The home on our homestead was initially built without a fireplace or a wood burning stove. We had planned to buy one once we settled in, but during that first winter, our double insulation kept us so warm that we wondered if a wood stove was even necessary or worth the expense.
Then the cost of propane began to climb. Last year it was nearly double the price of what we'd paid in the past. In addition to our large heating bills, we missed the cozy atmosphere a fire provides. So, after considerable research and shopping around, we purchased a Napolean wood burning stove with a cook top.
Here are a few of the advantages and disadvantages of heating with wood — as well as some things we learned when purchasing our stove.
A wood burning stove saves on the cost of fuel. As mentioned above, the rising cost of propane last year was the primary determining factor for our purchase. This being the first full winter of heating with wood, we have used propane only for cooking and the water heater, significantly reducing our expenses.
Depending on your fuel source, heating with wood can be a more self-sufficient option. There are two different types of heat stoves. One uses pellets as a source of heat while the other uses wood. Since wood is more readily available to us, we opted for the wood-burning stove. However, I know of others who are pleased with their pellet stoves.
In addition to having a readily available fuel source, we are prepared in the event of an emergency. We don’t live in an area that gets much snow, but we do live in an area that gets a lot of ice, which can (and does) take down power lines. One winter we were without power for almost a week. It is comforting to know that if it happens again, we can still cook and adequately heat our home.
A wood burning stove is cozy, and adds greatly to the ambiance in a home. During the winter, we eat fewer and fewer meals at the kitchen table, preferring instead to sit in front of the fire.
It’s messy. The stove and all the gear (wood, wood basket, poker, etc.) take up space and can create a mess. Every morning we bring in wood and kindling — and leave a trail of debris behind. The stove also creates a lot of ashes inside the fire box which need to be removed on a regular basis.
It doesn’t always heat evenly. When we got our stove, the man who installed it claimed that it would generate so much heat we’d be opening the windows to cool off the room. I didn’t believe him at first, but he proved to be right. Wood stoves can generate an amazing amount of heat! However, this heat doesn't seem to reach the back bedrooms or our office, where we spend a lot of our time. We manage this by using portable space heaters which work pretty efficiently. A central fan to distribute heat throughout the house would also work, or using the furnace in the morning to bring the rooms to the desired temperature and the stove to maintain it.
Building a fire adds to morning chores. We wake up every morning to a cold room, which makes getting out of bed that much more difficult. First item on the agenda every morning is getting the fire started… and feeding the chickens, a morning walk, and taking care of the dogs. That being said, my husband has learned to love this morning ritual.
You need to have a source for fire wood. We do not have a wood lot on our property so we buy wood every winter. We’re still learning how to gauge exactly what we need. Currently we pay $100 per rick, delivered and stacked. We’ve found that one rick will heat our 1500 square foot home for about one month. We’ve managed to find some reasonably priced wood on Craigslist and we’ve even found some locally for free. A nearby city also has a green waste site that offers free wood. Whatever your source, keep in mind that fresh cut/green wood will need to be cured for eight months to a year before using for best results.
Things to Think About
Appearance. We found wood stoves that ranged in appearance from relatively plain, to stoves that looked like works of art and were available in a wide variety of colors. If yours is going to occupy a prominent place in your home, appearance is something you might want to keep in mind.
Safety. According to Storey's Basic Country Skills, if you have sheet rock, your stove must be placed a minimum of 18 inches away from the wall and sit on some sort of protective pad. However, since we have a concrete floor, the protective pad was unnecessary for our situation. Safety regulations may differ from state to state. If you are choosing to install your own stove and have any questions, contact your local fire department.
If you have small children, you need some sort of guard rail surrounding it. The outside of the stove does get very hot and there is nothing to prevent little hands from reaching out to steady themselves. Also, care for your chimney. It needs to be cleaned on an annual basis — since the build-up of creosote can lead to a chimney fire. It also goes without saying to have a fire-arresting spray or fire extinguisher stored nearby for quick and easy access.
Do you want a cook top? Some of the fancier models have a top that allows for cooking. The set up is pretty simple. Ours has a lid that lifts and allows you to set cast iron cookware directly on the surface of the stove. We chose this feature so that we could cook during a power outage, but it did cost us extra.
Cost. How much do you want to spend? The less fancy models in our area ran under $1,000 while the more ornate ones were significantly higher. Stoves can also be purchased at the local home and garden store or even ordered online and delivered to your front door. Since we had lots of questions, we opted to purchase from a specialty store in hopes of getting a knowledgeable sales rep and a certified installer.
Installation. It is possible to save money by installing your own stove. There are several tutorials on the internet and some information in Storey’s Basic Country Skills. However, installation involves some serious safety issues and cutting a hole in your roof or side of your home. Unless you are really familiar with the process and comfortable with it, I highly recommend having a certified installer take care of the process for you. The store through which we purchased our stove was able to schedule our installation.
Do you have a wood burning stove? What are some of the advantages (or disadvantages) you have found to heating with wood?
Also see: Fresh Bread on a Wood Stove
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