Heating with Wood
The first year in our 1873 Michigan farmhouse we spent $1700 for Propane gas to heat the house. We live in Southern Michigan so the winters are not bitterly cold but the heating season extends from late October to early April, with a few extra weeks thrown in for unusual weather conditions. When the furnace gave out the second year I decided to purchase a Wood/Oil burning furnace. That was twenty years ago and I am still heating with wood but it is now called “Bio-Mass” a renewable resource. It is now trendy.
I live on ten acres which is 70% wooded and nearly all the wood I have needed over the past 20 years has been collected from my land thanks to Dutch Elm disease and the Emerald Ash Borer. The Ash borer has destroyed many large Ash trees on my property. I have at least 5 years of fire wood yet to cut, and will be left with mostly Maples and Oaks when the Ash are gone. My father heated with wood and I helped cut and haul it as a teenager. The nice thing about wood heat is that it heats twice. As they say, it heats your body when you cut, split and haul it and also when you burn it. It is hard work, especially with only a chainsaw and a pickup in my one man operation.
Wood heat is a nice warm, consistent heat. Even when the fan is not running, convection feeds the heat into the house so the temperature changes between furnace cycles are not as noticeable. If you can cut your own wood, it is inexpensive. If you have to purchase wood it can still be less costly than other fuels depending on prices. There is work involved because the fuel has to be fed manually, so there is a health benefit to the exercise you will get…or you could call it an inconvenience. I choose the first. The indoor furnace can sometimes release a slight smoky smell into the house, but in our rustic living environment, that is more of a scent than a smell.
The furnace I purchased was a Charmaster Chalet model which is an indoor forced air type. My house is about 1700 sq foot and it does the job nicely. I think if I had to do it over again I would probably purchase an outdoor boiler wood stove. The main advantage to that type of furnace is that you don’t have to bring wood into the house and you can avoid the mess and a little extra work in hauling. The outdoor boiler type of furnace usually uses a heat exchanger located in the plenum of a forced air furnace. The ideal would be to have the boiler feed radiators to avoid the noise and dust created by the forced air furnace.
Dimensions: Length 48", height 52", width 28". Wood/gas combination width 54".
Weight: Wood/Controls and Wood/Oil - 740 pounds. Wood/Gas - 950 pounds.
Firebox: Steel Plate Front & Sides - 3/16", Rear - 1/4" Overall size: 24" long, 23" wide, 32" high, Firebrick lined.
Furnace Door Size: 11" x 13" extra heavy cast iron door with positive lock.
Cabinet: 20 gauge steel - fully insulated. Baked almond enamel finish.
Blower: 1/2 H.P. blower with optional 3/4 - 4 speed rotary switch included. Direct Drive - Sealed ball bearings.
Domestic Hot Water Coil: Standard
Chimney: 8" inside diameter Class A. Wood/Gas also requires 4" inside diameter Class B chimney. Chimney sold separately.
Oil Burner: Wayne 140,000 BTU Input standard. Safety feature - Cadmium Cell Flame Detector monitors oil burner flame and operation.
Air Conditioning: Acceptable
Automatic Thermostatically Controlled Draft: For wood burning. You select the desired temperature with a standard thermostat mounted in your home.
My Charmaster Chalet burns wood with a fuel oil backup. The wood and oil share the same combustion chamber and chimney. The wood part of the furnace has it’s own thermostat which opens and closes a damper door. I usually keep the oil thermostat set to about 60 and the wood to about 75 day/70 night. On a cold day I may need to fill the furnace 3 times, morning, mid-day and night just before bed. If there is a bed of hot coals the wood will start up on its own, if not I sometimes turn on the oil burner to get it started. After I replaced all the antique windows in my house I now burn about 20 face cords of wood per season and about $500 worth of fuel oil, depending on how lazy I am.
The Charmaster Chalet weighs about 750 lbs. I installed it myself with the help of one friend. Getting it into the basement was a chore. The installation was not otherwise difficult, but I would recommend having someone skilled in sheet metal work fit it into your existing duct work. It has worked reliably for 20 years now. I clean my chimney at least once a year and have only had to replace the solder connection that holds the emergency over heat dump in place. Every other year I replace the fuel oil filter and nozzle on the oil burner. I once replaced the electrodes. I suspect that someday I will be too old to cut and haul my own wood, but as long as I can stihl run my chain saw, I’ll keep this furnace.
More by this Author
I built a lean-to shed on the side of my garage, closer to the house, and with a roof to protect the wood from rain and snow.
How I built an outdoor wood fired Sauna taking advantage of an existing small outbuilding and an old fireplace insert.
A practical account of my experiences and a brief guide to building the cedar strip canoe I use for wilderness camping and fishing.