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Six Tips to Keep Your Family Warm and Fed in Winter in 2024

Elizabeth Horst is a traveling writer and editor who enjoys simple countryside living rooted in the simple joys of rural life 

As Old Man Winter blows cold throughout the hemisphere, it’s easy to rely on modern conveniences to keep your family safe and healthy. With rising costs of fuel and groceries, however, you may be rethinking your strategy for the season where the temperatures drop and the world freezes over.

Is there a better way to face the chill ? Does everyone have to make a choice between caring for their family and going broke ? If you have the lifestyle to consider other options, two ways to start are by heating your home with wood and canning your own food, ensuring you stay both warm and fed throughout the coldest months. As an added bonus, implementing these two practices will teach you and your family more about the value of hard work and healthy living.

Let’s take a look at six tips that help you along the path of practicing self-sufficiency during the coldest months of the year.

Offgrid Living

Tip 1: Plan Ahead

The time to start think about preparing for winter is early spring before the ground begins to thaw. How well did you make it through the winter? What would you do differently next year? It’s easy to get sidetracked and begin thinking about all your spring and summer plans, but take a big step back and consider your long-term vision for the entire year.

If you decide that you want to try heating your home with wood and canning your own food, there are additional factors to consider. Do you currently own a wood-burning stove or do you need to acquire one? Where will you get your wood? Also, what foods does your family regularly eat? Are you able to can those items in bulk before winter or would it be too much of a hassle? What kind of foods will you can, and how will you get your produce?

Tip 2: Do Your Research

Before you take any specific action, take some time to do some research about what it would take for you to develop self-sufficiency for the next winter. In terms of heating with wood, do some research about the different options that are available to you. Would you want to invest in an outdoor wood boiler or an interior wood stove? If the former, are there any regulations that your local municipality has on these furnaces? If the latter, do you have the right setup or would you need to restructure part of your house, and what would that involve?

Then, it’s time to research your options about canning produce for the winter. Are you going to grow your own garden, or is there a local farm that you can work out a reasonable deal for the produce you want to preserve? Most likely, you will want to do a little of each, especially if you hope to can fruits or if one of your crops does not do as well as you hoped. Look into each of these scenarios, and see what will work best for you.

Tip 3: Gather Your Supplies

Let’s assume that you have all the knowledge you need at this point and decide it is time to move forward with both plans—heating with wood and canning your own produce. Now, it’s time gather your supplies. Recognize that this will require some investment throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but the rewards will pay off once you are enjoying the fruit of your labors in the dead of winter! To get you pointed in the right direction, here is a starting list of the supplies you will need for both projects:
A wood-burning stove, either an interior design or an exterior one.

A reliable resource to help you with your new wood-burning adventures like Portage & Main Wood Boiler.
Plenty of clean, dry wood for the stove, whether this means cutting down trees on your own property for processing; having stripped tree trunks delivered that must be cut, split, stacked, and cured; or working out a deal so you have cured wood provided for you. A canning pot with an inner rack, jar tongs, and funnel. Plenty of jars with lids and seals. Fresh food to can, including fruits, vegetables, and possibly even some cuts of meat. A canning guide, such as The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving.

Tip 4: Talk to Experienced People

Remember that helpful associate at the hardware store who you overheard talking about his outdoor wood boiler? Or how about that lady at the local nursery who loves to talk about gardening? Perhaps you have friends who have experience in both of these areas, or you have been talking to a neighbor about taking on the venture together.

Whatever your particular circumstance, take the time to talk to people who have more experience than you in taking on winter with a self-sufficient mentality. Your research, of course, will point you in the right direction, but it can only take you so far. Having real, live people to turn to when you need a practical answer makes all the difference when you are in the middle of a new adventure. In addition, individuals with experience will provide extra tips and tricks that may give you that extra boost when you are realizing how much hard work goes into the process.

Old Firewood Shed

Tip 5: Get Down to Business

 Now, it’s time to put all your research into action! If you’re planning to process your own wood, set aside time to work on cutting down trees, sawing up the logs, splitting each log into sizeable chunks, and stacking everything so that it can cure by the time winter arrives. Alternately, if you are having trunks, logs, or split wood delivered, you can adjust your work load to prepare for those tasks. Either way, give yourself adequate time so that the wood has time to dry out before the next cold season rolls around.

For your canning preparations, there are also a number of different options to consider. Are you growing your own produce? If so, the time to start planting a garden is right around the corner! Or, if you will be working with a local farmer to obtain your produce, consider visiting them on a semi-regular basis to chip in and understand the process of the growing season. Once the produce is ready, then the next busy phase will require you to put in the hard work of canning and preserving the right amount of goods for your family.

