Demon Wood Stove
As I have written before, when I moved here in 1996 I paid about 55 cents for a gallon of #2 heating oil. Keeping the place warm wasn’t a big budget item, even in an old leaky lobster-trap of a home. Since then the price has, with some interruption, steadily increased, remaining stubbornly above three bucks since the end of 2010, even topping four dollars on occasion..
With lots of encouragement from the greenies, Mainers have been forced to seek ways of burning less fuel, and given that the average annual heating budget is about $3500 the public is generally receptive. I busied myself caulking, building interior storm windows, adding a second wood stove (pictured) in 2011, and most effectively, maintaining the thermostat at an uncomfortably low temperature. As a result my heating costs are only about three times what they were in 1996, not including capital outlays for my “improvements,” or the time and labor involved in running the wood stove.
Fundamentally, while the wood stove can be an economical source of heat, it depends on the amount of effort one is willing to put out to use it. My way is cost effective; I cut, split, and stack my fuel in my basement, but I’m not sure that wood pellets might not be a better way to go. Bringing the wood upstairs makes an awful mess, dropping bark and bits of cellulose everywhere. Refueling is constant. The damper has to be carefully monitored to keep an efficient heat. And there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop the front glass from clouding with carbon, so in the morning, before relighting, there’s a messy scraping with a razor blade and ammonia. Yes, I know, this problem would be alleviated if I burned better fuel, but my forest foraging does not yield kiln-dried wood. Can you suggest anything else? Finally, I quite often forget to open the damper when I relight the stove, so a great burst of acrid smoke swoops into the living space before my dumb brain reacts. However, my carping is not my real reason for writing this piece; rather I seek to offer advice.
For causes which cannot be attributed to Global Warming, the temperatures this winter have been extremely harsh in Maine. Perhaps you’ve noticed. The other night one water-carrying pipe of my furnace froze, and of course the copper pipe ruptured. When it thawed there was a god-awful mess. Why did this happen? Demon woodstove, and more stupidity from the homeowner. Be advised.
My programmable thermostat is just around the corner from my wood stove. It is programmed to lower the temperature from 61 to 55 degrees at 10:30 PM. On the fateful night, the woodstove was keeping the temperature about 62 degrees in the vicinity of the thermostat, so the zone 1 furnace circulator wasn’t running. Obviously it continued quiescent when the thermostat setting was lowered to 55. Given wind chill of about -20 degrees, pipes against the wall on the windward side of the kitchen were vulnerable. I should have realized this.
No more automatic setting of the thermostat at night. I’ll do as my father did and turn it down by hand. More importantly, however, if you are heating with a wood stove near your thermostat, make sure the furnace circulator runs occasionally on a frigid night; particularly if you are in an old, poorly insulated house.
Given the expense of repairing the damage, and the capital costs associated with the wood stove, I can’t say it has been cost-effective. Live and learn, or maybe move south.