The Basics of Heating With Wood
Heating with wood is the oldest known method of heating a dwelling. It has been used since man first discovered fire and found out it was hot. It is still the most widely used method of heating in the world although; many in what we generally consider the civilized world have no experience with burning wood for heat. This method has traditionally fallen into the province of the rural or country dweller due to the availability of wood. It is still a very viable option for those of us that have an understanding of the basics of heating with wood.
There are many methods of heating with wood, including fireplaces and fireplace inserts, and stand alone stoves of many types. They vary greatly in the efficiency of which they produce heat from different types of wood. Fireplaces and fireplace type stoves, while they may be the most aesthetically pleasing, are the least efficient in converting your wood into heat. The thermostat controlled stoves are usually the most efficient. The potbellied and box type stoves fall somewhere in between. Your choice of the method of burning you use will determine how much wood you will need for a season of heating. The choice is yours.
There are several different types of stovepipe available for wood heaters depending on your particular application. There is triple walled insulated pipe available which will not have the heat nor safety issues of single walled pipe, but it is expensive and needs to be replaced about as often as the single walled pipe. Personally, I use the heavy gauge single walled pipe that gets hot and contributes to heating the room. You just have to be careful to make sure it does not pass too close to anything flammable. With any type of pipe, you need to be careful to insulate the ceiling or wall where it passes through to the outside. The stores that sell the pipe will have fixtures you mount in the wall or ceiling to pass the pipe through without creating a fire hazard. You will also want to put a rain cap on the outside end of your pipe to keep rainwater out. I recommend getting the kind that has heavy screen on the openings to prevent sparks from coming up the pipe and starting a fire outside or on your roof. This type will also keep birds from nesting in your pipe during the summer months.
Basically, any type of wood that will burn can be used for heat but some are favored over others. The soft woods, pine, fir, spruce, and others will produce heat, but will also burn less cleanly making it necessary to clean your stovepipe more often. The soft woods burn faster so you will need to burn more wood to produce the same amount of heat. The hardwoods, oak, ash, maple, and others are favored for producing more heat and burning cleaner. More heat with less wood is the key here. You should plan on using whatever kind of wood you have available in your area. It is an exercise in futility to haul in oak for firewood when you live in a pine forest.
When you are making your plans to heat with wood you should be aware of some measures you should take to ensure the safety of your home and family. Always use a base pad to set your stove on that is non flammable and will not catch fire when you spill coals or get sparks on the floor around the stove. It is going to happen, so plan for it and avoid the headaches. Make sure that the sides and back of your stove are far enough away from any flammable object to ensure that there is no danger of catching a wall on fire.
Another serious safety consideration that many people are unaware of is the danger of a flue fire. Flue fires are the result of allowing soot to build up inside your stovepipe and when it gets hot enough, it will ignite, causing a very hot fire on the inside of your stovepipe. It can get hot enough to burn its way through the pipe and is difficult to extinguish once it gets started. Flue fires are responsible for quite a few house fires in the winter because a lot of people are not aware of the need to clean their stovepipes periodically. Be safe! Get yourself a flue brush and run it through your pipes 2 or 3 times a season. It is a small price to pay for the safety of your family and home.
In conclusion, heating with wood can be a very viable alternative to using fuel oil, natural gas, coal, propane, or electricity. After the initial investment for a stove, it is a very economical way of heating your home. You can spend the money for a chainsaw and cut your own wood or buy your wood from someone that cuts it. Either way, it is going to be more economical than some of the more common ways of heating, plus if you cut it yourself, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are not dependent on any system of supply that may become unreliable or unaffordable in the future.