Tip 6: Don’t Give Up

In reading all of these different details about the work involved to prepare for winter’s blast, it may be exciting to think about starting and getting into two new projects. However, once you are in the middle of the journey, other things in life may be calling to you from all different directions, and you may be tempted to give up before the entire job has been completed. Now is not the time to quit! Since you already determined that this is an important goal to reach and a path that you are passionate about taking, dig in your heels and resolve to finish strong.

Of course, everyone’s life circumstances are different, and some unexpected situations may require that you adjust course. If you find out in the middle of the process, for instance, that the financial costs and time commitments for canning your own goods and preparing your own wood is too great for you at this stage, then determine if there is another way to navigate those unexpected challenges.

On the other hand, perhaps your reason for wanting to give up is because you thought it would be easier to learn self-sufficiency and are feeling averse to the hard work involved. Take some time to talk to the experienced people you met along the way for an additional dose of reality, and then go back to your goals for extra motivation to complete the course.

Tip 7: Celebrate Your Success


Imagine that the next winter has arrived and you are enjoying the fruits of your hard labor. In your basement, the shelves are lined with many canned goods—for example, tomato sauce, green beans, pickles, corn, peaches, and pears. Your living room is nice and toasty for family evenings together as warm air is piped in from your outdoor wood boiler. What an accomplishment! While there have been bumps along the road and part of the learning curve has been rather steep, your perseverance has paid off for the benefit of your whole family. It’s time to rest and relax for the evening in comfort, a well-deserved reward for all your hard work!

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1: Why are outdoor wood boilers regulated in my area?

Answer: With the recent uptick of environmental concerns, some states and provinces have rules about the level of toxins released into the atmosphere. Check with your local government to see what is allowed and if you can get a variance. 

Question 2: Is burning wood really cost effective?

Answer: This largely depends on prices in your area, the method in which you obtain wood, and your level of preparedness when it comes to heating by wood. Buying an outdoor wood boiler is a major investment, but is definitely worth it. However, right along with the increasing oil prices comes the rising costs of wood, so that is also a factor to consider.

Question 3: What are the benefits of canning food rather than buying it from the store?

Answer: Canning your own produce gives you a greater appreciation for the farm-to-table process, a self-sufficient mentality, and a strong work ethic. Beyond that, you will know exactly what goes into each jar and be assured that the items are healthy and safe for each of your family members.

Portage & Main Ultimizer


1st : First pass
2nd : Second pass
3rd : Third pass
4th : Fourth pass
A. Refractory brick lining & dry base design
B. Air from above & below
C. Full length quad-pass heat exchanger and upper baffle
D. Water – cooled rear baffle
E. Sectional, easy to repair design

A. Refractory Brick Lining

The Portage & Main Ultimizer is a refractory lined, dry base boiler. In the industry it has become known as an “updraft gasifier” because of its efficient burn. The Ultimizer is simple to use, easy to maintain and not fussy about the fuel it burns. It is very important to understand the “fire triangle” in order to fully appreciate the advantages of the Ultimizer design, and how it will save you fuel, money and time. To achieve a clean, efficient burn with complete combustion, an optimal balance of OXYGEN, HEAT & FUEL is required. The Portage & Main Ultimizer has been specifically designed to achieve this optimal balance.

Dry base design, zero ash line corrosion & no bridging 
The heat stored in the refractory lining helps ensure that a more complete combustion process occurs. I.e. fuel is reduced to charcoal in a 3-stage process.

STAGE 1: The fuel is heated to evaporate and drive out moisture. This starts at 212 degrees F

STAGE 2: It starts to break down on a chemical level at 500 degrees F. Volatile matter is vaporized. These vapors contain 50% to 60% of the heat value of the fuel, making it imperative for them to be burnt properly at a temperature in the range 1100 degrees F for maximum combustion efficiency. When all the volatile gases have been released, the remaining material is charcoal

STAGE 3: Charcoal burns at temperatures in excess of 1100 degrees F. Latent heat also helps in the re-ignition of the fire at the start of the next burn cycle. It also helps to dissipate moisture that is a result of the combustion process. The dry base boiler design gives a very hot burn. The water jacket sits above the brick line so it isn’t up against the fire, taking away the heat prematurely. This eliminates ash line corrosion and the fuel is completely burnt, resulting in considerably less ash.

Portage & Main shaker grate model


B. Air from above & below

Exhaust gases make their 1st and 2nd pass at the top of the firebox where they move under and around a water-cooled baffle and into the heat exchanger. Gases then travel to the front of the boiler in a 3rd pass, make a 180 degree turn and move in a 4th pass to the back of the heat exchanger. In this way, all available heat is taken from exhaust gases before they exit the chimney. It gives up to 50% more heat transfer compared to other non water-cooled, non brick lined designs.

