Homesteading is rewarding and exciting; there are many elements of homesteading that reinforce the independence of the endeavor. However, a few things are absolute necessities. One of those is heating your home. If you live somewhere with even mild winters, you need to keep the cold at bay. Homesteaders do this in several different ways but the most common and most sustainable is a wood fire in a wood-burning stove. If you can find firewood for free, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint as well as the impact on your wallet. Here are a few common sources of free firewood.
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1. Landscaping and Storm Recovery
If you’re a homesteader and you can afford it, you should invest in a pickup truck and a good firewood chainsaw. Opportunities for firewood will present themselves when you least expect them. If you toss that chainsaw in the truck, you’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunities whenever you find them. For example, landscapers often charge extra for hauling away tree branches and trunks after they’ve been felled. Many homeowners choose not to pay this haul-away fee. That means they end up with a pile of branches, or even an entire tree, sitting on the edge of their lawn.
Many of those homeowners will be very appreciative you cut up their felled trees and haul them away. Make sure you knock on the door and ask them before you start snatching their trees. Tell them why you want the wood. Many will let you take as much as you would like. That’s the kind of opportunity that pops up when you don’t expect it. You can also make your own opportunities.
If you live in an area that has strong storms, you know that they often knock down trees. Many homeowners lack the tools to remove the trees from their houses or from their yards. These homeowners rely on their neighbors or on professional landscapers. If you have had a storm in your area, you can load your gloves and your chainsaw into your truck and drive to where the storm hit. Knock on some doors if you see branches or trees down in somebody’s yard. Offer to remove their trees for them. You might find that you can quickly fill the bed of your truck with wood; you’ll also be helping out your neighbors.
A cord of wood is considered to be 8’x4’x4’ of wood split and stacked. A common pickup truck bed is about 6’x6’x2’. So, a pickup truck will generally hold about ⅓ of a cord of wood. An extended bed truck or a flatbed truck might hold even more than that. When you cut a tree off someone’s house, you likely won’t split it and stack it neatly in the bed of your truck, but you should be able to get close to ⅓ of a cord.
2. Construction Sites
Construction sites deal with hundreds of board feet of wood for every job; even small jobs such as building a shed or a garage involve a large amount of wood. They typically buy the wood in bulk and then cut it down to the needed sizes. That means they often end up with odds and ends they don’t need. Furthermore, buying in bulk for a construction site is different than buying lumber at a hardware store. The construction company often gets a wholesale supply of wood, which means that some of it will be cracked, blemished, or otherwise damaged.
That’s why most construction sites have what is called a “burn pile.” It’s a pile of discarded wood that won’t be used on the project. The site foreman might have the wood burned once the job is done, or it might just be thrown away. Either way, the burn pile is usually discarded. You should stop at a construction site and ask to speak to the site manager. Ask them if you can have the wood from the burn pile. The foreman might tell you that you can but you should come back once the job is over. Give the foreman your phone number so you’ll get a call when the wood is ready.
You should also ask about the type of wood used and any chemicals used on it. Wood that is treated for outdoor use could be toxic when burned. If they are using a softwood lumber such as pine, you can still use it in your stove but it will burn much faster and produce more smoke. That’s something to be aware of.
3. Your State or Local Government
Your state or local government might decide to cut down a large number of trees for any variety of reasons. In some cases, they’ll clear land that is in the way of building a new road or development. They might clear land if it has become a fire hazard. Also, in areas that have tree-borne pests or illnesses, they might cut down trees that have become infected to try to contain the contagion.
It’s often not worth the government’s time and money to remove the trees; therefore, they’ll stack them beside the road. If you want them, make sure that they are available for anyone to take. You can likely get several trees’ worth from the government. You should keep an eye on your local newspaper and on your government’s website to see if they are announcing any tree clearing.
4. Wood Pallets
Pallets are the gold standard for DIY and homesteading projects online. While they’re oftentimes less useful than internet homesteaders might claim, they do make great firewood. They’re especially great for outdoor fires. If you have a table saw or a chainsaw, you can break them down into useable chunks. There are two major caveats, though. First, many pallets are made out of softwood such as pine or cheap hardwoods such as poplar. They can still be used for a fire, but you should be aware they’ll burn faster. Secondly, pallets have several nails in them. You’ll need to either remove the nails or sweep them out of your stove once the ashes cool down. You can often find pallets stacked beside a dumpster or leaning against a back wall of a store.
If the pallets are in a dumpster, they’re fair game. If they’re leaning against a store, make sure to ask before you take them away. You can find great hardwood pallets anywhere that imports heavy items from Europe or Asia. That means you’ll likely find hardwood pallets at lawnmower importers, motorcycle importers, heavy machinery importers, mechanics shops, and hardware stores. Smaller stores are likely better than big box stores because big stores often have pallet recycling agreements.
5. Craigslist or Nextdoor
You can often find free firewood if you go online. Craigslist, Nextdoor, and any source that allows you to post classifieds by location will likely be a place to find firewood. Look for firewood, pallets, lumber, and wooden spools.
Don’t be afraid to ask around for firewood. For those who have lumber they want to get rid of, it’s a real nuisance. They’ll likely be more than happy to let you take it. In fact, they might even think you’re the one doing them a favor.
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