Monday, January 21, 2008

It's Time To Check The Fire...Again

Shiver me timbers it is cold in here. This year we are keeping the furnace off and the wood stove hot. Let me just say that I really feel for the women and men of old. We were lucky to have a big ol' pile of free wood dropped at our door this summer. All we had to do was spend an eternity piling it and cleaning it up. Back in the old days men had to go on day long trips all year long to fall trees, hitch them to cattle, drag them home, chop, stack, chop, stack, and chop some more. Women weren't able to turn up the heater anytime their little pinky toes got cold. Nope, they were up getting the fire going so as to be able to heat up the stove for breakfast. I just can't believe how much time fire tending takes. Not only must you bring in wood throughout the day, but the fire must be lit, it must be continually fed so it won't die, you have to clean up the ashes, you have to plan when best to light it for your schedule that day, and you must constantly make sure that there is a clean perimeter around the stove at all times, etc. I am used to checking things throughout the day, like the time, my email, the kids, the phone messages, but it is hard for me to remember the fire and I often forget it until my toes start freezing and the fire is already out. I'm just so glad that I live in the rather temperate Pacific Northwest. I can't imagine trying to survive the windy coldness of Idaho right now (though maybe it is easier to keep a house warm in dry cold rather than the wet cold we have here). So, even though I know of no one that would need this and it will probably sound more like whining, here is a list of what I've learned from using my wood stove:

1. Construction not only uses a lot of wood, but wastes a lot of wood. The neighbor that gave us the huge pile of construction scraps said that if people don't take it to burn it goes in the landfill (Why don't they chip it and give it to landscape companies?)

2. Don't forget to bring in a pile of wood before you go to bed because the last thing you want to do in the very early morning is run out in your bathrobe and coat to get a load of wood while praying that the neighbors don't see you.

3. The first 1 1/2 stove fulls of wood don't heat your home, they heat the stove so that the stove can eventually start heating your home.

4. Kids love to sit by the fire and then roll on the floor pretending they are actually on fire.

5. If you are OCD about checking your doors, windows, lights, and kids before going to bed you shouldn't use a wood stove to heat the house. My bedtime checking routine is ridiculous. I have even turned back home, halfway to the library, because, even though I new I had checked it, I couldn't remember what I saw or did when I had checked the fire before leaving. (I'm not clinically OCD but I annoy myself many times with my "tendencies")

6. Kids may logically know not to play near the fire but it won't stop them from melting plastic toys against the stove just to see what will happen (Surprisingly it was NOT Monster Man who did this... and did it repeatedly. But I will protect the identity of the heavily-lectured-to child)

7. Don't carry superwoman sized loads of wood into the house when you are pregnant. Having sciatic nerve spasms are not fun for anyone when mom is shrieking in pain every now and then. Don't worry, I've learned my lesson.

8. Using a wood stove to heat your house can suddenly change your whole outlook on the usual post Christmas pile of cardboard boxes. Cardboard is great for starting fires.

9. PRIME YOUR FLU. If the fire has been out long enough for the chimney to get cold it causes air to come from the outside in. So, when you light a fire the initial smoke will just pour into your house, giving everything that lovely just-came-home-from-camping smell. To prevent this you have to light a bunch of newspaper right up close to the chimney opening. This also means that I end up with soot on my arms and hands and must wash before I touch anything.

10. Don't get competitive with your husband over who lights the better fire because one day you will be in a rush and will light the kind of fire you are always preaching against and you will have to eat your own crow.

11. The trick to good wood stove usage is to maintain a constant, steady heat. If you pile the wood stove super full to try and reduce the amount of feedings you have to give it all you will do is waste wood, over heat the house for a small amount of time, and it will also burn up fast without leaving coals so you will most likely have to start the fire again.

12. If you smell smoke, don't wait till your hubby smells it too, run and check it out. We had a smoldering coal in a cold stove and it was filling our entire basement with nasty smelling smoke.

13. Keep baby blankets piled in the same room as the wood stove. These will be needed for performing the smoke detector dance whenever someone doesn't properly heat up the flu (or for situations like the one above). My kids know their stations and their jobs. It makes me glad I have so many of them (kids) because we have a lot of smoke detectors.

14. I've seen a lot of money saving tips on tv before. You know the ones that counsel you to drink coffee every other day, to go without a pedicure, get sensible haircut that will last, change your own oil, and to grocery shop with a list, all to save you a whopping $235 a year! I always laughed at these because I've never been able to afford a pedicure anyway. Well, putting up with a little extra work and few extra burns has saved us a whopping $2,000 this year (yes, it costs that much to heat this place, thus our reason to do this crazy thing in the first place) so take that, all you pedicured coffee drinkers! =)


Cocoa said...

