Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wood Heat

It's a thing I love to talk about and learn about--heating with wood. Some might call it pyromania, but it's always been my dream to have a hearth and heat with it. It's a most natural inclination, perhaps, and I believe it's the most satisfying.

I just got back after seeing "The Road," so this blog-post is partly an attempt to focus my mind on something other than the movie's disturbing portrayal of TEOTWAWKI. If you are seeking a movie that's depressing but very well done, check it out. After watching it, I think I need to purchase more shotgun shells.

Anyway, woodheat. This is my second season of heating our house entirely with wood heat. This year, we've turned on the furnace mostly for convenience's sake, and at that only a handful of times. Our propane furnace is efficient, but propane is wicked expensive. Hence we try to avoid it whenever possible, using it only as a back up.

Wood: In some ways, a wood heater is only as good as the wood you feed it. I am presently burning our seasoned reserves, and the differences between seasoned wood and unseasoned wood are stark. With seasoned wood, you increase your burn times immensely, in addition to your heat output. There is also less ceocrete (soot) to worry about forming in your chimeny. Seasoned wood costs more, but you'll get more from it.

I've been heating entirely from scavenged wood. In the fall I began taking a chunk a day from work, splitting and stacking it in the present pile area. Works well, but it takes a while when all you have is Mustang trunk. Ideally, I would have split and stacked all the wood I needed for winter back in the early days of Spring. Nine months or longer is the ideal seasoning time, and the longer the better. Anyway, I was not able to make it happen back in the spring, but this year, now that life seems a little more normal, I'll be making it happen.

Stove: I have a used Jotul F3 woodstove. It's sweet except that it's made for a combustor, which I don't use. The combustors burn up excess emissions on these models and were known, supposedly, for clogging quickly. I have followed the previous owner's recommendation of not using it and the stove works fine.

That being said, while it is a pretty stove, I wish it had a larger fire box. I would like to load it up at night and not have to worry about waking up to feed it. So the bigger the box the better in terms of loading frequency and heat output. If our stove was any larger in our current space, it would take up the whole room and make it a suana. When we add on, God-willing, in the years ahead, we will move the present stove into our living room and purchase a larger version of the one we have for the addition. I will purchasing one to be set up without a catalytic combustor.

Chimney, Flue, & Draft: Sounds like the name of a 70s band, or an English law firm. Anyway, it's critical to make sure your chimney is installed correctly. I don't know much about the process, except that your chimney, like the exhaust system of the car, directly impacts your stove's efficiency and the amount of draft and/or pull you get from it.

This year we have been far more successful, I think, about working the woodstove. That is to say, adjusting the flue and level of draft coming in. Slow burning coals is the goal. Wood selection certainly helps in that regard, but basically it's something for which you acquire the feel for one's particular setup.

Chainsaw and Axe: When I purchase a saw, it will be a STIHL MS390 Farm Boss with a 20" bar. I have one on loan from work, so I am not in dire need. While any saw will do, chainsaws are touchy beasts and have to be loved and used frequently so the engine does not develop issues. Chainsaws are easily the most dangerous hand tool out there, with some 50,000 accidents occuring every year. I follow these main rules when sawing:

1.) Do not cut when I am tired (most chainsaw accidents occur at the end of the day);
2.) Do not cut with my body directly behind the saw;
3.) If I feel uncomfortable for any reason about cutting, I calmly stop and reassess the situation. Sometimes I just walk away.

I have heard wood splitting be called everything from a "pain in the ass" to "soul-building." For me it's mostly the latter. I love splitting wood. It's great exercise and gets your mind off stupid crap. My personal axe is a light, flanged head True Temper with fiberglass handle. Thing works great for my style of splitting and is an essential tool out here on the homestead.

Peace Out,



Martin Schap said...

As you know, my interest in wood stoves and making the most of what they offer has recently intensified. Good post, and very informative for this wood stove newbie. Can't wait to cut a hole in my ceiling and start heating with wood.

Nick-dog said...

Thanks Gee. This one has been building up for a long time. I ran out of wood a few days ago and called a Craiglist dude to have a cord dropped off.

He brought me mostly ash with some walnut. The stuff dominates. The wood stove seems to love the Ash as it starts and then heats quickly. In some ways, I am finding it preferable to oak, since starting it seems easier and in general feels less finicky to work with.

So it's been a success so far. I am deeply interested to hear of your set up and how life is with the woodstove.



Clare said...

"...it would take up the whole room and make it a suana." And I would be totally okay with that!!!!!! Bring on the heat!