Rural Wykoff man, Ryan Barness, is ready for winter with the addition of his new wood stove.  PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Rural Wykoff man, Ryan Barness, is ready for winter with the addition of his new wood stove. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

While Minnesotans endured record cold temperatures last winter, they were dealt another blow as the cost of propane skyrocketed. For rural Wykoff resident, Ryan Barness, that meant it was time to take action.

“When I saw the price of propane hit $2.26, I decided that it was time to look into either a wood stove or a fireplace,” he explained. “I had already been planning on adding one or the other to the house, but not for another few years, so it rushed the process a little bit.”

At its peak, the price of propane reached an average of $4.67, though some areas saw prices soar above $6, affecting the estimated 250,000 of the state’s residents who depend on propane for their heat.

“I definitely wasn’t the only one out there looking for a different way to heat. Every business I went to said they were a lot busier than usual,” Barness commented.

Though he knew he wanted the second option for heat, the numerous choices were a little overwhelming at first.

“I have a lot of friends down in Iowa and neighbors around here that run off outdoor wood stoves in the winter, so that is more what I’m used to, but I wasn’t sure that was the right fit for me,” he explained. “When it came down to it, I wanted something that would keep me self-sufficient and wood was the best option. So if I’m snowed in for a few days with no electricity, at least I’ll still be warm and can cook food.”

In early February, just as the propane shortage was making headlines, Barness had his indoor wood stove installed.

All he had to do next was get enough wood to keep his home warm through the bitter winter, which, as he explains, was easier said than done.

“I ended up cutting some downed trees with one of my neighbors (who had also just added wood heat to his home) during one of the blizzards,” Barness recalled. “By the time we were done I don’t think either one of us could really feel our fingers, but at least we got it done.”

He wasn’t cold for long, however, as he has been pleasantly surprised at how well the stove heats his whole home — from the basement to the loft. Because of this he estimates he only used propane to heat a handful of times since having the stove installed.

“I enjoy winter, but it’s necessary to keep a home at a safe temperature during extreme cold. A properly installed wood stove is a safe and even enjoyable alternative to the unpredictable price of propane. Even a furnace failure can be a crisis in cold weather and this is a good backup.”

Barness will be the first one to admit choosing wood as a primary heat option may be less expensive but it is much harder and more time consuming.

“Once the snow was thawed enough to get out to the woods I was out there with my chainsaw getting ready for the next winter,” he said. “Ever since spring I’ve spent most of my off-time out cutting, splitting or stacking wood.”

One of the benefits of this is being able to use the dead or fallen trees on his property and even some of his friends’ and co-workers’ properties.

After all these months, Barness is getting more and more confident he will have enough wood cut and split to make it through the upcoming winter, but that hasn’t slowed him down.

“I’d like to have enough cut to last a few years, but I probably have a ways to go right now,” he said. “The longer I can have the wood dry before using it, the better it burns. The only problem would be finding room for it since all my buildings are pretty much full of wood right now, even the dog’s house (a revamped chicken coup) is full!”

While most people would prefer to put off the looming winter months, Barness is eager for the falling temperatures and snowflakes.

“I’ve been excited for winter to come around again for a while,” he admitted. “That is going to be my relaxing time of the year. I can cozy up by the fire, let the snow come and not worry, because I’ll be ready.”