Thursday, November 29, 2007

Woodstoves:The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Heating with Wood

I love my woodstove and fireplace--sort of. I love free heat and the beauty of the open fire. But it's a love tinged with resentment and sometimes downright fury.

Like tonight.

It's Thursday, and that's writing group night. The woodstove was loaded and the drafts carefully shut so the fire would hold and heat evenly until we returned home.

Writing group was great--several good stories and poems, and it was nice to reconnect after so many of us had to miss meetings the last two months due to kids' ball games and other commitments. The Chai tea was excellent, and it was one of those mellow evenings that leave you relaxed and smiling for no real reason. Larry and I even cruised down a street in town renowned for its holiday lights as we drove home.

The good mood evaporated when we opened the front door. What was that smell? There was no smoke, but the acrid smell of it filled the house. A quick check of the fireplace revealed no problems--the fire had burned itself out and everything seemed fine in that room.

Then we looked more closely at the wood stove. It's a Fisher and I've had it for 30 years (hard to believe). Every year it has provided so much heat that we often open doors in the dead of winter to cool things off. The temp is usually around 78 when we go to bed, and around 68 when we get up (this is a drafty house). It holds fire for hours, sometimes days, if properly filled.

But tonight we made two big mistakes. First mistake was that we put a pine log in the Fisher. We know better than that--pine is okay when the stove is burning wide open and is pretty hot. Second, we closed the drafts too tight. So the creosote from the pine and other wood leaked out the stovepipe joints and bubbled and smoked until it was completely charred. What a mess. And what a smell.

The stovepipe is as old as the stove. Because it runs directly up about 8 feet and then through the ceiling, it provides a lot of extra heat itself, and it's cool by the time it reaches the ceiling. So it's never burned out, and the only problems we've had with it is when we do something stupid like we did tonight. Thirty-year old stovepipe (ordered through the Sears catalog when it was still Sears Roebuck) is pretty amazing, come to think of it.

This weekend we'll have to find new pipe. It's past time. Stovepipe isn't as easy to find as it was in the past--even Lowe's doesn't carry it now. So it'll be a search, and probably we'll end up ordering it online. I got my money's worth (it was $7.00 a joint back in 1976 when we bought it) so I can't complain.

I love wood heat. I love the fireplace. I love being toasty warm in the evenings and knowing the fire will hold all night. I hate the smell of creosote, especially in my house. I don't like the dirt that seems to be an inevitable part of heating this way either. Or cleaning out the ashes. In the end it all balances out, I suppose. The heat is low-cost (we do have to consider the cost of gas and oil and the chainsaw and its upkeep, the tractor, wood splitter, etc) and it's WARM. No chilly house for us. The fireplace is beautiful; the open fire is a pleasure that I look forward to every wintry evening.

So it's a trade-off, and one we'll keep making until we decide when we want to hook up the free gas. After the cost of pipe and furnace, our heat will be truly free.

Then I'll probably reminisce fondly about the good ol' days when we heated with wood, and remember only the good things--and forget all melting creosote on a stovepipe stinking like 1000 pieces of burnt toast.


Marion K. said...

Hi Granny Sue,

Marion here--we met at the WVW conference this past June.

I'm familiar with both the wood stove business and the free gas business (I prefer both of them to heating with kerosene, and I preferred that to not having heat, but that was a long time ago, and I digress....)

Where I live now it's not hard to obtain stovepipe, as so many people here in the Pacific NW heat with wood (even in the city), so it bemused me a little to see that it's hard to get in your neck of the woods. I guess that's creeping civilization, or some such thing (I am utterly goggled every time I get a look at Ripley these days so maybe that civilization thing really is the problem.)

Anyway, yeah, wood's a pain in the neck to clean up after and creosote is forever. Then there's the risk of chimney fires. And that smoke-and-ash undertone in the house that never really goes away. I'm now so smoke-sensitive that I couldn't get away with living with it at this point in my life. Or kerosene, either. I'd be on a nebulizer for sure.

On the other hand, while it may catch your house on fire if you screw up once too often, wood isn't going to blow the place to smithereens. But then, modern gas appliances and piping are designed to be so safe that if they're properly installed they won't either.

The older I get the more I appreciate the free gas idea. It seems like I'm never really warm any more in the winter, or at least not for very long. I understand now in my bones why the old folks used to turn the heater up to glory. I wrote a poem about it years ago. Don't know where I tucked that paper away.


Mary said...

So it's a trade-off, and one we'll keep making until we decide when we want to hook up the free gas. After the cost of pipe and furnace, our heat will be truly free.
I don't understand "free gas" -- explain please ;-)

And thanks again for so many lovely glimpses of your life and family. I could almost taste the fruitcakes!

Granny Sue said...

Last winter a natural gas well was drilled on our property. We didn't own the mineral rights on that 30 acres, so we won't get royalties but as the surface owner we were paid for surface disturbance and we can hook up to the well and use the gas for our own use for free.

We have to run the pipe. The tap is there, but it's our responsibility to install the lines and whatever we need in our home.

The kicker is that the well is a half-mile away. So that's a lot pf pipe! We're still debating it. Will it pay off for us, assuming we live in our house another 20 years? I think it will, but of course first we've got to have the cash to install it! And the time, there's always that.

I have pictures, etc, of the drilling on my blog. Look under "drilling" and "gas well" in the labels--I think it was in February that I wrote them.

Granny Sue said...

Marion, it's good to hear from you! I do remember you. Ripley continues to clean up its act. Now they're installing underground electric and telephone downtown, and it's so much prettier. New sidewalks too! Compared to a lot of places in West Virginia, Ripley's ahead of the pack. Compared to the northwest, though, I think we're probably still about 25 years behind. At least we have a coffeehouse now!

PriscillaHowe said...

I also really love wood heat. My office is on the cool end of the house, so I take my laptop into the living room to soak in the heat. Do you have hedge trees, a.k.a. Osage Orange, a.k.a. Bodark (bois d'arc) in WV? This wood has the most BTUs but sparks like crazy. I get some wood for free and also buy some--just got a cord of hedge. Aaah.

By the way, "No story left behind" was a big winner on my buttons at the Bizarre Bazaar. Thanks!


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