No feeling is more satisfying than being able to grow and harvest your own heating source on a sustainable basis. But how much woodland does one need to be able to be able to grow your own firewood and heat your home self-sufficiently? You need about 10 acres of forest land to be able to grow your own firewood sustainably. That will be enough to harvest 5 cords of wood a year, which should be able to supply your needs. It all depends on how big you home is, how harsh your winters are, what type of wood you are burning, and where and how you are growing your wood, but in almost all situations, 10 acres should be able to provide for all your needs with a large margin of safety. Let’s look into the factors you need to consider to determine exactly what your needs are.
How Much Firewood Can Your Forest Grow?
The primary consideration is exactly how productive your woodlands are, as this is the factor you will have the least amount of control over. Below is a map of average forest growth in cords per acre per year.
In the northeast, forests only grow about .4 to .5 cords of wood a year, but in the south and Pacific northwest, growth rates can hit a whole 1 cord per acre per year. However, these numbers are only averages, and one should understand their limitations.
Every acre of forest land is different. Younger forests grow faster, and softwood grows faster than hardwood (usually). Moreover, if your forest land is a wet bog located between two prime parcels of farm land, the growth rate is going to be slower than trees growing on prime ground. You can read more about forest growth rates and what affects them here.
What Type of Firewood Are You Burning?
Not all firewood is created equal. Some species create little heat and a lot of smoke. Others burn hot, clean, and slow. Choosing a good fuel is critical for successful firewood management. The better your fuel source, the less wood you will need to harvest. In general, the best woods to burn are your oaks, maples, ash, and hickory, and cherry, but below is a table of different species and their relative burn quality.
|Tree||Heat and Burn Rate||Splitting Ease||Growth Rate|
|Alder||Low heat, fast burn||Easy||Medium|
|Ash||High heat, slow burn||Hard||Medium|
|Aspen||Medium heat, medium burn||Hard||Fast|
|Basswood||Medium heat, medium burn||Easy||Medium|
|Beech||Medium heat, medium burn||Easy||Medium|
|Birch||High heat, medium burn||Easy||Fast|
|Cedar||Medium heat, fast burn||Easy||Slow|
|Cherry||High heat, slow burn||Medium||Medium|
|Elm||Low heat, slow burn||Hard||Fast|
|Hemlock||Low heat, slow burn||Medium||Fast|
|Hickory||High heat, slow burn||Hard||Slow|
|Maple||High heat, slow burn||Easy||Medium|
|Oak||High heat, slow burn||Easy||Fast|
|Pine||Medium heat, fast burn||Easy||Fast|
|Poplar||Medium heat, medium burn||Easy||Fast|
|Walnut||High heat, slow burn||Easy||Slow|
|Willow||Low heat, fast burn||Easy||Fas|
If you are looking to buy land specifically to grow your own firewood, be sure to choose a parcel abundant in good firewood species. An acre of softwood species will simply not be able to provide you the same benefit as an acre of hardwood.
How Harsh Are Your Winters?
I may not need to tell you, but someone living on Alaska’s north slope will need substantially more firewood than someone living in Miami, Florida. The latter may only need a match stick while the former will likely need more wood than the tundra can provide. These are both extreme examples, but I like to err on the side of caution, so let’s choose an area that represents a reasonable worst case scenario: Maine. In Maine, a good rule of thumb is that you will need 3 cords of firewood for every 1,000 square feet of your home. The Median home in the US is about 1,600 square feet, so a typical Mainer will use 5 cords of firewood. Where you live, you will probably need less, but it is better safe than sorry.
Make Your Firewood Last
You don’t have a tremendous amount of control of how much firewood your forest can grow or what species it holds, but you do have a lot of control over just how far you can stretch your woodpile. The same practices you would use for an oil heated home can and should be applied to a wood heated home. Be sure you have the most efficient woodstove possible. Seal up any drafts. Lock down your windows. And of course, who could forget your dad’s cherished age-old advice: Put on a sweater. Being slightly more tolerant of cooler temperatures indoors and being as efficient as possible with your heat will cut down tremendously on the wood you need.
Grow Your Firewood Wisely
The last thing to remember is to be wise with your harvesting and management techniques. The best trees to harvest for firewood are older, mature trees beginning to decline. Young trees grow faster than old trees, so if you only harvest younger trees, the growth rate of your forest may decline over time, and it could be difficult to remain sustainable. This may not be too much of a concern if you have a larger parcel, but if you are working with the bare minimum theoretical acreage needed to grow your own firewood, it is certainly something to look out for.
Now go harvest some firewood and stay warm!