Is Firewood a Part of Your Emergency Preparedness?

We all know that water is the Number One consideration when it comes to survival. Three days without the wet stuff, and you’re pushing up daisies. Besides water, have you ever thought of the availability of wood as a survival must-have? Have you stocked up on firewood for survival?
Back when we lived in the Phoenix area, I realized one day how desperate that city of 1.6 million would be without any fuel sources during a long-term grid failure. There are virtually no trees in that city that provide the right kind of firewood, and those that do, would take months to dry out and season. No easy source of fuel to heat a home, to cook with, to use for purifying water — what a nightmare that would be, and all because of the lack of good firewood.

To survive, we need to stay warm when it’s cold, and even in hot weather, we still need a way to cook food on cloudy days when the solar cooker just won’t work. In areas where trees are sparse, people might have to start breaking apart furniture and pulling up floorboards within days of a major power outage.

Start with fuel-efficiency

Our family has a very fuel-efficient rocket stove to cook when we’re camping. The Silverfire Survivor Stove is, in my opinion, the best on the market. It only takes a few twigs to cook an entire meal. A highly efficient rocket stove is one prep I highly recommend. We’ve used the Silverfire, StoveTec, and the EcoZoom. Of the 3, I still prefer the Silverfire (a little more expensive), but the other 2 are certainly adequate. Read this review of the Silverfire to learn more.

Using an open fire for cooking and heating is another option, whether in a fireplace or a contained, outdoor fire, but, again, think efficiency. What types of wood will produce the most heat with the least amount of waste? If you can get your hands on it, these woods have the highest heat value:

  • Apple
  • American beech
  • Ironwood
  • Red Oak
  • Shagbark hickory
  • Sugar maple
  • White ash
  • White oak
  • Yellow birch

With these varieties, you use less wood, but get a higher level of heat output. Again, these varieties don’t grow everywhere, so you will need to do some research into the type of firewood in your area — which varieties are available and, of those, which will burn best with the highest level of efficiency.

The USDA Forest Products Laboratory produced this handy chart with more information about the fuel efficiency levels of different woods. You want the highest amount of heat per cord and one that doesn’t give off a lot of smoke.

How much to keep on hand? Plenty!

Again, back in Phoenix, I liked to have a supply of firewood, in spite of the fact that we didn’t even have a fireplace, and the grill out back was connected to our gas line! I just wanted to know if there was another source of fuel should the power go out and all other fuel sources become scarce.

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If you live in a similar area and circumstances, it might sound crazy to insist on having some firewood, but maybe it’s smarter than you think! Most people will never think about having a stash of firewood for survival.

Someday a cord of wood just might make the difference between your family’s survival and a daily struggle to stay warm and eat hot meals. How much wood provides the right amount of safety margin? There’s no one right answer, but I’d suggest starting with a half cord.

Chopped wood is measured, and purchased, by the cord, which is an official unit of measurement.  The length, height, and width of the chopped wood is measured.  A “cord” is 128 cubic feet.  One cord is a heck of a lot of wood. Years ago, I lived in the far northern plateaus of Arizona, and wood-burning stove provided all my heat. Less than half a cord of wood was plenty to see me through the winter.  Of course, I was living alone in a 750 square foot house!

Look on Craigslist for firewood sources. Once you know the types of wood that are available and are the best woods for burning, then it’s just a matter of shopping around. Don’t order wood sight unseen, since it takes many months for it to season properly. Check out pieces of the firewood you are planning to buy. The pieces should have cracks on the end and the seasoned pieces should weigh less than fresh, green wood. When you hit 2 pieces of the firewood together, you should get a hollow sound. If the sound is more dull and solid, the wood isn’t seasoned enough.

The “right” firewood for survival

In order to burn well, wood must be dry and seasoned. Even if you have live trees on your property or in a nearby city park, I can guarantee that wood from those trees will be very difficult to burn, give off a lot of smoke, and not be an efficient fuel until it is seasoned. It takes several months for this to happen. This is why rural families spend so much of their spring and summer days chopping and stacking firewood for the winter.

Even if you don’t ordinarily have a need for firewood, start thinking about the fuel you will use if the lights ever go out long term. You may want to start buying small quantities of firewood and even invest in a splitting wedge or specialized wood splitting axe or maul. A supply of firewood might be a smart, life-saving idea. Just be very aware of fire prevention, as explained in this article written by a former fire marshal.

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3 thoughts on “Is Firewood a Part of Your Emergency Preparedness?”

  1. To the Right of Attila the Hun

    For those with limited access to firewood try to find free shipping pallets that are made of hardwood. There are you tube videos on how to take them apart if you want to use them for other projects. Having a good supply on hand that is split and ready to burn will allow you some time to get other things gathered that you will need if
    the crisis is going to be long term.
    I have a rocket stove and I have found that the firewood needs to be split Very Thin in order to burn well and that someone needs to tend the fire on an almost constant basis. A responsible teenager could do this job very well. Be sure and practice with stove to know it’s ‘Burn Rate’. Learning after the event is not going to work out well. It’s an easy skill to learn but it will take a few tries to know what to expect out of your stove and your wood.

  2. Interesting idea to keep some firewood on hand even though you don’t have a fireplace or wood stove. If push came to shove, you could use it for outdoor cooking, so it would be an alternate fuel source. Split small and fed into a small rocket stove, a half a cord would last a long time.

    If you’re storing wood for “someday” (not regular use) make sure it’s kept dry, including up off the ground. Even good solid oak can rot into uselessness in a couple years if stored where it can get wet and stay damp.

  3. Hickory is great wood, but powder post beetles reduce it to dust in short order. We cut it in the spring and summer, burn it the next winter. Trees in the red oak group (black oak, pin oak, northern red oak, scarlet oak, etc.) season quickly due to the large springtime vessels which remain open. Split it, stack it under cover, and you can burn it in a month. White oak group trees need a year because the wood is water-tight. Put it in the barn, stacked neatly for good air movement and wait. Elm needs good firewood next to it to burn and it makes a lot of ash. Green and white ash can be split and burned in short order, but oak will hold longer in your stove. Ornamental pears are a pain to cut for wood because of all the limbs and twigs, but they make good firewood that will be seasoned out in six months.

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