How will you heat your house when the power goes out? Do you have access to cheap or free firewood? Have you considered installing a wood stove and you don’t have a lot of money?
First of all, what is needed for heating with firewood? Well, to start you need a good approved wood stove. Why certificate? Because they use less than half the wood used by the previous generation of wood stoves, they do not expel clouds of unburned soot while smoldering and also have close clearances to fuels, some up to 4″. Virtually all have a ceramic window that looks like glass but is impervious to heat, through which you can enjoy the fire and keep up with the need to adjust the firewood or feed more. I don’t recommend getting a stove with a catalytic combustion chamber as they are more expensive and have decreasing efficiency. The efficiency of a stove without a combustor never changes and newer standards have been met without combustors since 1992, when the current EPA standards were established. The fire chamber of the certified stoves is designed to burn wood efficiently without burning, even when completely extinguished. This gives you more heat from each piece of wood while the exhaust is cleaner and hotter, almost completely eliminating creosote buildup in the chimney. By the way, never connect a certified stove with a 6″ exhaust to an 8″ pipe. Due to designed burning, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ chimney, which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use the listed stovepipe and respect clearances in the pipe and stove for safe installation. Your insurance company may deny a claim caused by a stove that is improperly installed or does not meet all clearances. Also, I recommend a wind directional swivel cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution for air currents caused by a strong wind that goes down the chimney and fills the house with smoke.
Once installed, a wood stove can give you a lifetime of trouble-free service. So why don’t more people heat with wood? Probably because it’s not comfortable, it’s messy, it takes up space, etc. While this is true, I would like to say how comforting it is to have my three cords of firewood prepared for winter, knowing that if a storm or blizzard blows or the power goes out (sometimes for days), my family and I will be hot and we can cook our food on our trusty stove. Our children remember those moments as special, all in the same room not far from the stove while outside the snow piles up and the wind blows. There is nothing like the warmth of wood to calm the soul and warm the body!
If you can’t afford a new wood stove, keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist or eBay for a good deal on a used stove. Last week I called a newer Lopi for $400 but someone offered them $450 and they took it. It was an $1800 stove when it was sold new 4 years ago and hardly used. I’m always looking for used stoves for friends and sometimes I’ll give one away for a profit. If you buy a used range made after July 1, 1992, it will meet the new Phase II standards. Washington is the only state that has its own standards, which are now 4.5 grams per hour (gph) of particulate matter. Most new and some used stoves will meet this standard. Check “EPA Certified Stoves” online if you find a used stove you’re considering.
It is true that firewood takes up a lot of space. There’s no way to avoid it. If you live in the city, you may have to get creative to make the space. Perhaps the wood can be stored under a second story deck, against a garage wall, or even in the basement. If you live in the country, a shed roof can be attached to a barn to make a stylish wooden shed. In my house, I installed a metal roof under an upper deck and kept an entire cordon of oak just outside the door. In the cold of winter I don’t have to go far to get more firewood. The other two cables are stored under a cantilever on the far side of the barn and are pulled up with a wheelbarrow when necessary. By the way, I have never burned 3 whole ropes. That’s my extra margin of safety!
Inside the house, I store a week’s worth of firewood near the stove in purpose-built brick bins. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and filled with rebar, allowing me to split firewood directly into the hearth. Under the fireplace there is a large drawer for firewood where I also keep the paper. Implements hang from hooks nearby. I use a coal hood to remove the ash and carry more firewood.
Lighting the fire in the morning is a special ritual for me. After heating with wood for more than 25 years, one thing that is clear to me is to start a fire. I always start by using at least two pieces of wood, 1 of them large and the other smaller and facing each other. I split the wood into chips for the initial start and add larger pieces until ignition is achieved. The smallest logs start first, and the largest log is lit soon after. My favorite wood to burn is oak. It burns longer and smells better than anything else in these places. My favorite wood stove is a Brass Flame. Of course they are certified, they are built like a Sherman tank, they have a double air vent to start a fire quickly, they look good and they burn efficiently. I have found used for various friends and family. I have a bit of bias in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to pass emission standards without a catalytic combustion chamber. All certified stoves on the market now copy their combustion process, the big secret being a lot of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 of them before selling them to Earth Stove, which made them for a few years and then sold them to a larger company, which dropped the line. They come in 2 models, the 805 (smaller) and the 1005. If you can find one, you won’t be disappointed! Expect to pay between $150 and $500.
When heating with wood, it’s a good idea to keep a pot of water on the stove to replace the moisture removed by the dry heat. An old cast iron kettle serves this purpose. Another addition that is very useful is a ceiling fan, placed near the stove and used to direct heat away from the stove. Without a fan, it takes much longer for the heat to fill the house. Since heat seeks cold, it eventually warms the place up, but in the dead of winter, who wants to wait? This little addition makes a big difference!
One more thing that makes a big difference in helping to heat your home more efficiently is bringing outside air directly into the stove. This is required in mobile homes and all new homes, but it’s a good idea in any home. If you have a crawl space under your house, a 3″-4″ pipe in the crawl space is adequate for this purpose. In my case I put a 4″ pipe in the open air before I poured the slab. Pedestal stoves are designed for outdoor air, but legged stoves will need to be adapted. Special outdoor air adapters can be ordered or made for any stove.
To clean the ceramic glass in the morning when the stove is cold, I simply take a piece of newspaper dipped in water and emulsify the creosote, scraping it off with a knife. Even the best stoves accumulate at the window.
I hope these tips are helpful. I can’t help but share the primal satisfaction I feel when heating with wood. This is how our ancestors heated and cooked their food until the last century and many in the world still do. To me, it seems the way God intended it to be!