Will your wood stove heat the area you need? Maybe you need two wood stoves, one at each end of the house? And the really big question follows with, “how much wood will I need for a season?” In this series I’ll attempt to provide answers and suggestions for these questions and more after living with wood heat 11+ years.
Wood Heat necessity off grid
Wood burning is the most common source source for off grid living. Electric heat should not be considered for heating the space in your home or buildings; it ‘s terribly wasteful with your hard earned off grid power! Propane can be stored in in tanks to supply adequate winter fuel, but cost and availability may be issues. Even with propane, it’s best to have a wood as a backup heat source in case your fuel estimates were wrong.
When we first purchased our off grid home, we’d visit it in the winter on our first snowmobile. It was a long track Polaris unit of 1980′s vintage. We all rode up at once. The 2 year old would be tucked in my coat up front, and Jackie and I would squeeze the 4 year old between us. The “cabin” was 12′x16′ and had an open box stove similar to the one above. We’d arrive at about midnight to a 20F cabin, where Jackie would bundle the kids up for bed while I got the stove going. It seemed so difficult at the time, and was memorable.
The cabin would heat up nicely after a two or three hours of feeding the stove all the pine we could fit in it. The box stove was what they call and “open” stove. There are small cracks between the parts that are bolted together, and they serve as vents for the fire to draw air from. One problem, however, you couldn’t really turn it down to a lower burn rate. It would burn medium to hot and never anything lower.
The open design, meant that in the morning there was nothing left, not even any hot coals. For weekend use it made for more of and adventure, but wasn’t that good for reliable full time heat.
Once the addition project was under way I obtained a small “sealed” wood stove. It was about 2 foot square, with a door and insulating rocks inside. The door had an adjustable vent that worked well. The stove was small, but efficient with the ability to control the burn rate. It didn’t hold much wood, but it was my first stove to have good coals in the morning!
In the late winter of ’99, I cut the window out of the cabin to make the doorway connecting to the new house addition. This was a big event! We kept using both stoves. The original “cabin” became the kitchen with the box stove.
It didn’t take too many weeks in the winter to figure out that the 2 stove solution was a pain!
Especially that attention hungry box stove in the kitchen! When we tried the little sealed stove for the whole house, it took forever to warm up the kitchen. We were concerned about things freezing in the kitchen if we left home for too long in the winter.
Bigger wood stove
After watching the Little Nickel Ads, we found a much larger stove used from a psychologist 30 miles away. This Huntsman stove has a secondary metal chamber above the fire box to capture and radiate more heat. This sealed, or air tight stove had vents but no windows in its two front doors. Not much on aesthetics, but it ranked high on heat output and the great price ($150)
The huntsman stove put out much more heat, and could keep the whole house and kitchen warm. We could close it up at night with a full load of wood, and have and easy coal bed to toss more logs on in the morning. In this case, size does matter. This stove could hold heat so well that we could leave 12 or 18 hours and not worry about the house freezing.
Heat with a thermostat
A year or two later, our heating solution evolved into our current solution. I installed a small vent-less indoor propane wall heater in the kitchen. It has a thermostat and requires no electricity. It has whats called an “oxygen deplition seneor” and will shut off if necessary for safety. This unit, along with the demand hot water heater and the stove/oven are all powered by our propane tanks that hold up to 600 gallons of propane.
The kitchen heater alone can warm the house completely if necessary in a pinch. We keep it low to prevent freezing in the entire house. In the early morning before tending to the fire chores, Jackie or I will go to the kitchen to crank up the heater and warm up first. Nice to have the instant heat to warm up a little first, before braving the 50F house temperature for starting the fire.
This is a brief synopsis of how our home heating systems have changed and improved over the years. Next time in this series, we’ll cover fire starting tips. See wood heat : easily-start-your-stove
Do you have wood heat? What do you like best about your heating solution? What are your greatest concerns about moving to wood heat? Tell us in the comments below!