Hi everybody, well I am back! Last week is officially one of the worst in recent memory; in fact, the last few weeks have been rough. If I look back things started to go off the rails around the last week of September which happened to coincide with the last new moon, so I was really pleased to see the cycle end late last week.
To give you an idea of how bad last week was Monday morning started off when Jason, (child number 4), called and began the conversation by saying " I'm out of the hospital, and I'm OK...." fellow parents breathe deeply. He was working on his girlfriend's car late Sunday when he was removing the blocks the jack slipped and he was pinned by the partial weight of the car. He is going to be OK. He has torn cartilage in his ribcage and lots of inflammation around his spine. I wasn't able to see him until Saturday so no matter what I tried to do last week I just couldn't focus. I couldn't sleep every time I tried to think I just kept seeing him trapped. Sometimes being a very creative visual person just doesn't work! Add to that continuing computer issues, front axle car trouble and a weather system that turned the homestead into a post-apocalyptic landscape and I have never been so happy to welcome Monday.
That's enough whining, on with the week.
Today is Tuesday and in the spirit of How to Tuesdays, I thought I would talk about heating with wood. It was cool and damp here last week and that meant time to fire up the wood furnace. We do have a wood furnace in the basement, it heats via a hot air system. Not my first choice and the long term plan is to install a wood cookstove which will heat the house and our hot water, but this will not happen until next fall at the earliest. We do use the wood furnace exclusively.
There has been a lot of talk about wood heat not being sustainable and about the carbon effects of burning wood for heat. My position is that if you manage your woodlot properly, then wood heat is carbon neutral. It is certainly better than oil, natural gas or coal. (Coal being burned to supply you with electric heat.) There is also a lot of misinformation on the safety and efficiency of wood heat; but again if you do it properly, wood heat is safe, efficient and cheaper than most other fuels available.
First insurance, it annoys me to no end that if wood is your only source of heat you are going to have trouble getting insurance. This explains the pattern we see around here of new houses equipped with electric baseboard heaters. They are cheap to put in and cover your backside for insurance purposes. Unfortunately, when people buy these houses and don't want to heat with wood they end up selling their souls to Nova Scotia Power in order to keep warm. For those who aren't blessed with that particular entity in their lives, my most recent power bill tells me I am paying a base charge of $10.83 a month and $0.14251 per every kilowatt hour I use; and don't forget to add the 15% harmonized sales tax. You can understand my desire to get off the grid. So if you have an existing heat source other than wood, don't remove it. I have a friend who bought a house that had an old oil furnace in the basement, the tank had been removed but because the furnace sat in the basement they were able to install a beautiful Pacific Energy stove and use it to heat their 1200 square foot home with wood and keep their insurance. I am sure individual cases will vary but if you are building or renovating it is worth it to check with your insurance broker.
The next question is what size and type of stove do I need? This will depend upon the size of your house, how much insulation it has, what your climate is like and why you want a stove in the first place. There are many types of stoves and other ways to heat with wood. If I was building from scratch, and had a sizable budget I would build my house around a masonry heater. Masonry heaters work on the principle of heating a large thermal mass and then allowing that heat to radiate back into the living space. This is the same principle behind rocket mass stoves, just on a larger scale. They tend to be the most efficient way to heat with wood and certainly give off the most even heat from wood. Most masonry heaters are extremely heavy and require beefing up of foundations. If you are looking for supplemental heat and emergency heat in case of a power outage then an airtight wood stove is probably the best option. There are multiple brands on the market, my personal preference is for the Pacific Energy brand. That said, it has been a few years since I did any research into this type of stove so there may be better ones out there.
Do your research, manufacturers list the stats for each model including btu's and square footage recommendations. These should be treated as fuel milage ratings on new cars, they represent the optimum when the unit is operating at peak efficiency; and for wood stoves this means burning at full draft with dry hardwood. This is not how most people use wood stoves.
So you have the stove and the chimney installed, what to burn? If you are purchasing firewood, ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations. There are many great people selling firewood but there are also not so great people selling firewood. Know what you are buying. Most firewood is sold by the cord. A full cord of firewood, when stacked, will measure 8 ft X 4 ft X 4 ft. I have found that the closer you get to suburbia the more likely you are to find people selling "face cords", face cords are 1/4 of full cords when you stack it will measure 8X4X1.
If you are handy with a power saw ask about getting eight-foot lengths; suppliers will usually give you a deal if they don't have to cut and split the wood. Ask if the wood will be cut and split, this is not a given.
You are looking for hardwood, species like maple, oak, birch, and ash. The denser the wood fibers the longer and hotter the wood will burn. Hardwoods also burn cleaner. Softwoods like spruce, fir, and pine, especially if not properly dried, will have resins or sap. When this sap burns it gives off black smoke. This smoke is full of creosote, creosote sticks to the inside of your chimney and will catch fire. Wood that has not been properly dried, is referred to as greenwood. It is to be avoided at all costs. It has high moisture content and therefore does not burn well. You will get much better heat, efficiency, and safety from dried hardwood. Wood you will be burning this winter should have been cut last winter, older is fine. We cut firewood in the early spring and let it dry until early fall. If you moved to your homestead in the summer and plan to harvest your firewood from your own land, look for standing deadwood, trees that have died but remained standing or deadfalls, trees that have died but were caught in branches of other trees as they fell, keeping them from hitting the ground. Both of these will be suitable for burning. It will put you much farther ahead to start with dry wood, even if you have to buy your wood for the first year.
How much wood do I need? The answer to this is impossible for me to say. Even if we had identical houses on the same road it would be impossible to say. Square footage is a place to start, you must also take into consideration how well your house is insulated, how warm you like your home to be as well as the design of your house. A sprawling ranch style house will never be as easy to heat with wood as a compact Cape Cod-style house. How does the air move around your house? Will you be home during the day to tend the stove or do you need supplemental heat for when you are at work. If you have bought your property, you should be able to get a ballpark figure from the previous owners, it pays to err on the side of caution, having too much wood is better than having not enough, and it's not going to go bad, you can burn it next year. One other point, unless your house consists of one room directly over another, you will need a fan(s) to move the heat around the house. It is worth the investment to look at convection fans like the Ecofan.
For the last word, I will refer you to woodheat.org this site will answer any and all questions you might ever have concerning heating with wood.
Have a great day everyone, and stay warm!