Who Heats with Wood?

What skills to learn, what tools to get
HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

In thinking about all the utility bills (Electric from running my A/C non-stop 24/7 this summer), I am thinking more and more on how to reduce my utility costs. When we built our home, we installed a rather large "Country Flame" brand wood stove. It is a big cast iron stove with a fan in the rear of it, so it is fan forced heat, which does flow throughout nearly the whole house. It could effectively heat the house on it's own. We used it for a few years, but sinus conditions we have have stopped us. The woodsmoke when you open the doors to stoke it seem to bother both wife and self, so we stopped using it. It is even set up on the top, that if you needed to you could heat water and even cook on it. I have a supply of wood from a while back just as emergency needs. I would need to buy about a cord of wood if I used the stove mostly to heat the house.

I would be interested in hearing your costs you incur if you heat with wood?

The last check I had here on firewood was $55.00 a split rick. This was two years ago.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Before we moved into the RV, we heated with wood. We're pick up rounds (see craigslist) for free in spring/summer when people were cutting down trees for their "landscaping". They'd dry for 6 months and I'd split them. I have some very early blog posts on that.


George the original one
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Post by George the original one »

In Oregon, the land of many trees, the cost of wood heat partly depends on whether one burns hardwood or softwood. While we have a lot of softwood here and it's about 30% cheaper than hardwood, it doesn't produce as much heat per volume and it is dirtier to burn.
Yes, the smoke is a serious health concern, too. We only burn wood for winter holidays or emergency. We keep a stack of seasoned hardwood that will last us through a week of no electricity.
I wish ours was a real woodstove instead of a fireplace insert, as then we'd have a surface for cooking. Instead, if we want to cook, we have to use the upstairs fireplace and arrange the fire to cook over the grate.


Q
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Post by Q »

Wouldn't installing some large ceiling fans be better for you? Probably cut back on the outside/inside temp differentials.
I know when I am in Vegas or Mexico that I leave the AC off - but I love the heat. I am happy that the bay is finally having a real summer for a few days. Jacob will be cooking where he lives. 100+!!


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

@George Original
Actually we could prepare a full meal on our stove, and heat water for washing up as well. The stove we have must be carefully loaded with the right amount of wood, or your soon opening up windows to escape the heat!!


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

@Q
We have a 52 inch ceiling fan in almost every room. We have tried both reversals on the fan (up and down draft) and it does move a lot of heated air, but the reversals don't seem to matter too much. The fans do help a lot.


Melissa
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Post by Melissa »

I grew up with wood heat and love it. We would collect wood from road sides or deadfalls from our own property. I never noticed any allergy problems related to the stove, but we live in florida, land of pollen so I might not be as sensitive. We usually kept a large cast iron kettle simmering on the stove to add a little moisture and used it to heat bath water when the water heater went out. The area where the stove is was the warmest, and sometimes hot, but a box fan hanging from the rafters usually blows the heat into the next room well enough.
So outside of the time used the only costs were for gas to transport the wood and for the saw to shorten to the correct length before splitting. Everything else was done with child (or dad's) labor ;)


JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH »

I used to and miss it... If I continue to live in the Rockies, wood will be a key part of that strategy. Hopefully the Forest Service continues issuing firewood permits... There are more trees than ever, many of them sick, dying and dead, so I don't know why they would stop permits.
I've stayed toasty warm many winters on some inferior wood, like Ponderosa and Cottonwood... Hardwoods would probably blow my mind.
There is a lot to consider, but I think most of it comes down to proximity and capacity. If you have to drive over 30 miles one way to fill a short box, then wood probably doesn't make sense.
Seconding keeping water on the stove to increase humidity. My stoves never had a problem with putting smoke back in the house. Cook on it? Hell yes! Wood stoves heats up soup well, and makes a delicious toasted sandwich.
Man, I miss cutting wood and can't wait to do it again.


Checking Carly
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Post by Checking Carly »

At home, my parents use a wood burning stuff. Not only does it help them use less gas during the winter, but its also a nice tool for boiling water, drying wet clothes, and getting rid of cardboard and paper. They live in the country with easy access to a lot of wood, so they rarely if ever have to buy fuel.


Matthew
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Post by Matthew »

I WOOD love to heat with wood, but collecting and storage is an issue if you don't have wooded property. I also think those outdoor boiler furnaces look interesting that I see outside many country homes.


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

Actually my wife has the wood stove so "decorated up" it would take an act of congress to get it usable. She collects ducks and has them all lined up across the top of the stove.


George the original one
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Post by George the original one »

@HSpencer - so she has all her ducks in a row, eh?


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

@George Original
Well not "all" of them. I am not counting the duck bookends, and duck plaques, and duck drink glasses, and duck window hangers in stained glass, and duck flower holders, and duck---well you get the idea.


