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? Are you considering installing a wood-burning stove and are you short on money?

First of all, what is needed to heat with wood? Well, for starters 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 emit clouds of unburnt soot while smoldering, and also have close proximity to combustibles, some as long as 4″. Almost all have a ceramic window that looks like glass but is impervious to heat, allowing you to enjoy the fire and keep up with the need to adjust or supplement the wood. I do not recommend buying a stove with a catalytic internal combustion engine, as they are more expensive and have a decreasing efficiency. The efficiency of a stove without a burner never changes and newer standards have been met without burners since 1992 when the current EPA standards were established. The combustion chamber in certified stoves is designed to burn wood efficiently without smoldering, even when they are turned off completely. This allows you to get more heat out of each piece of wood while dissipating it cleaner and hotter, almost completely eliminating creosote build up in the flue. By the way, never connect a certified heater with a 6″ outlet to an 8″ pipe. Due to the technical combustion, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ flue, which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use the listed flue pipe and adhere to the clearances on the flue and stove for safe installation. Your insurance company may deny a claim caused by a heater that is not installed properly or does not meet all clearances. I also recommend a wind direction rotating cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution to drafts caused by strong winds coming up your chimney and filling your house with smoke.

Once installed, a wood-burning stove can serve you for a lifetime without any problems. So why don’t more people burn wood? Probably because it’s not convenient, a bit messy, takes up space, etc. While this is true, I’d like to say how comforting it is to hang my three strands of firewood for the winter, knowing that if there’s a storm or if a blizzard blows through or the power goes out (sometimes for days), my family and I will be warm and able to cook our food on our trusty stove. Our children remember those times as special times, all in the same room, not far from the stove, while outside the snow is piling up and the wind is blowing. There’s nothing like wood heat to soothe 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. That was an $1800 stove when it was sold new 4 years ago and was barely used. I am always looking for used stoves for friends and sometimes I pass one on for a profit. If you buy a used stove that was manufactured after July 1, 1992, it will meet the new Stage II standards. Washington is the only state that has its own standards, which are now 4.5 grams per hour (gph) of particles. Most new stoves and some used stoves comply with this standard. Look online at “EPA Certified Stoves” if you find a used stove you’re considering.

It is true that firewood takes up a lot of space. You can not ignore it. If you live in the city, you may have to get creative to make the space. Perhaps wood could be stored under a second-story deck, against a garage wall, or even in the basement. If you live in a rural area, a shed roof can be attached to a shed to make a beautiful wooden shed. On my house, I installed metal roofing under an upper deck and held a whole cord of oak in front of the door. In the cold of winter I don’t have to go far for more wood. The other two cords are kept under a shelter on the other side of the shed and wheeled up with a wheelbarrow if necessary. By the way, I’ve never burned 3 whole cords. That’s my extra margin of safety!

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At home I store firewood for a week near the stove in masonry bins built for the purpose. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and full of rebar, allowing me to split kindling directly into the hearth. Under the fireplace is a large kindling drawer where I also keep paper. Tools hang on hooks nearby. I use a coal hood to carry out the ashes and bring in more kindling.

Lighting the fire in the morning is a special ritual for me. After burning wood for over 25 years, I have one thing on offer: make a fire. I always start with at least two pieces of wood, 1 large and the other smaller and opposite each other. I split kindling into splinters for the first start up and added larger pieces until ignition is complete. The smaller logs start first and the larger ones ignite 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 natural certified, built like a Sherman tank, have a double vent to light the fire quickly, look good and burn efficiently. I have found used copies for several friends and relatives. I’m a little biased in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to meet emission standards without a catalytic converter. All certified stoves on the market now copy its combustion process, with the great secret being a lot of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 before selling to Earth Stove, who made them for a few years and then sold them to a larger 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 to $500.

When firing with wood, it’s a good idea to put a pan of water on the stove to replace the moisture extracted by the dry heat. An old cast iron cauldron serves well for this. Another addition that is very useful is a ceiling fan, which is placed close to the stove and is used to carry the heat away from the stove. Without a fan, it takes much longer for the heat to fill the house. Because heat seeks cold, it eventually warms up the place, but who wants to wait in the dead of winter? This small addition makes a big difference!

One more thing that makes a big difference to heating your home more efficiently is bringing outside air directly to the stove. This is mandatory in mobile homes and all new homes, but is a good idea in any home. If you have a crawl space under your house, a 3″-4″ pipe in the crawl space will do. In my case I placed a 4″ pipe in the open before pouring the slab. Standing stoves are designed for outdoor air, but stoves with legs will need to be adapted. Special outdoor air adapters can be ordered or made for each stove.

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To clean the ceramic glass in the morning when the stove is cold, I simply take a piece of newspaper wetted with water and emulsify the creosote by scraping it off with a razor blade. Even the best stoves get deposits on the window.

I hope these tips are helpful. I can’t help but share the primal joy I feel when firing with wood. This is how our ancestors kept their food warm and cooked until the last century and many in the world still do. To me it seems as God intended!