Supplemental Woodstove Heat

Our long-term goal s to build a solar-water-heating system to provide space heat through radiators. Until then, we must rely on the legacy system in the house: a fuel-oil furnace system. To reduce the amount of oil we have to burn, we’ve installed a temporary woodstove in the existing fireplace. The stove sits in the old fireplace with the stove pipe right up the old chimney. This is more efficient than just burning wood in the old fireplace. When burning, the fireplace drafts air from inside the house up the chimney, actually pulling heat out of the house. A woodstove keeps this heat in the house by radiating it out from the body but blocking up the large draft of the chimney.

By starting this stove in the afternoons, we’re able to turn off the furnace and still keep the house comfortable, burning only a small armful of wood.

One month’s worth of ash.

This stove is EPA certified, which means it burns cleaner than the older models, which were basically boxes with a door and smokestack. These stoves have flue corridors that put the exhaust back through the heat of the stove, causing any uncombusted hydrocarbons to burn up before going up the chimney. Another benefit is that fuel is almost completely combusted. After running the stove each night for a month, we only generated a quarter cubic foot of ash.

Starting a Fire with One Match

I’ve tried different ways to start a fire in this stove and developed a method that seems to work almost every time. First, two large logs are placed along both sides of the stove. Between them, I put 3–5 crumpled pieces of newspaper topped with kindling. Above the kindling go some smaller pieces of wood. The bottom of the newspaper is lit and the door is shut. It is best to shut the door once before lighting to be sure nothing will block the door from closing once lit. Oxygen is pulled into the lower center trough, making a combustion chamber. The upper wood quickly catches fire.

Future Stove Plans

This woodstove is only a temporary measure. In addition to the solar-heated radiator system, we hope to have a masonry heater built in the next few years. I could describe this stove, which is basically a large mass of bricks through which a hot fire’s gasses are directed, allowing almost all the heat to be absorbed into the home interior, but why not let Mark Twain do the heavy lifting:

Take the German stove, for instance – where can you find it outside of German countries? I am sure I have never seen it where German was not the language of the region. Yet it is by long odds the best stove and the most convenient and economical that has yet been invented. To the uninstructed stranger it promises nothing; but he will soon find that it is a masterly performer, for all that. It has a little bit of a door which you couldn’t get your head in – a door which seems foolishly out of proportion to the rest of the edifice; yet the door is right, for it is not necessary that bulky fuel shall enter it. Small-sized fuel is used, and marvelously little of that. The door opens into a tiny cavern which would not hold more fuel than a baby could fetch in its arms. The process of firing is quick and simple. At half past seven on a cold morning the tender brings a small basketful of slender pine sticks – say a modified armful – and puts half of these in, lights them with a match, and closes the door. They burn out in ten or twelve minutes. He then puts in the rest and locks the door, and carries off the key. The work is done. He will not come again until next morning.

All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable, and there will be no headaches and no sense of closeness or oppression. In an American room, whether heated by steam, hot water, or open fires, the neighborhood of the register or the fireplace is warmest – the heat is not equally diffused throughout the room; but in a German room one is comfortable in one part of it as in another. Nothing is gained or lost by being near the stove. Its surface is not hot; you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt. Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day; the cost is next to nothing; the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns; one may absorb himself in his business in peace; he does not need to feel any anxieties of solicitudes about the fire; his whole day is a realized dream of bodily comfort.

America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? The American wood stove, of whatsoever breed, it is a terror. There can be no tranquility of mind where it is. It requires more attention than a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time; and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half. It warms no part of the room but its own part; it breeds headaches and suffocation, and makes one’s skin feel dry and feverish; and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano.

— Mark Twain, Europe and Elsewhere (1923)

You can find a design for such a stove over at the Missouri Extension.

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