Let’s talk about how to safely heat with wood. I’ve been in the alternative heating business for more than 15 years. During that time, I’ve put heaters in remote tiny houses, large cabins, barns, and even a geodome!
Winter is Coming – Plan Now
Winter is coming. Please plan now, if you are not ready or if you need to make some revisions to your heating configuration. This year, most of the country was hammered with harsh winter storms. Make sure to plan now.
The Wood Stove
Just as the foundation of a home is what everything is built on, the same goes for the wood stove you are heating with. Choose a quality heater and the reward will be years of reliable off-grid heat with little maintenance.
Most freestanding heaters do not require electricity to heat a home sufficiently. Additionally, they can serve as your back up cooking surface as well. I highly recommend looking at a quality, used heater instead of buying an inexpensive one online, if you are needing to save money.
Purchase a stove with a long burn time. Most of the cheap, “made in China” heaters won’t be a good choice. You don’t want to be constantly tending to the firebox for reloading, and you certainly don’t need to waste firewood. The heater in my off grid cabin has a large firebox with more than an 8-hour burn time.
I made the mistake in the beginning of having a heater with a smaller firebox and it would not last through the night, which meant I woke up to a cold cabin a few too many nights. My new stove is a little larger than I need at the moment. However, I plan on adding to the overall footprint of the cabin soon, so keep that in mind if you plan on doing the same thing eventually.
Make sure the stove is sitting on a non combustible-surface or hearth mat for ember protection. It also serves as a radiant heat barrier. A good rule of thumb I often mention is that the hearth or floor protection should at least extend out the same as the front or side doors on the unit to protect in case hot embers fall from the loading door while fully opened.
You can use concrete backer board on a wall to reduce heat. However, just remember to keep an airspace to break the heat from radiating through to the wall you are trying to protect. If your wall or mantle feel too hot when the heater is running, then you need to somehow protect the surface from the heat or gain more clearance from the heater.
Cooking on Your Heater
Cast iron pots and pans are perfect for cooking on your heater as well. So, you’ll want to make sure to have an assortment of those ready for cooking on your wood stove.
Single wall black stove pipe requires at least 18 inches of clearance to combustibles (wood or drywall). Stainless steel Insulated chimney pipe systems require only two inches of clearances. All these insulated Class A chimney systems should have at least a 304 Stainless steel inside pipe.
The optimal chimney configuration is straight up vertical venting. Smoke wants to rise and not travel through several sets of elbows. Elbows can also cause premature build up and make the pipe harder to sweep and clean out. I love to get the question, “Can we just run the pipe out the window and through some metal?” to which I reply, “YOU can, but I won’t be able to do the install!”.
Remember that smoke wants to go up. Wall penetrations for insulated pipe is just fine, but make sure to watch your clearances to combustibles and only use factory-tested and approved components and also use all the insulated pipe components recommended. Sheet metal can be used as a heat barrier and provide airspace to reduce the amount of heat directed towards combustibles.
When the power goes out we will all be seeing some very unsafe chimney configurations get thrown together quickly to provide heat during hard times. Plan now and do it right. A rusty old heater might have lots of life still in it, but take the time to vent it properly.
I recommend several roof sealants to seal out the elements. NP1, geocel, and Lexel are solid choices. Some roof sealants can even be purchased in pint containers and applied with a brush or roller. Tar-based roof sealer is not acceptable. It ruins everything it touches and doesn’t last long. If it ever leaks, once the tar fails you, cannot start over again. Instead, you have to just put more roof tar over what’s there. Don’t do it.
Put back several cords of firewood at least six months ahead of burning season. Keep the wood covered in some type of shelter, where the wind can still air dry it, but the water stays off of it as well. Sunlight does not season firewood. Air and the movement of air is what seasons wood. Keep your wood covered. Keep your wood off the ground at least a few inches. Do not put tarps over firewood piles because they will absolutely cause that wood to rot and restrict airflow. Remember that airflow is vital. Most problems I find start with wood that is not dry.
Also, bugs and rodents love woodpiles, so do not store wood up against your house. To get a good size woodpile, you don’t need to own a splitter (and I don’t). However, you do need to plan ahead for your firewood needs.
What To Burn
I have an abundant amount of oak around my place, so that’s my favorite. I also use my leftover scrap pine from saw projects. It’s perfectly fine for starting the fire with, because it’s already kiln dried. Some places in the country do not have as much hardwood to burn, so the most important thing to remember is allowing your wood the proper time to season. Start this endeavor immediately and stay on it.
Sweep a Metal Chimney Pipe?
Do not sweep a metal chimney pipe with a metal brush! This is my biggest gripe by far. I see it all the time, and it causes damage to good chimneys.
If you are burning your stove hot enough and using seasoned wood, then you should be able to easily clean your metal flue system with a nylon or poly brush. Gunky and nasty buildup needs to be addressed and resolved before it causes major malfunction and damage. I like to run my stove a little hot a couple times a week during the winter time, in order to make sure that all the pipes are staying mostly clean and free of issues that arrive from burning the stove on low for too long.
Smoking Coming Out of Pipe Seams
If smoke is coming out of the pipe seams then you have a problem. You likely have a blockage or build up somewhere in the pipe. Do not try to seal the pipe seams with mortar or cement to fix the smoking problem. Most chimneys clog at the top/cap. When the cap begins to clog, it will lead to the whole system filling up with creosote from incomplete combustion.
I don’t have a birdscreen installed in my round top cap because I hate having to clean the creosote out of the top more than I dislike the occasional blue bird that flies in during the spring time.
Extra Things to Have On Hand for Your Wood Stove
There are some things it is good to have on hand for your wood stove. Put back some extra rope gasket and glue for your particular wood stove. It will need to be changed eventually, and you will be glad you had some replacement gasket on hand. I also like to put back a lot of matches and vacuum seal them. Extra roof sealant might not be bad to have, just in case, too.
Provide the Heater With Outside Air?
I’m asking, “Do you think I need to provide the heater with outside air?” My answer is, “Not normally”. It’s an airtight stove. It’s not an open fireplace pulling massive amounts of oxygen out of the room. Most houses have enough air for a party of people to not pass out and your wood stove as well. Most new spray foam houses I’m working with these days are being required to have an air refreshment system installed before they can pass final inspection anyways, so there is your answer to it being too tight. I’m not a fan of my ears popping just from closing an outside door.
For the Long Winter Approaching
We need to be safe and closely monitor how much heat is being transferred to unprotected surfaces. We need to start with a quality heater. Lastly, we need to have more than enough firewood put back for the long winter approaching.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been the first entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.