Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wood Heat

I love wood heat! It feels different than gas or electric heat. I grew up in a home with a wood furnace that blew hot air out vents in each room. My sister and I liked to stand over the heat vents in our night gowns when we got up. The hot air would puff them up like balloons and we'd soak it in as long as we could until we had to get ready for school.

There are pros and cons to wood heat, just like every other kind of heat source. We had to cut, haul and stack about 10 cord of wood every fall. Then all winter long we'd go outside, brush off the snow, fill the wheelbarrow and haul it into the basement by the furnace. It was definitely more work than other kinds of heat! But I love the feel of it. It's a "warmer" heat than other types. I've lived in homes with natural gas and electric heat also. All 3 of those heating methods require a forced air system to blow the heat into the home, which makes the air very dry in the winter, and they all require electricity to work.

In-floor heating is a comfortable, clean and consistent heat, and becoming more widely used in newer construction. There is no air blowing, so there is not the dust or dryness that you get with forced-air blowers, but it also requires electricity. Some people love it, but for me it lacks that "cozy" place you can curl up by like a glowing fire.

The house we are in now has a wood stove on the lowest of 3 levels, in our family room. We have no blower, no forced air. It's just a radiant heat that rises and circulates naturally with the draft it creates. I've always been amazed at how well, and how evenly, it heats all 3 floors. I think it's mainly because our home has 2 stairways - a regular stairway in the original part of the house, and a spiral stairway in an addition. The previous owners also cut a hole in a corner of the dining room floor, above the stove, and built a nice Oak grate in the opening that we can walk on. Those 3 openings between the first 2 floors allow for a nice current of air that flows naturally as the lower air heats and rises. There is just one stairway in the middle of the house to the top floor and all the doors to those upper rooms are close to the top of the stairs. They all remain consistently warm. We burn about 7 or 8 cord of wood each winter depending on the type of winter and what kind of wood we have. That's pretty good considering it is the exclusive heat source in a 3 story, 3,800 sq. ft. home!

Last fall we thinned out the trees on the hillside behind our house to let more sun in. We cut the logs into 4 foot lengths and piled them by our woodshed. Little-by-little we've worked at getting them cut up and stacked in the shed. We cut them into 3 lengths of 16 inches to burn in our stove. Today my dad brought his log-splitter over to split up all the big pieces. We worked for 6 hours - cutting, carrying, splitting and stacking, and processed between 5 and 6 cord of wood. I could hardly move by the time we were done! But it always feels so good to see all that wood in the shed every fall. I actually enjoy the work!

With all that work, why would anyone want a wood stove? Well, besides having a nice fire to sit by when it's snowing outside! It is a renewable, self-reliant heat source. It's the only fuel safe to burn inside that doesn't require electricity. Propane and other gas heaters give off fumes that can be deadly and have to be used in a well vented area. That defeats the purpose of keeping the heat in. I know more and more people who are installing a small wood stove in the corner of a family room or other central location of their house. Even if they rarely use it now, they know they can stay warm if power is lost in a severe winter. In a larger home, you can shut doors to rooms and block off hallways if you have to in order to keep one area warm enough to exist in. And, if the stove is built with a large enough flat area on top, it can provide a great cooking surface.

It's not very difficult to install a wood stove. Most of them come with false walls on the sides and back, like ours, which provides a pocket of air space between it and the side of the stove. You can put your hand on the outer wall of the stove and not be burned. The top and front of the stove are where the main heat radiates from. This allows for much smaller clearance requirements between the stove and surrounding walls, furniture, etc. The chimney pipe goes up and angles out through the outer wall. This picture is of a Lopi brand stove. You can see how close it is to surrounding walls and other things. There are specific requirements concerning the type and size of pipe and how high the outside chimney pipe has to go, etc. All those details can be obtained accurately for your home and the size and type of stove you are interested in, from a stove dealer. I found a great web site loaded with information on types of wood to burn, chimneys, safety, maintenance, planning your hearth and location and just about anything else you can think of! Here's a link:

Being self-reliant sometimes means a little more work, but you gain new valuable skills and have that peace of mind knowing you will be OK no matter what comes!

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