, it’s the lights that move. They don’t need that much sun, they work in the cloudy winter of the UK, we are 52°N latitude. The lights are sticks about 8 cm diameter, 25 cm long with spikes at the bottom to anchor them in the ground – that goes into the sand bucket where you want them.

  4. Is there much farming done in your area? If so, have a look at getting a grain stove. We use about 5 t of corn for the winter and (if we had to buy it) it costs about $1000 for the winter. Colin’s last oil bill was $1000 per month (before we met and keeping the house at 15C). One small stove heats our old 2 story pretty well and over heats my mom’s 800sq ft bungalow.

    • No, it’s all potato farming, and you know what burnt potatoes smell like! I’ve seen these grain stoves in Ontario – worth considering there.

      • You should still check out the local feed store. Corn is cheap even if it isn’t local. Have you looked into maybe a LP gas stove? You can get really basic ones that don’t need electricity (cottage models usually). I know it’s not free, but you would be surprised how long a tank lasts, even with the baking/cooking I do and it would be easier than dealing with wood (chopping, splitting, hauling, etc). Oh yeah, grain stoves (which burn any grain not just corn-wheat is really hot) are much saver than wood stoves. They shut off when they over heat and don’t have chimneys so no chimney fire!

      • I’ve used LP in the past and I do like it. People here are afraid of it though and it might be hard to get permission to install it. I had an older gas stove I loved – it was non-electric. I guess it had a piezo lighter since I didn’t have to light a pilot, so it burned less gas.

        I didn’t know that about grain stoves – that they are non-vented. I will look into that more.

      • Grain stoves don’t have big chimneys, it’s a short direct vent straight out. Colin actually vacuums ours out from time to time. I didn’t explain that right the first time.

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