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Decades of wood heat.

I have been heating with wood for several decades. The experience has been a whole family adventure.

We bought 120 acres of heavy wooded land in the Ozarks. As soon as my boys were old enough to pick up sticks, they were part of our wood gathering chore. We never had to cut any live trees. Nature supplied us with enough blow downs, standing dead wood, and dropped limbs to fill the wood bin.

Even though we all enjoyed the outside work, if the house and the stove are not energy efficient, you are working to heat the great outdoors; the gasoline burnt, calories used, with little gain--not much different than a campfire.

Our experience also taught us to work smarter. I now drag the whole tree to where we will split and stack the firewood. This reduces the "touch time" handling the wood by half. I have a tractor with a loader and 3-point splitter. I cut the trunk down to a log about 10 to 20 feet long. Then I lay the loader bucket perpendicular on top of one end of the log, loop a chain around the log, and then hook it over the front bucket. I lift the entire log up to waist level with the loader, and then cut the log to firewood length. It's much easier on the back, and no more getting the saw chain into the gravel. Just a half-second nick on a stone trashes a chainsaw blade.

By the way ... filing a chain?! Who has time for that? I bought a nifty chainsaw sharpener that looks like the sharpener that the guy at the hardware store uses to sharpen chainsaws, except it clamps to the chainsaw bar so you don't have to take the chain off. It's 12-volt so I can do the sharpening out in the back 40. It has all the cut angle adjustments for different species of wood, cutting frozen, or ripping wood.

Thirty years ago we started heating with wood with a woodstove bought at an antique sale. It was for an addition put on a travel trailer in the woods. We were so young and naive. That old woodstove was so full of air leaks there was no control over the combustion. The heat would force us to open windows, and then as the fire died down, we were cold. Getting a full night's sleep without continuously tending the stove just wasn't in the cards.

The next level of our adventure was to build a 30-by-40-foot shop that was walled off for living quarters while we built the house. I found a used glass-front stove that was many times as efficient as the stove in the trailer. It only required one trip during the night to throw in a log or two. The heat loss wasn't so much the stove's inefficiency as the windows of the shop. We had 10-inch-thick walls with two types of insulation. We should have paid attention to "real" details of the windows that came with the shop's building package. Yeah, they were double-paned, but that was about it. Any below-freezing weather resulted in ice formation on the inside.

We got tired of the mess in the house that a woodstove makes. It's not just the ashes and bits of wood around the stove, it's the layers of dust that coats everything. As we were drawing out the plans for the house, the mechanicals got some serious attention.

The woodstove was out. Bye-bye to the mess. In its place is a highly efficient wood-burning forced-air furnace with LP backup in the basement, with an outside door located at the furnace, and 99 percent of the mess stays outside. I'm really impressed with the furnace. It has an "afterburner" to consume any smoke produced by the combustion. It has a chamber after the firebox that remixes outside air to reburn the leftover vapors from combustion.

This does two things: I get total value out of the work I did to get the wood to the firebox, and it leaves the smokestack clean. We have used it now for 10 years. I have yet to run a brush down the flue. Every year I do a fall inspection. The only remnant of the fire in the flue is a white powder. My 8-inch brush is still in the box. This is great, since the smokestack is on a two-story house with a basement. That's a whole lot of flue to clean.

The furnace has a thermostat and operates just like a gas or electric furnace. I set the temperature to heat, and a draft fan comes on. This kicks up the fire. A sensor turns on the blower fan when the furnace heats up. When the furnace is hot, another sensor turns the draft fan off. The blower and draft fan run as required to get the temperature set by the thermostat. When the house gets to the temperature as set, it shuts down the draft fan, the blower cools off the furnace and shuts down. The fire smolders until the thermostat calls for more heat, then just like a gas or electric furnace it starts the process again.

The only thing I do is load the firebox once a day. It would hold enough for several days, but in the fall and spring seasons, we really don't want the heat during the day. It's just a waste of wood and all our woodcutting work.

There is a hot water preheater around the firebox. The water temperature from the outside is usually cold when we are using the furnace. This option was money well spent, as it reduces the time the hot water heater runs.

During the house construction, the insulation type and especially the installation got a lot of attention. All the windows are the highest grade--not necessarily the most expensive. You don't have to spend gobs of money to get good quality and efficiency, just do the homework.

This lifelong adventure has resulted in much less wood burned. I can heat my house for the winter season with less than a cord of wood. I like being outside, but I also like playing with my hobbies. This morning it was 8 degrees. When I went to bed the house was 70. I set the thermostat at 65. In the morning it was 67. A great day for indoor hobbies.


Huntsville, Arkansas
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Title Annotation:Mail Call
Author:Gordon, H.W.
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 1, 2017
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