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Wood burning stove: Our solution to warming our house

Updated on July 23, 2014
Our wood burning stove downstairs
Our wood burning stove downstairs

Wood burning stove: Introduction

In this hub I discuss how we turned to a wood burning stove to warm our home in winter after having tried out all other options we had. Initially we used electric heaters for space heating (“zone heating”), but sustained increases in the price of electricity and occasional power outages (or deliberate load shedding) forced us to turn to gas heating - the portable gas space heater (ceramic type) type. This was OK at best (“zone heating”), but eventually the price of gas shot up as well, making this option equally unacceptable.


The efficiency of our wood burning stove is determined by

1. Average winter temperatures in our area

2. Thermal efficiency of the house itself

3. Appropriate size of the stove vs size of our home

4. Location of the stove

5. Configuration of the stove

6. Where the heat is needed most of the time.

1. Average winter temperatures in our area

Where I live on the southern coast of South Africa in a town called Mossel Bay, temperatures are quite moderate: It seldom goes as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 deg. F) in summer and seldom goes lower than 10 deg. C (50 deg. F) in winter. Still, 10 deg. C is a long way from what we regard as the ideal indoor temperature for winter, viz. 20-21 deg. C (68 – 70 deg. F.).

2.Thermal efficiency of the house itself

a. House orientation
Our house was built facing south to make use of our wonderful sea view, but this inevitably meant that the house would be relatively cold in winter. (Obviously, in the southern hemisphere the house has to face north for maximum solar efficiency in both summer and winter). We actually have only one big north-facing window through which the sun can heat our house for a few hours in the morning in winter.
b.Insulation
i.Walls
Even though the wall cavities of our timber home are not filled with injected foam, the use of a sheet of reflective aluminium foil (common in the building industry) inside the cavities does the job just as effectively.
ii.Roof cavity
We also insulated the roof cavity with the best product we could find. This happened to be a layer of 10 cm (4 inches) low emission material, so preventing the heat escaping through that area in winter. This insulation also helps to prevent the massive heat which accumulates in the roof cavity in summer to enter the living space.
iii.Windows
Our windows are single-ply 3 mm ordinary glass. We did not install low-e or double-glazing, neither of which was considered necessary at the time we had built the house twenty years ago, since we live in an area of reasonably moderate temperatures throughout the year. To compensate for that, we installed reflective roll-up blinds on the eastern and south-western windows (cold side of the house), as can be seen in the image. These blinds are very effective at reflecting heat in the summer (letting 85% light through) and retaining heat in the winter and are as close to low-e glass as you can get. We also close the curtains at night, which also helps to keep the heat inside.

3. Appropriate size of the wood burning stove vs the size of our home

The total living space of our home (garage excluded) is only 140 sq. meters (1507 sq. ft.), consisting of 75 sq. m. (807 sq. ft.) on the top storey and 65 sq. m. (700 sq. ft.) on the ground floor. The stove is installed in a portal on the ground floor. The stove is small: Only 40x34x43 cm (15.8x13.4x17 inches). However, it’s quite big enough to raise the temperature from 10 deg. C to 21 deg. C both on the ground floor and on the top storey.

There's a wide variety of wood burning stoves available at Amazon and I'm sure you will find one to suite your purpose there.

4. Location of the stove

The installation of our wood burning stove in a small lobby on the ground floor is the key to its success. From that position heat can spread to the three rooms on the ground floor and since hot air rises, the top storey will benefit immediately as well. Temperature readings with my Temperature Gun Infrared Thermometer clearly show how the hot air rises and enters the top storey through the top end of the staircase, while the colder air from the top storey circulates down the staircase towards the stove. This lifts the temperature quickly from whatever temperature to 21 deg. C (70 deg. F). Had the stove been on the top storey, it would have been virtually impossible for a stove that size to heat the rooms downstairs. As we all know, hot air does not flow downwards in any case.

5. Configuration of our wood burning stove

a. The stove is a free-standing type, as can be seen in the picture – not an insert. So all the heat generated in the stove is released inside the lobby.
b. The chimney goes straight up inside the room (not taken outside the house), so all the heat of the chimney is released inside the house as well.
c. The chimney then goes through the floor into a lobby on the top storey/floor, releasing its heat near our bedroom on the main level. In effect we are actually harvesting virtually all the heat generated by our stove – the stove + 4.8 m (15.8 ft.) of chimney.

6. Where the heat is needed most of the time

My wife and I live on the top storey/floor – the main level. We close all the doors on the ground level where the stove is (until we get visitors), which means that all the heat generated in the stove has just one way to go – from the lobby on the ground floor where it is installed, up the staircase to the top storey/floor. This is quite natural in any case, since hot air rises and if there’s a staircase nearby (like in our case), that’s where the hot air will go! In addition to this, the chimney section on the top storey helps to raise the temperature in our bedroom.

Cost of the fire wood

We have access to an area where the eradication of invader trees is regarded as part of our responsibility to conserving our environment. So, during summer we cut enough wood to take us through winter. If we do buy some wood, the cost is but a fraction of what the electricity or gas used to be.

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