JohnnyH
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Post by JohnnyH »

@HSpencer: LOL, is someone in your house a duck hunter? ;)


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

@JohnnyH
I would be a rich man if I had a nickle for every flea market she has had me stop at to look for either "cute" or "antique" ducks.
"A wise man shows interest in his wife's desires".


Steve Austin
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Post by Steve Austin »

Like I said, old warriors die hard. ;-)


FrugallyLiving
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Post by FrugallyLiving »

@HSpencer - re the cooling costs - Do you have an attic fan? If not, would it be an option in your house?
re the ducks - LOL:-)


HSpencer
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Post by HSpencer »

@FrugallyLiving
I have installed an attic fan in the house years ago. It works pretty well, and if it were not that I live in cattle and hay country, (those honey wagons put quite an aroma when they spray), and the desperately high humidity in the region I could use it.

Wife is extremely sensitive to the continuing hay cutting, and my sinuses are not that great either.

On a rainy evening we have used the fan and been quite cool.


dot_com_vet
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Post by dot_com_vet »

They make woodstoves that are live in small outdoor sheds, then the heat gets piped into the house. No smoke and a bit safer.
I looked at biomass, it's likely more money than natural gas.
I think geothermal is the best in the long run, but the upfront cost is high.


George the original one
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Re: Who Heats with Wood?

Post by George the original one »

Bumping an old thread to update with the past few years experience:

The Mechanics

The retirement residence is a split-level home with 1150 sq ft upstairs and ~700 sq ft downstairs living space on a concrete slab foundation. We have a woodstove (Lopi brand) on both floors, each approximately sized for their respective living space, located on an exterior wall at the same end of the house. There is a clay brick floor-to-ceiling thermal mass behind both stoves. Both stoves draw combustion air from outside.

The larger upstairs stove has a bi-level surface so something can be kept warm while other things are cooking. It also has a built-in electric blower that is pretty effective at noisily pushing out the heat. It is difficult to get the heat to circulate down the hall and into the bedrooms, though we've found placing a box fan on the floor to pull the cold air out helps. We're tempted to cut a high opening into the mastersuite bathroom to aid circulation. This stove has a damper bypass to reduce letting smoke out when you open the door.

The smaller downstairs stove has a single surface and we use a peltier junction fan to quietly & slowly circulate the heat. We'll probably get a second peltier junction fan for the upstairs stove.

In mild weather (45F-60F outdoors), with the house up to temperature, the downstairs stove running at 50%-100% can maintain the upstairs temperature. Downstairs will gradually get too warm, but by the time that happens, we're usually ready for bed. Turns out cooking stews/soups all day in the cast iron dutch oven on this stove is optimum; haven't tried a pot roast yet.

The upstairs stove will heat a VERY cold house (38F is the coldest we've started from) to normal in about 4 hours. It is rare for us to run the upstairs stove at 100%, usually no more than 80% or else we'll overshoot too easily.

Night burns are usually only in the upstairs stove unless the weather is cold or we have house guests sleeping downstairs. The smaller stove downstairs will usually not have embers in the morning while the upstairs stove does about 85% of the time.


The Wood

Mostly we burn red alder. It burns hot with little smoke, doesn't spark, splits easily by hand, and grows locally in abundance. Other abundant local woods are western hemlock, yellow cedar, douglas fir, and sitka spruce. Of these, only douglas fir is commonly used in woodstoves and I avoid it due to thick smoke. Sitka spruce is incredibly difficult to split, so use a mechanical splitter. Big leaf maple is prized for burning longer than douglas fir or alder when it can be found, but it also produces more ash.

Various fruitwoods can occasionally be found locally. I've cut down some unproductive plum and cherry and apple trees for firewood. I like the hot coals that cherry produces. Plum seems to make more tar unless your fire is very hot, but it definitely burns for a long time. Apple I may reserve for smoking meat.

For night burns, the best coals for relighting the fire in the morning (by far!) are created by dense chunks of garry oak (Oregon/Washington variety of native oak). Downside is that oak is not available locally and it has to be trucked in 50-60 miles from the other side of the coast range. If we lived in the Willamette Valley instead of the Oregon coast, I would use garry oak and alder exclusively as their characteristics are well-matched. Best split by machine and purchased pre-split. Long term we will periodically buy a cord and reserve it exclusively for night burns.


Fire Starters

Newspaper and kindling lit with matches is the time-honored way to start fires. Sometimes a lighter, especially those long-handled ones for BBQ are convenient. In case of no newspaper, I have a palm-sized block plane and shave down a kiln-dried 2x4 pine/hemlock board to use as tinder. Some woodstoves now have an optional electric start, but I have not tried that.

Lately, after cutting down the fruit trees and having a large pile of tiny branches, I've been experimenting with faggots (tightly bound bundle of small dry sticks) and finding them very good for reliably starting fires. The key is that the branches have to be tightly bound to provide a large amount of burning surface and hold the resulting embers close together. Highly recommended!

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