Wood Heat Comfort - it's different
The main reason wood heat is attractive is the same reason any form of heat is attractive - it keeps you warm so you don't die of hypothermia in the winter. Heating with wood also provides a visual and audible comfort that warms your heart, but our main interest is warming our bodies.
Heating with wood is quite a bit different than central heat, so it's something you need to know about before you make it part of your frugal living lifestyle. Here are the basics of comfort with a wood burning appliance.
Wood burning stoves heat the room they are in, but not the whole house. You'll need a way to distribute the heat around the house in order to have comfort all over. That's why songs often refer to "sitting by the fire," because if you're not nearby, you might not get the heat value you're expecting.
If you're heating with wood in just a one room cabin, then you'll be fine with the stove set in the middle of the cabin. The bedrooms will be much cooler, but not necessarily cold. If you have a large home, you'll need to put up with some rooms being quite chilly unless you can distribute the heat around with fans or a central furnace on the recirculation mode.
Also be aware that wood burning stoves require time to get up to temperature, and once they do, the area they are heating could require several hours before you feel comfortable. It's one of the reasons we have gone away from wood heat and rely instead on gas, oil and electricity - there is tremendous heat value and we can extract it and distribute it quickly.
Wood heat also requires you to feed the fire regularly so you maintain a relatively constant output in order to maintain some semblance of a constant room temperature. Wood burning stoves are not capable of being regulated much at all. They mostly burn hot and fast, with warmer temperatures in between times when more wood is added.
One way to heat the house with a single wood burning stove is to incorporate it into a hydronic heating system. Outdoor wood furnaces are designed to do this. I visited a man near Denver that had modified his wood stove to heat water that goes to the furnace intake pre-heater. You can do much the same with baseboard heaters as well.
For a large home, you'll generally need wood heat in a couple of places unless you have a way to distribute the heat that is generated in one place. The same holds true for corn and pellet stoves. Unless you have a smaller home or you have a way to distribute the heat, you'll have a nice warm living area and chilly bedrooms in the far part of the house.
That's why the furnace system is ducted throughout the house - to keep the home evenly heated. With wood heat, you'll have to find a way to do that.
Indoor wood furnaces can be connected with the duct work of your furnace system to utilize this part of your infrastructure to more evenly heat the home. It's not so easy with wood burning stoves.
If you're new to wood heat, check out the range of possibilities before jumping in. Whole house furnaces, whether indoors or outdoors, are very expensive and installation adds more cost to the proposition.
We heat with wood, and have done so very effectively with only a single fireplace insert in the kitchen to heat the upstairs which is about 2,000 square feet. The insert has a blower that forces heat out into the room, and I place two fans around the insert to extract as much heat as possible.
One small fan blows across the ceramic glass front to remove excess heat. A larger fan blows across the flat top of the stove insert to extract heat off of that surface. Both fans help move heat out of the kitchen and down the hall where the bedrooms are located.
This approach to wood heat requires that we sacrifice some comfort for economy - the full basement remains unheated, and the sunroom is closed up from the main house until it heats up during the day. The bedrooms are chilly.
Nevertheless, this works well with our plan for frugal living. We stay in the main part of the upstairs and can spread out into the sunroom during the day when the sun is shining. Another wood stove or two would make life in the winter much more comfortable, but we want to be certain that sacrificing additional space in the house year round will be worth the added comfort that we'll enjoy just in the winter.
Another approach that we sometimes use is to let the gas furnace bring the temperature of the house up, and allow wood heat from the stove to keep it there. That make the best use of both heating sources while giving us more comfort in the morning when the house is generally the coolest. We pay for this added comfort in heating bills, but at times we think it's worth it.
There's lots to think about when you start to consider wood heat as your primary source of heating your home. If it's only to be a supplement source of heat, then some of the foregoing considerations aren't nearly as crucial.
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