Wood Heat Keeps You Warm
Long ago I remember visiting my Grandmother during cold weather. I would stand straddling the floor vent with hot air blowing up. She had gas heat and it felt great.
A house I rented had electric heat. The thermometer said the air was a comfortable temperature. I was cold.
Most of my life I’ve lived with wood heat. Like gas heat, wood heat is warm, even hot. Unlike gas or electric heat, wood stoves burn down unless fed regularly. Then the house gets cold.
Lots of homesteaders use wood heat. Here in the Ozarks wood is cheap and plentiful. Usually it requires a chainsaw, a tractor or truck to haul the wood, a splitting maul or wood splitter and people to do the work. There is no monthly bill.
That is the appeal. It sounds like a great idea. The reality may not live up to the hype.
Decision 1: Picking a Wood Heating Stove
At one time wood heating stoves were big, smoky affairs taking up a big corner in the main room of a house. There were the upright types, the long, low types and the ones with an enameled casing over the cast iron section. The companies making the stoves kept trying to make them more airtight to minimize the smoke escaping into the room but this slowed down the combustion reducing the heat produced.
These interior models are still sold. They are often decorative with enamel casings and windows in the doors. When the chimney or stove pipe is installed correctly, they don’t smoke and keep the house warm.
Outdoor heating stoves are popular now. These are a stand alone stove connected to the house through duct pipes. Most of the smoke stays outside with the stove.
Electric fans blow the heat through the ducts. If the electricity shuts off, so do the fans.
These stoves can be rigged to supply hot water as well as hot air, but need to be kept running year round to keep that water hot.
Blower fans are a good idea with any wood stove. A lot of heat goes up the stove pipe. Hot air rises and sits at ceiling level.
We have a small fan from an old refrigerator behind the stove pipe. A small fan is very effective and takes little electricity. Many larger blower fans take a lot of electricity and are expensive to run. It blows the wood heat from the stove pipe out across the room at the level we are at. If the stove leaks smoke, the smoke will be blown around the house too.
Chore 2: Cutting and Splitting Wood
Different kinds of wood burn at different rates and make different amounts of ashes. Black walnut makes excellent kindling as it catches fire easily, burns fast and hot to get other wood started, but makes a lot of ashes. Dry sycamore is much the same.
Oak is the preferred wood in the Ozarks. Once dry, it burns slowly putting out lots of wood heat and making few ashes. It usually has a straighter grain making splitting easier.
If a fire is hot enough, green wood from live trees will burn. Much of its heat is used to dry the wood so it can burn. The best wood has dried for a year and is called seasoned wood.
Trees get old and die or get blown over in storms. We rarely cut live trees for firewood as the supply of newly dead trees is enough to supply all of our needs for the winter. We usually put up our wood in early fall but spot the dead trees over the summer.
Some of our neighbors wait until cold weather arrives to cut wood. I’ve done that. Cutting wood is hard work and doing it in the cold makes it harder. Besides, having that wood pile cut and stacked before winter lets us relax and enjoy the autumn knowing our source of wood heat is ready and waiting.
Anyone who has built a campfire knows a match will not start a big piece of wood burning. Newspaper, cardboard and finely split dry wood will get bigger pieces burning. Different sizes and shapes of stoves take different kindling set ups. The best way for a particular stove is learned by doing.
Different sizes and shapes of stoves take different lengths and sizes of wood. No stove takes logs a foot in diameter. This is where splitting comes in.
We normally stack the log pieces and split them as they are needed to fill the wood rack. We can do this because the wood is from dead trees and already dry. Split wood dries faster but absorbs more rain or snow melt water. Wet wood smolders making lots of smoke and little heat.
Splitting wood with a maul is hard on the back. The maul can bounce off the wood. The maul can miss the wood. The wood can split suddenly. Accidents and injuries come with splitting. Wearing gloves helps.
Although I’ve never used one, I know many people who like wood splitters. There are several kinds.
No matter how you split the wood, it is work. It takes time. Stacking the wood takes time.
A number of creatures find a wood pile a great place to live. The various beetles and other insects aren’t much of a problem. Mice and rats vacate quickly. Snakes leave in the fall. Still, keeping the wood pile away from the house is a wise precaution.
Headache 3: Wood In the House
No one enjoys going out to the woodpile in the snow at midnight to get wood to put in the wood stove. The solution is to keep a small pile of wood by the stove ready to put in as needed.
We have a double tiered wood rack. It’s about four feet tall with a shelf on the top. Under the shelf are two areas two feet tall, four feet long and two feet deep. Each space holds enough split wood to heat the house for 24 hours.
The nice part about having the two spaces is when the wood pile gets wet. The wet wood has a day to dry off before it is needed in the stove.
Another solution is to have a roof over your entire wood pile. In the Ozarks this would be a large roof.
Watching the weather forecasts is a good idea too. When severe storms are coming into the area, we split enough wood to fill the wood rack, fill the wheelbarrow for an additional day, even put a few smaller logs on the floor in front of the rack to use all night.
No matter how carefully you brush sawdust and other dirt off the wood, some comes into the house. Beetles working under the bark drop a stream of sawdust onto the floor. Smoke descends as a fine dust throughout the house.
Wood heat feels great. Wood heat can be economical to use. It is a messy source of heat.
Those bits of sawdust are not good for vacuum cleaners. Shop vacs will work. The best idea is to have a linoleum or cement or other floor covering in the area around the wood stove. Then a broom and dust pan work well.
As long as the wood stove is being used, I sweep the house daily. Our stove is an old one that does smoke. A newer stove putting out less smoke would help with this. I sweep up the dirt from the wood in the racks and the smoke dust.
Living the Simple Life
Every now and then I meet people moving out into the country wanting to live the simple life. They dream of garden produce, livestock, wood heat. They dream of leaving the city behind.
I grew up in a city suburb. My father took us tent camping, but these were fun outings. We had chickens. My father had vegetable gardens.
We still lived in the city. Stores, other houses and people were all around us.
I was in my twenties when I left the city behind. I’ve lived the simple rural life for many years now. I love it, hate it, get frustrated by it, but would never move back to town, if I had a choice.
And that choice does loom off in the distance. Why? The one thing most people don’t want to think about but must face sooner or later is forcing this issue.
People get old.