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Keep Yourself Warm with Wood

Mar 12, 2015 10:50PM ● Published by Jim Buckenmyer

There is something magical about sitting in front of fire on a cold winter evening, but the romance of it aside, there are many advantages to heating with wood. It can be the cheapest method of heating your home; fuel is usually readily available and can be a springboard towards self-sufficiency.

Of course, if you already have a wood stove or fireplace, you are well on your way. If not, you will have to choose which you prefer. Modern wood stoves are highly efficient. They can heat a large home for almost 16 hours with only one feeding. A fireplace is quite inefficient, up to 90 percent of the heat goes straight up the chimney, but it is so relaxing to sit and watch the flames.

There are many ways to increase the efficiency of your fireplace. The more money you are willing to invest in it, the more efficient you can make it. For about $150 you can add a fireback.  A fireback is a large metal slab, usually cast iron, which absorbs the heat and reflects it back into the room. For about $600 you can add a tubular grate with a blower. This heats the air and blows it back into the room. The next step up is to get a fireplace insert. For about $1500 you can turn your fireplace into a wood stove. These inserts slip into an existing fireplace and vent through the existing chimney, unfortunately you lose the charm of an open fire.

Safety is a big concern with wood heat. It would be terrible to reap the savings from a wood stove only to lose everything to a fire. It is important to familiarize yourself with your particular appliance. Check carefully for the clearances around it. This area must be kept free of combustibles, including carpet and furniture. There are some things that can be done to reduce the clearances required, such as using double wall chimney pipe and running the pipe completely vertical. Smoke detectors are even more important with a wood stove or fireplace. They may be an annoyance, but can easily save your life and more importantly, that of your loved ones. A couple of good fire extinguishers are also good to have, place them on opposite sides of the room so that one is always accessible.

Good maintenance practices will also help keep you safe. The smoke going up the chimney will leave behind creosote on the pipe. Creosote is a black tarry substance that builds up and can catch fire. Creosote fires in the chimney can easily spread to the rest of the house. Creosote buildup is inevitable, but the danger can be lessened. First and foremost, keep your chimney clean. I personally use a chimney brush, which I bought at the local hardware store, about 2 or three times a season. It is easy to do and, if you sing ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ while doing it, it can actually be fun. To prevent excess buildup avoid slow smoldering fires and do not burn high resin woods such as pine.

To keep your fire burning properly it is important to remove the ash from your stove or fireplace on a regular basis. Make sure the fire is completely out. To remove the ash use a fireplace shovel and a metal ash bucket. Do not throw the ashes away, there a many ways they can be used later: in the garden, in housecleaning and even for making your own soap. I place mine in a metal trash can that I use solely for that purpose outside my back door.

In the future, I will tell you all about choosing and obtaining firewood, how to choose and install a wood stove, and other uses for your fireplace. Until next time, I am going to pour myself an adult beverage, shut off all the lights and sit in front of the fire.

— Jim Buckenmyer, Nature's Toolbox Columnist

Today, Community Jim Buckenmyer Homesteading Nature's Toolbox

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