Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to Heat Your House Almost Free

 The power goes out fairly often in the Pacific Northwest due to storms knocking down trees.  This area is predominantly covered with doug fir pine trees which have shallow root systems. When the ground is saturated or the trees are covered in a thick ice layer or there is a stiff windstorm, the pines are easily toppled over pulling down long lines of power poles. About once a year there is a nasty storm that leaves some areas without electricity for up to a week. Since I believe in always being prepared for anything, last year we put in a wood stove so that in emergencies, when the power is out, we will be toasty warm.

We have a kerosene heater that is quite effient for it's size and heat output.  The key to kerosene heaters is to always pour the fuel, light them up and extinguish them outdoors.  Doing this eliminates most of the nasty smell.  But you do have to store kerosene. Once the supply runs out you are out of luck if traveling is limited in an emergency.  I store a few 5 gallon metal cans of kerosene.  My stove holds about a gallon of fuel and will burn a whole day (8-12 hours).  I would probably be set for two weeks using the stove very frugally.

There are ample trees in my neck of the woods,  Firewood is abundant so as a choice for fuel it is my number one choice. We chose to look for a woodstove and began to put away a store of firewood for not only emergency use but to cut the electric bill. My electricity bill has not been over $60 a month in the past and we have electric heat, an electric stove and hot water heater. Ok, are you through gasping? Electricity is still inexpensive here in Washington. We still wanted to cut the bill.

Pellet stoves were ruled out because I can not create my own pellets and they are not renewable.  I have lived with pellet stoves in rental homes and really liked the heat they threw out but the stoves are dependent on electricity to run the blower and pellet dispenser so in an emergency they are useless unless you run a generator nonstop. On the positive side, the pellets are easy to haul inside because they come in bags.  There is no need for kindling, so there was less dirt and mess than a wood stove.  I always bought pellets by the pallet in the springtime before they were in great demand and less expensive to save money.  I also did some research on which brands had the best rating and did not just buy the least expensive brand.  So since I have fully experienced pellet stoves and know they will not perform in a power outage I eliminated them from the running.

Being the Frugalista that I am, I shopped around for a wood stove. I made a wish list of what I wanted in a woodstove: a window to view the flames, a small one that would not too large so I wouldn't be blasted out by the heat, constructed on cute feet was esthetically appealing, one with a flat top so I could cook and keep a pot with water boiling to rehydrate the room and one that was efficient and would not be a hog to feed.  Personally, I like the house to be cooler than most people.  I would rather snuggle up with a polar fleece blanket and  have Mister T on my lap than be too hot. 

We visited the local stove companies, scanned the internet and talked with friends.  Tim suggested we put in an old stove he had once used in a shop.  Now ladies, would you want this in your living room?  Of course he sees it sanded down and painted with black fire stove paint in his head but all I see is rust and the fact it has only three legs.  He couldn't get over why I would mind having a couple of bricks to replace the fourth leg.

I, on the other hand, loved the soapstone stoves but they began over a thousand dollars.  In fact, most of the stoves I began to consider began at $1,400. The price of the stove does not include the pipe and chimney and all the other parts necessary to install a wood stove.  Reducing the power bill by $25 or so in the winter months would mean it would take about eight years to make up the savings on such a large expenditure.  Not too encouraging but a savings none the less and essential in an emergency. I kept looking and dreaming.

I drew a picture of a wood stove and put it up on my mirror in the bathroom.  Then I looked for pictures of the wood stove of my dreams and posted it as my desktop page.  In essence, I was seeing images of woodstoves all the time.  I know that when I focus on an image I will create it.  I may not know what form it will show up in, how long it will take or how it will appear but it will appear.

A few weeks passed by and I was still thinking about wood stoves, contemplating buying one and having Tim install it.  One day I happened to go to Craigslist and search woodstoves.  There were three listed.  The third one had a glass window, stood on a stand, was black and was $350!  I called the lady and made an appointment for Tim to ride up there (about 45 miles away) to look at it.  I gave him money and told him to call me when he got there and not to buy it without consulting with me.  I waited to hear from him while at work.  He called and said he had it loaded in the truck and was on his way home.  Tim is a man of few words. Now I was worried.  Remember, what he sees as ok is often not what I think is ok.

I got home to find the stove sitting in the middle of the living room. It was a beauty! It is more than I bargained for.  He offered her $300 cash and she took it gladly to get it out of her house. It has double walls, an optional blower and was pristinely clean and unblemished. The only thing it did not have that I had dreampt about was  cute feet.  It stands on a pedestal.  Within a week, Tim and a friend who is an electrician installed it with all a piece of double lined stove pipe that Tim already had secured new at a yard sale and new additional caps and chimney that we purchased at the local home improvement store.  The electrician put in an outlet behind the stove (for free of course).  We put down a simple prefab pad and installed a sheet of Fiber Rock behind the stove. The additional costs of the  parts we did not have was about $75.

We fired it up and turned on the blower at full speed.  OMG it felt like standing in front of a blow torch!  Within an hour the temperature was 90 degrees in the living room and I was gasping for breath.  I cried and thought I had made a terrible mistake.

We have now learned to just turn the blower on for a short while when a fire is first lit for the day and then turning the blower off.  If it is a wicked cold day the blower stays on low.  The double walls are great.  I can touch the walls when the stove is going and do not get burned.  When the kids next door come over I am not worried they will burn themselves. Since Mister T is a lap dog and Mommy's boy, I have no fear he will snoop around and get burned. The heat radiates from the front of the stove and heats my 1,109 square foot house very efficiently with just a few logs.  The stove heats the living room, kitchen, bathroom and office.  The bedroom doors are kept closed.  This type of heating is commonly refered to as zone heating.  To heat our small zone just one cord of wood a month is needed. A cord of wood is 4x4x8 feet. If we are gone all day we let the stove die down and stoke it up when we return in the evening with one load of wood.  The house stays warm all night and we begin again the next morning.  There is a Dutch oven pot that came without the lid from a yard sale that serves as a humidifier and an enamel speckled coffee pot that provides hot water on demand. My dream has manifested and our emergency needs are taken care of.

Next posting will be on how to find free wood.

Note:  It is now November 16th and we have not had to turn on the electric heat once.  The temperature has dipped into the 20's and the woodstove has kept us overly warm.  There are days I have to open the sliding glass door and let out some heat!  I am sitting here now with my companion Mister T in my lap, a cup of tea and my laptop.  The woodstove is burning end cuts we salvaged from a construction site and our only costs have been the gas to go to and from to pick up wood and some healthy sweat (which both Tim and I can afford to expend!).  It is pouring rain out, dark and dreary but nice and snuggy warm in here. 

If you are not using free heat can you hear the cha ching of the electric, gas, oil, pellet meters grinding away?  I'm sorry.


Anonymous said...

Thanks your article made me think of the times our family has been without power and we froze! Maybe it is time to finally do something about it.

Karen Stark said...

Keep in mind that except for an emergency, burning pines and other evergreens greatly increases the buildup of creosote on the pipes of your stove, which is the stuff that causes chimney fires.

Best to only burn evergreens in open fires outdoors...

psp games said...

Woodstoves are great, especially the airtights. I had one in Canada that kept our large home pretty comfortable. Now I'm in Arizona, and would like to get something just to take the chill off in the morning and for those thankfully few, cold nights we experience. I'm considering a stove insert to go in our exisiting insert fireplace, but it's tough finding anything around here, due to being in the desert.

Laurel said...

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