Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cold mornings

The idea of woodstoves is terribly romantic. Picture a kettle merrily steaming away on a wood cookstove. There you are sipping warm hot coco as that radiant heat soaks into your bones. There’s no electric or gas company involved. All you have to do is light up some of that sustainable harvested local wood.

My kitchen woodstove is all that, and more. It also includes waking up to a cold house. My classic old cookstove doesn’t sustain a fire very long. It has a small firebox and isn’t an airtight stove. In the morning, don’t expect to find more than the occasional stray hot ember left. A few hours after I go to bed, the stove has died down and the the house starts to cool. By morning, it’s darn right chilly.

I get up while my wife is still sleeping. If I was smart, there’s split and dry wood ready. Sometimes I have to out where it’s truly cold and haul in some firewood. Might even have to split it with snow blowing all around me. Believe me, that’s a chore best down ahead of time when the sun is shinning.

Then I light the fire. In no time at all, it’s warm -about 2 feet from the stove. The rest of the house takes a few hours to really get comfy. I put a huge kettle of water on the stove. That takes a while to heat up, but there’s enough water to fill the peculator, make oatmeal, and to act as a humidifier.

By the time my lovely wife gets up, the coffee is made, the kitchen is warm, and the stove is good and hot for cooking breakfast. For her, most mornings, the woodstove isn’t an inconvenience at all. That’s fine by me. If the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Now when I fire up my big basement woodstove, there’s a chance the house will be warm in the morning. That stove will still have a deep bed of hot coals. If the wood is seasoned hardwood, it can hold a fire for 12 - 14 hours. It also uses a lot more wood than the old kitchen stove, so it doesn’t get lit until it’s really needed. When the temperature drops below zero Fahrenheit, it takes both stoves to really warm the place up.

I’d like to replace the basement stove with a rocket mass heater. All that thermal mass would still be radiating heat in the morning. My wife isn’t convinced yet. She remembers the fiasco with the waste veggie oil heater, so hesitates when I mention experimental stoves.

The experimental veggie heater worked fine when set up in the yard. However, when installed in the basement, the veggie fuel tank got warmer and warmer. The oil flowed better and better and fed the stove faster than it could be burned, flooding the combustion chamber. Then the pool of oil in the bottom of the chamber ignited. Let’s just say it set off every smoke detector in the house. A plume of black smoke blew of the chimney that could be seen from across the lake. I shut off the fuel and the heater eventually burned itself out. The experiment was over. She wasn’t going to let me try to build a better fuel regulator.

When heating oil was a buck a gallon, I’d just set the oil heat to kick in once the house started to cool. Now that heating oil is around $3.70/gallon, I really think hard about turning the furnace on or not. These days it only runs when we are going to be away for a few days. Buying fuel is cheaper than replacing plumbing.

Of course, after the holidays, I’m heading south for the bulk of the heating season. I’ll let others have the romance of the woodstoves.



  1. Hey there.
    Let your wife know this is masonry stoves are a time tested technology. And you wont be dissapointed, it is the best stove around and will be warm long after the fire is out. Here is appropedia article with links I wrote long time ago (the stove on that site was built by me).

  2. Sasha: Thanks for the link. I haven't given up yet. I've been slowly gathering the materials needed to do the job, just in case.

  3. You sure a good husband to have the house warm and the coffee made for when your wife wakes up. I used to heat a house with a wood stove. Really liked it, but had a firepace and a gas furnace to back it up if needed.

  4. Have heated with wood for 35 years. Absolutely nothing beats wood heat. Nothing. However, this year I made the decision to have two, vented, gas wall furnaces installed. I just got tired of waking up, or, coming home, to a cold house. Keep them at 65-68 degrees and it takes the chill off. But at $2.10 a gallon, I still bought 5 cords of wood. I have a live in a warm house for the first time in 66+ years!

  5. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you and your family.

  6. Keeping mama warm is the most important thing of all!

    Getting the "cold shoulder" or the "cold feet in the back" is not a good thing!

    Hope you get on the road South without any problems!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Maybe a mass heater bench in the yard (perhaps even with an outdoor kitchen area) would be something you and mrs sixbears would like. Enjoy a cool evening on a warm bench while you plan your next voyage.

  8. I got the fun of using a kitchen woodstove just a year ago working for my uncles. Loading it up right before hopping in bed and setting the damper at half usually kept me warm for the night. That was one time where I appreciated junk mail, that stuff makes decent tinder. Still had to have twigs and branches to catch before putting in a chunk or two, but it's a lot easier than using pine needles and such!
    I also switched to a wool jacket after melting a sleeve of my nylon parka on the flue.

  9. I just found your blog and i'm really enjoying it. I'm a 25 year old mired in student loan debt (40k) and chained to a cubicle. But people like you have inspired me to strive towards real freedom. Keep up the good work.