Guest Post by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
The temperatures are dipping and the weather forecasters are predicting frosts – if you haven’t see them already – and it’s time to start cranking up the heat again.
For those of us who live in smaller sized homes and have access to wood to feed the wood burning stoves, though, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief, as we won’t be paying the high electricity bills for the air conditioning of summer.
When we built our Little House, we intended on using it primarily in the summer, so we didn’t go to the expense of installing a central air system, as we figured we could use a window air unit and a wood-burning stove in the winter – along with space heaters. I did want a beautiful rock fireplace, but given we ended up living in The Little House full time, I’m glad we went for efficiency, rather than beauty.
For four years of using The Little House as a weekend retreat and mainly over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we never used the wood-burning stove. Even during the first year we lived here full time, we only used a space heater, as the place is so well insulated, it used relatively little energy. As well, having just moved and the transferring of jobs didn’t allow my husband the time to cut wood.
All of that changed last year during the terrible ice storm that struck Arkansas and cut its way south. We suddenly found ourselves without electricity for a full 8 days. We fired up the stove and used it for not only heat, but to cook on as well.
By this time – since my husband had been laid off from his new job after being there just a year – I was all about saving money and I was watching the electricity we used. I noticed when the electricity came back on, how fast that meter added up the units we were using when we had the electric space heater on. We decided then to use the wood-burning stove as our only source of heat.
It’s worked for us (with the exception of not yet figuring out how to regulate it so it doesn’t run us out sometimes).
Here’s some tips that have worked for us in converting from an electric space heater to the wood burning stove:
- If you’re just installing a wood burner, make sure you choose a good, quality efficient unit. My husband complained at the time we built The Little House that we could have had a whole central heating/air unit installed for what we spent on the wood burning stove and the installation. He’s glad we did that now.
- Make sure you check with codes in your area, or the manufacturer’s recommendation for installation space away from walls. We had to install so many feet of tile on the wall and floor around out unit.
- Hire a certified installer. I’m not sure our construction manager did and last year we had to secure and level the stove before we could even use it as they also didn’t bolt it to the tile properly.
- Take into consideration if you will really save money by using a wood-burning stove. I understand a cord of wood can run somewhere between $200-$300 now, depending on the area in which you live. We have access to all of the wood we need due to a few storms that have unfortunately, toppled some of our biggest trees. Our only cost comes in the form of chain saw blades and a lot of sweat.
- Wood burns dirtier than fuel, so the consideration of the effect on the environment was a concern for me. However, given we are not off of the grid, and obtain our power from the electric company, which gets it from a nuclear plant hundreds of miles to the south, we figured using a wood burning stove couldn’t be worse.
- Also take into consideration the time spent maintaining the stove. Of course, the ashes have to be taken out daily and the glass has to also be scraped and cleaned at least daily. Between working our jobs and other home projects, we have to make time to cut and split the wood and load, stoke and maintain the fire during the winter. This wasn’t a problem for us last winter when my husband was laid off, but now that I’m the one working from home, the responsibility falls on me and I’ll have to fit that into my daily routine. Also, if someone wasn’t home during the day, I doubt I would trust leaving a fire burning.
- If you’re using an existing stove, I can’t stress enough the importance of having the stovepipe (or flue in the case of a fireplace) inspected and cleaned annually by a certified specialist. We didn’t do this in the bigger home we sold and when it was inspected before being sold we were told we had a flue fire and didn’t know it. We were lucky the whole house didn’t burn due to that damage.
I would be interested to read your stories about wood burners, or wood burners in comparison to pellet burning units.