Ahhh, brings back the good old days. The first two houses we lived in for 9 of our thirteen married years were heated strictly by a wood stove. They did the trick but the rooms furthest away were never really warm. Our third daughter also burned her hands really bad when she was learning to walk. She just started to fall and 'caught' herself on the side of the stove. A split second was all it took to give her two and some three degree burns on the palms of her hands. It was TERRIBLE!! But she survived (and so did I) without scars. That's really the only thing I don't like about wood stoves is the chance for my babies to get burned.

Family Adventure said...

I am very impressed with your efforts...being in Norway you really do need the furnace cranked, so we only have a stove for *show*. However, that $2000 dollars you are saving sounds like a very sweet return indeed :)


Mountain Dweller said...

Fires are great and I would love to have one, but my parents-in-law heat the farm house with a wood burning stove and as your say, it does seem a lot to think about..

Jen said...

We had a wood stove, and then a pellet stove and I have to say I will never go back. Wood stoves are unending work-finding it (unless you want to fork out the $ to buy it), hauling it, stacking it, splitting it, bringing it in, killing all the spiders & other vermin that come in with it, cleaning up the dust & dirt and chips and ashes, getting up at night to keep it going to you don't freeze your rear off in the thanks!

The pellet stove was nice, same great heat, huge savings compared to buying firewood OR using the furnace and the only work involved was filling up the hopper and setting the thermostat to the temp you want.

My parents are in the Pacific Northwest, but it doesn't really get cold there like it does here, so their fireplace and wood stove is more for the ambiance when they want it, its not something they rely on for heat.

Walter Jeffries said...

*grin* Wood heat is nice. You had posted over on my blog about the fire. Here are a few of tricks:

Don't clean out the ash too much. Let it build up and build a bed of coals in the ash. This helps to start subsequent fires and dry wood. It also makes fires burn longer and protects the stove.

Dry the wood out by the fire before burning it. Warm dried wood burns much better, starts more easily and gives more heat. It also rusts the stove and chimney less since there is less moisture. We put the fire by the stove to dry. That is why there is a space under our stove in the masonry for wood. If you have an oven in your stove you can also put wood in there to dry although I wouldn't leave it too long.

Larger logs burn longer. This makes for less frequent trips to fill the stove. Our older cellar furnance lets us put in several big logs, (43" long by 14" diameter?) which will burn for a couple of days closed down or over night partly open. But, big logs are hard to start - get a bed of hot coals built before adding the big wood.

Smaller logs burn faster and hotter. Great for starting fires and cooking at a higher temperature.

Adding thermal mass to a stove will make more efficient and allow you to burn it hotter without losing as much heat. This also makes for fewer refill times and a cleaner chimney. This can be as simple as piling bricks or concrete blocks on and around the stove. Stones work too. Beware that the masonry and stone need to be thoroughly dry so it won't explode - best to dry it gradually moving closer to the heat. Some stones like limestone may crumble from the heat.

A longer stove pipe inside the house can act as a better heat exchanger grabbing more heat from the fire for you to enjoy. But, don't get the smoke too cool or it will condense and form a lot of creosote & soot in the chimney. A balance.

The stove pipe should stay within the insulated envelope of the house as long as possible so that it will stay warmer and draft better. Those pretty chimney's built up the side of houses are less efficient than the ones up the center of the house.

If you burn hard wood (maple, oak, etc all of which are more expensive) then it will burn for a lot longer than the softwood which is typically used in construction (spruce, pine, poplar, etc). On the other hand, the construction materials are free! :) Do be careful about burning things that will produce a lot of creosote, don't burn plastics, etc. If you do burn high creosote woods (pine, spruce, etc) then burn them when they are drier (e.g., construction grade) and let them burn hotter to keep the creosote to a minimum. Also clean the chimney - it's easy and basic safety.

They don't chip the construction wood and use it for landscaping because it is the wrong type of wood - it will rot quickly. Unfortunate. It does compost well and as you've found, burns well. Do watch out for creosote.


in Vermont

Maria said...

Wow, now that's a way to save money! I learned a lot, too. We are deciding what kind of fireplace to buy. I've heard a lot of people like their stoves.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Wow, all I can say is I am duly impressed with you :) !!

Holly Homemaker said...

I'm impressed that you spend that much time on it when it's easier to turn on a furnace. Makes me wish I had a fireplace just so I could save $2000!

P.S. I found you through Hope you don't mind me dropping in!

Misty said...

You just wait and see what happens when I give up my pretty toes and coffee for good.


Lilibeth said...

We once lived in Gunnison, Colorado for four years and used a massive wood stove. It was a great comfort for toasting half-frozen shins, but the work involved in keeping it going was tremendous. Thankfully, we now live in Oklahoma, where the winters are mild. I miss the fireplace, but not all the ashes.

Thanks for your kind comments on my "The Great Escape" post.