C. Full length quad-pass heat exchanger and upper baffle

The Ultimizer heat exchanger runs the full length of the boiler. It is completely surrounded by water which gives maximum heat transfer

Portage&Main Ultimizer Heat Exchanger

D. Water-cooled rear baffle

The water-cooled baffle at the rear of the Ultimizer fire pot absorbs heat and traps combustion vapors. Turbulence is created when air is introduced from below and above the fire. This turbulence provides an optimal burning environment for the vapors, leading to a hotter and more efficient burn. Also, by trapping the vapors, they are thoroughly burnt before entering the high efficiency heat exchanger. This heat exchanger is totally surrounded by water for maximum heat transfer.

E. Sectional, easy to repair design

Not a throwaway design like other brands are. The Ultimizer weighs substantially more than other brand boilers. That’s due to the heavy weight, long lasting, quality materials that go into our design. It provides a long-term, sustainable solution to your heating needs. At the end of its long life, the water jacket can be replaced. Just remove the top half of the boiler and bolt on a new top section, no welding required and your trusty boiler is good to go again. This means a very sustainable warranty, resulting in savings for the customer of several thousand dollars by rebuilding rather than replacing the entire boiler.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. My current outdoor boiler had constant issues with the water jacket, how expensive is it to repair this unit?

The water jacket comes up a lot with customers who’ve used a water boiler before as this is the most frequent point of failure on boilers. Water jackets frequently fail because of ash-line corrosion – our dry-base design has eliminated this. Further to this, ¼” thick cold-rolled steel is used to make the firebox; 2x as heavy as what some competitors use.

Most outdoor boilers are built around this water jacket in such a way that repairing is usually not offered as a warranty solution. Issues requires full dismantling of the boiler and shipping out, or waiting for someone experienced in welding and water jacket repairs to get to you. Both “solutions” often result in days of lost heating. Most warranties will mean a complete replacement of the whole unit.

At Portage & Main, our equipment is built to last, not to be tossed in the junkyard. Should problems with the water jacket arise, it has been built as a separate component within the unit’s sectional design. Simply unbolt and replace or repair on-site within just a few hours. This repair would be 1/3 – ¼ of the cost of competitors.

Furthermore, as EPA standards and levels change, it is nice to know you have rebuildable unit that you can keep, repair and next generations can use far into their futures.

Q. Is the cost of an outdoor wood boiler of this size and style really worth it?

Trying to determine whether the upfront cost of a wood boiler of the size and quality of the Portage & Main Wood Series Ultimizer is worth it will depend a lot upon the household itself and lifestyle factors. We believe the biggest point of worth is that this system offers a reliable degree of energy independence and sustainability for both residential and commercial use. For those living on farms, acreages, or off-grid locations and businesses, a wood boiler is a reliable heating solution. Even when one has access to utilities, having your own outdoor wood boiler means you don’t have to worry about the rising costs of utilities or potential disruptions from storms or other events. Rather, you get to enjoy reliable, sustainable heating by your own design and that’s a long-term benefit that many find well worth the upfront purchase and installation cost. This gives peace of mind, knowing you can run off the smallest most fuel-efficient generator.

And we do mean sustainable. In a recent interview regarding how to be greener at home, executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance Chris Egan explained that while oil and gas boilers have gotten cheaper, the big benefits remain with wood boilers, stating, “you’re reducing your carbon impact and you’re saving money with a wood system.” It’s the only fuel you can harvest yourself, from your own land in many cases. It’s carbon neutral: the sun and carbon grew the tree, the carbon is released when burned, giving back to future forest growth.

Q. This is my first outdoor wood boiler, how hard is it to care for ?

The Portage & Main Ultimizer Wood Series was built to be exceptionally easy to use and maintain.

  • The control panel at the back is easy to navigate with quality components that, should they ever need to be replaced, can be readily bought around town.
  • The clean-out chamber is designed for easy disposal of ash that’s dropped through the grating.
  • The heat exchanger is easy to clean as build-up is minuscule due to the smoke burn in the upper chamber of the firebox. You pull the small amount of soot forward, then push it back into the firebox – keeping all the mess inside the unit.
  • The water float system readily and quickly identifies your water levels.

The whole unit has been thoughtfully designed to be approachable and easy to use and maintain, while likewise ensuring durability throughout all the winters it’s in use.

Transform Your Heating with the Portage & Main Ultimizer Wood Series. Are you ready to see the difference our product can offer? Contact the team at Heat Smart Plus today to learn more about the best outdoor boiler for heating homes and farms and how you can get one installed on your property!


Idaho Forest Products Commission. (n.d.). What Makes Wood Products So Green? Idaho Forests. https://www.idahoforests.org/content-item/what-makes-wood-products-so-green

Portage and Main_Logo_2024

About Portage & Main

Our head office is located in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. Our dealer network spans North America and we would be glad to put you in touch with one of our knowledgeable agents. Our staff oversees the development of new products, monitors production, designs heating systems, and offers tech support for installers. All our wood furnaces are designed for installation outdoors and deliver wood heat indoors.







(306) 922-1722


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