Tetris for Adults: a purposeful decision

Yesterday I stacked two cords of wood in our wood racks in the backyard. I stacked, my son “chucked” and it took only a few hours. It was a bit like Tetris for adults and I had to caution myself not to get sucked in to the perfect stacking over getting the job done. A balance between perfection and completion.

And I spent most of the bending, lifting and stacking time, in the bright sun and warm winter, melting-snow-day (nearly 50 degrees) thinking about why we heat with wood, and how others view our choice. Probably the neighbor in our tight little area of Albany views our stacking efforts with a bit of bemusement. They are not exceptionally physical, and they may find the sight of a family receiving a truckload of wood dumped into our little shared driveway, then thrown near the racks and stacked over 2-3 hours to be fine entertainment. Or, more likely, they don’t even notice. I know when we start-up Fin (our masonry heater) in the fall the smell of wood smoke is fresh and new and surprising in the city environment. We are not downtown, but in an area with houses on tiny lots, sharing driveways more often than not. Our backyard butts up tight to our neighbors, and when one of us barbecues, everyone knows.

Heating with wood is not for everyone, and here is a short list of why it works for us. Some are big “we are stewards of our planet” reasons and some are small specific-to-us reasons. Some will work for others and some not-so-much. At the least, we have had discussions and explored many parts and pieces of heating and cooling for our daily lives, and maybe making a purposeful decision is the greenest point of this article.


  • We want to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Wood is renewable in that it has a MUCH shorter cycle than FF (a cycle of maybe 20-40 years) and sequesters carbon in its growth cycle as well.
  • We buy from a local company. We make our economic base stronger and much more resilient if we support local businesses.
  • That local company gets wood as a side benefit from its main work, which is as arborists, caring for trees throughout the region.
  • Fin has become part of our family. Kind of like a dog. Quite often we have to plan our social life to accommodate the care and feeding of Fin. Time to leave the party because we have to fire up Fin. This is not a burden, but an added piece of our life’s puzzle.
  • We plan meals accordingly as well, and have pizza nearly every weekend all winter, and many stews and such. In the summer it’s more about the grill.
  • The family that stacks together…
  • We are more in tune with the weather. How much we burn and when depends on the temperature today and tomorrow, the expected wind, etc. We are much more aware of nature and what she brings us. And we are really aware of the seasons. I like this connectivity.
  • It’s ironic that we are an automated house, with a main source of heat that is fully manual. But it works for us. our temperature is still set by a thermostat and the gas-fired system in our basement kicks in when needed, and functions as backup when we travel. It is a converted steam-now-water system, designed into the house in 1922 or so, and the current boiler is about 50 years old. Still pretty efficient as a backup system, and bullet proof in function.
  • As we age, I know stacking and hauling will be harder. I plan to identify neighbor kids that we can entice with pay to do some of the work for us. I believe in community and interdependence, and this is one of the things we decided was a reasonable plan. A lot of people defend independence as their goal. My goal is interdependence for resiliency and long-lasting strength!
  • If the power goes out for a while, we can be warm with a little sweat equity.
  • A range of temperature in the house. I know most people want to set the temp at xx and forget it, but it has been proven time and time again that allowing a broader range of temperature is healthier for our bodies. Fin lets us crank up when we want to and do a smaller fire if needed. Of course, we do have to plan well in advance as the heat takes hours to travel though over seven thousand pounds of stone.
  • Fin is highly efficient – the flue wraps through the stone and transfers heat into the stone and then into our home with radiant transfer. Healthier heat with less air flow pushes less heat out our walls and windows and makes the hearth the true center of our living.

There are, of course, some struggles:

  • We do have wood residue to deal with – the detritus of hauling cut wood into our house, the fineness of ash that does appear when we open doors and clean out the ash bucket. This, along with our pet fur, makes for at least weekly sweeping of our hardwood floors.
  • I always question our choice for the 2-3 days during and after stacking, twice a year, while my back and legs ache and my fingers regain the skin.
  • We can’t keep Fin going all summer, so oven fired pizza is seasonal, but, as we are trying to choose food based on seasonal availability, I consider this appropriate.
  • Fin was expensive, and he takes up some serious space (he is 3’x4’ by 7’ tall and the flue goes through our bedroom in a slightly awkward placement). Yet, and I won’t go into the whole story, he was not originally intended for this house and we jerry-rigged his placement and use in this not ideal space. He has performed very well.
  • Sometimes when we play games at the dining table, it is in the evening when the fire is roaring in Fin and we end up being a bit too warm. Again, a variety of temps is healthier, but sometimes this is a bother.

Heating with wood helps our family with better health, connects us to the environment’s resources and patterns, supports our greening efforts, ties us into our community more thoroughly and improves our resilience. It costs us a bit more effort and planning. All in all, a good deal for us. It is a choice that balances perfection with getting the job done. It is by thinking things though that we can be greener, and more and more often I find the “convenient” choice is not really the choice of lasting value and benefit. I hope these thoughts resonate with you.

And, as an added bonus, who doesn’t love Tetris?


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