Most of us are planning on heating and cooking with wood when the power goes out or the grid goes down. But to make it through winter requires somewhere between four and six chords of firewood. At today’s prices, that’s a hefty investment. But I don’t have a single dollar invested in my stockpile of firewood, other than for gasoline.
Yet there are a number of strategies you can use for building your firewood stockpile that won’t cost you any more than they’ve cost me:
Clearing the Streets After a Storm
It’s not uncommon for severe storms to cause tree branches to come crashing down. While trees are resilient, there is a limit, especially with old trees or trees that have branches with a large horizontal reach. A severe storm can leave people’s front yards and even the streets littered with dead branches.
Cleaning up that mess can take days and cost the city a small fortune. So why not do a little community service work? Go out about the neighborhood, cutting up those trees and hauling them off. Nobody needs to know that you’re hauling them to your own backyard, where you’re turning them into firewood. Besides, I doubt if anyone would care.
You can actually do this with almost no waste, if you plan it out right. The larger branches can be fuel, smaller ones can be turned into kindling and the leaves and twigs can either go into your composting operation or can be mixed with chopped-up newspapers and molded to turn them into fuel, as well.
Just check with your city maintenance department before you do this. You’re much less likely to run into trouble with the city if you let them know what you’re doing, before you start. Some union members may complain about you, so having management aware that you’re a civic-minded citizen can help them defend you.
Trimming Your Trees
Speaking of tree branches falling, I’m sure you’ve had that happen in your own yard. I’ve got at least one chord of wood in my pile that has come from my own trees. One died and I had to cut it down, another is old and has had some branches break off in storms, and the old oak had some dead branches that had to be removed.
Of course, if you prune your trees, you’re going to be removing some branches, too. Just because you feel that your trees don’t need those branches, doesn’t mean that they’re a waste. Good wood is good wood, no matter where it comes from.
Trimming Other Peoples’ Trees
Since you’ve already equipped yourself to cut down and cut up your own tree branches, why not extend your reach to others? Keep your eyes open for people who have dead trees or trees that are breaking due to age and weight. Offer to cut those dead limbs off or remove the tree. That will greatly expand your wood pile and only cost you a Saturday afternoon here and there.
I personally draw the line here on not pruning peoples’ trees for them. While I’m willing to offer a free service that helps me, too, I’m not really into being taken advantage of. Besides, I really don’t feel that I’m knowledgeable enough about pruning that I can do it correctly. I really don’t want to be liable for any mistakes I make.
If you’re not finding enough dead trees and tree limbs to cut down, put up a notice on your local grocery store’s bulletin board. Lots of people do that for all kinds of services, so it wouldn’t seem unusual. Just be specific on your flyer of what it is that you are offering.
Taking this idea to the extreme, find a builder who is starting a new housing development and needs to clear land. They generally have to pay someone to do that. Get your buddies together and offer to clear the trees for free some weekend, stocking yourself and your survival group up with firewood all at the same time.
Watching for Woodpiles Awaiting the Trash Man
There are actually a couple of ways of doing the same thing, without as much work. That is to look for trees that someone else has cut down and are awaiting removal by the city’s truck. A lot of towns have regular pickup of leaves and tree branches, with people leaving them on the curb for pickup. All you need to do is drive by with your truck or trailer and grab the branches that you want. Just ask the people first so they don’t think you’re a thief.
You even can work out a similar sort of deal with someone who has a tree trimming or pruning business. They usually have to take the limbs they cut to the dump or to a municipal mulching center. You can actually save them some cost by asking them to dump off branches in your driveway, especially the larger ones.
Pallet wood is excellent firewood because it is often oak — a good, slow-burning hardwood. The trick is finding the pallets. Most companies sell their used pallets to businesses that specialize in recycling pallets. That makes it hard to get pallets from larger companies. But you can get them from smaller companies that don’t have an agreement with a pallet recycler.
Another possibility is to go to the pallet recyclers themselves. They want the good pallets because they can sell those to companies that need them. But in order to get the good ones, they have to be willing to pick up the bad ones, too. So, they usually have a huge pile of broken-up pallets that they are stuck with. Check with them; they’ll often let you take whatever you want from that pile for free. It saves them from having to deal with them.
What ideas would you add on getting free firewood? Share your tips in the section below: