Heating With Wood For Less

How will you heat your home when the power goes out? Do you have access to cheap or free firewood? Have you considered installing a wood stove and don’t have much money?

First of all, what does it take to heat with wood? Well, to start with you need a good certified wood stove. Why certified? Because they use less than half the wood that the previous generation of wood stoves used, don’t exhaust clouds of unburned soot while smoldering, and also have close clearances to combustibles, some as close as 4″. Virtually all of them 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 wood or to feed in more. I don’t recommend getting a stove with a catalytic combustor as they are more expensive and have a declining efficiency. The efficiency of a non-combustor stove never changes and newer standards have been met without combustors since 1992, when the current EPA standards were established. The fire chamber in certified stoves is engineered to burn wood efficiently without smoldering, even when shut down all the way. This gives you more heat from each piece of wood while exhausting cleaner and hotter, thus almost completely eliminating creosote buildup in the flue. By the way, never connect a certified stove with a 6″ exhaust into a 8″ pipe. Because of the engineered burn, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ flue, which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use listed stovepipe and adhere to the clearances on the pipe and the stove for a safe installation. Your insurance company can deny a claim caused by a stove that is improperly installed or does not meet all clearances. Also, I recommend a wind-directional rotating cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution to back drafting, caused by a high wind forcing itself down your chimney and filling your 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 is not convenient, is somewhat messy, takes up room, etc. Though this is true, I would like to say how comforting it is to have my three cords of firewood put up for the winter, knowing that if a storm or blizzard should blow through or the power should go out (sometimes for days), my family and I will be warm and able to cook our food on our trusty stove. Our kids remember those times as special, all of us in the same room not far from the stove while outside the snow is piling up and the wind blowing.There’s nothing like wood heat to sooth 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. Just last week I called on a newer Lopi for $400 but someone offered them $450 and they took it. That was a $1800 stove when sold new 4 years ago and was barely used. I am always on the lookout for used stoves for friends and sometimes I’ll turn one over for a profit. If you buy a used stove manufactured after July 1, 1992, it will comply with the new Phase II standards. Washington is the only state to have it’s own standards, which are now 4.5 grams per hour (gph) of particulates. Most new stoves and some used ones will meet this standard. Check “EPA Certified Stoves” online if you find a used stove you are considering.

It’s true that firewood takes up a lot of space. There’s no way around it. If you live in the city, you may have to get creative to make the space. Perhaps wood can be kept 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 dandy wood shed. On my house, I installed metal roofing under an upper deck and keep a whole cord of oak right outside the door. In the cold of winter I don’t have far to go for more wood. The other two cords are kept under an overhang on the far side of the barn and wheeled up by wheelbarrow when needed. By the way, I have never yet burned 3 whole cords. That is my extra margin of safety!

Inside the house, I keep a weeks worth of firewood near the stove in brick bins built for that purpose. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and full of rebar, allowing me to split kindling right on the hearth. Under the hearth is a large kindling drawer where I also keep paper. Implements are hanging on hooks nearby. I use a coal hod to carry out the ash and to carry in more kindling.

Starting the fire in the morning is a special ritual for me. After heating with wood for over 25 years, one thing I have down pat is starting 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 kindling into splinters for the initial startup and add bigger pieces until ignition is accomplished. The smaller logs start first with the bigger one igniting shortly after. My favorite wood to burn is oak. It burns longer and smells better than anything else in these parts. My favorite wood stove is a Brass Flame. They are certified, of course, are built like a Sherman Tank, have a double-air opening for quick-starting the fire, look good, and burn efficiently. I have found used ones for several friends and relatives. I am a little prejudiced in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to pass the emission standards without a catalytic combustor. All certified stoves on the market now copy his combustion process, the big secret being lots of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 of them before selling to Earth Stove, who made them for a few years and then sold to a bigger company, who 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 anywhere from $150-$500.

When heating with wood, it is 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 well for this purpose. Another addition that is very helpful is a ceiling fan, positioned close to the stove and used to move the heat away from the stove. Without a fan, the heat takes a lot longer to fill the house. Since heat seeks cold, it does eventually warm the place up, but in the dead of winter, who wants to wait? This small addition makes a big difference!

One more thing that makes a big difference in helping to heat your home more efficiently is bringing in outside air directly to the stove. This is required in mobile homes and all new homes, but is a good idea in any home. If you have a crawlspace under your home, a 3″-4″ pipe into the crawlspace is adequate for this purpose. In my case, I put in a 4″ pipe to open air before the slab was poured. Pedestal stoves are designed for outside air but stoves with legs will need to be adapted. Special outside-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 get a piece of newspaper wet with water and emulsify the creosote, scraping it off with a razor. Even the best stoves get buildup on 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 kept warm and cooked their food until the last century and many in the world still do. To me, it seems the way God meant it to be!

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