That’s not my vision any more. I moved into a rental house in Enfield, NH in February last year. This house has a wood burning stove in the basement and baseboard electric heaters as backup to make sure the pipes don’t freeze if you go away for a few days.
Last February I was away for quite a few days and even with the thermostat set to 50 degrees and firing up the stove every time I was home, I racked up a $550 electric bill, which is 3400kWh! I realized that I was going to have to learn to use that wood stove properly to keep down the electric bills. If I used only electric to heat this house, I estimate that I might pay upwards of $3000/year — and this house is only 1700 sqft.
Four cords of wood, which is what I expect to use this winter to heat the house, cost me $1050 (seasoned and ready to burn). I will still have those occasional weekends away where the electric will kick in… so I’ll probably pay another $600 in electric heating.
What I’ve learned is that keeping the home fires burning requires strength, planning, and attention to detail — I have not fully mastered some of these things yet. First you have to realize that 4 cords of wood represents 12,000 lbs (give or take a few thousand based on the type of wood). You need to have good back and practice “safe” lifting.
You don’t want to move the wood too many times over the course of the season so you have to plan your stacks accordingly. I have the largest stack just outside the basement walkout, then an indoor stack just inside the basement, then a place to put some logs right next to the stove.
Finally, you need to pay attention to the draft levels, the time of last feeding, and, to keep the fire from going out, you have to plan to be there when the stove finishes burning the current set of logs. For me, this is the hardest part. I stoke up the stove in the morning before I go to work, I lower the draft level so it will burn slowly, and then I forget about it. If I could make it a habit to return within 7 or 8 hours, I could keep the fire burning… but it seems that is where I always fall short. There are so many things to do once I am out of the house that I don’t want to go back before all the errands are done.
If I owned this house, maybe a larger stove would be in order, so it could burn for 10 hours before refueling. Actually, if I owned this house I might consider replacing the current heating system with a ground source heat pump, or I might add propane room heaters and shut off rooms that we’re not using.
In the house we are building, what we are doing is heating a tank in the ground with a large set of solar collectors throughout the spring/summer/fall. Then in the winter we draw off that heat to keep the house warm. When we move in, there will be no more hauling wood. If you want to read more, click here: 78 Main St – renovation.
The picture of burning logs was taken by Gale, a friend who is also building a house and looking for all sorts of ways to cut down on fossil fuels.