7 Things I Learned Installing an Off-Grid Woodstove

Reader Contribution by Jamie Leahy and North Ridge Mountain Guides
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Snow. A fresh coat snow coated the ground at the homestead, as those familiar New Hampshire winds screeched through the trees. I took a sip from my French press — woodstove-made coffee in my tiny house — and took in a moment of reflection. “This is the most terrible coffee I have ever had,” I murmured to myself as I watch it fly out the door. It was time to finish the last of the details on the woodstove install. A project that should have gone smoothly, or so I thought.

With a recent run to the local big-box store, we came back with all the gadgets ones heart desires. Triple-wall chimney pipe, single-wall stovepipe, through-the-wall kit, and elbows galore. I quickly tore open the boxes like a child on Christmas morning. It was a fine day at the homestead, indeed.

Challenges Installing a Chimney Kit

I knew before we even picked up the chimney there were going to be some challenges. One of them being the large overhangs I put all around the cabin. The kits at the local stores only carry a chimney kit that is made to be mounted directly on the exterior wall. That would mean cutting a hole through the roof overhang — in mountain climbing lingo, we call that a “No-Go”. So I picked up a extra couple pieces of metal strapping and a pop rivet gun, which is totally my new favorite thing.

I began to install the stove pipe on the chimney before I cut the dreaded hole out through the wall. As I worked my way towards the wall, I placed the wall thimble in the appropriate spot and traced around it. I grabbed my trusty recip saw and began to cut the hole. As the sawdust flew, I thought to myself, “ damn I’m good.” Just as the saw finished it’s cut, the piece dropped out of the wall. There, staring me in the face, was my roof overhang. I spent the next 5 minutes or so throwing a hissy fit like a child in a toy store.

I regained my composure and cut out the section of wall, replaced it, and re-flashed it. Then, I cut the hole out in the right spot. One of the things about messing up a lot is you get good at fixing things. That’s the silver lining to that cloud folks.

The rest of the day went rather smoothly, I had made it all the way through the wall and began to go up for the last sections of vertical. After I put on one section of the four that were vertical, I realized that the last three sections of chimney were very dangerous at best. So I excepted my fate and called it for the weekend. I was a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.

Supply Rentals for Home Repairs

The next weekend came, but this time I was ready. I called a local staging-rental place and picked up 15 feet of staging, leveling jacks for the ground, all the connectors, and three planks to put on top. Amazingly, this rental only costs $150 for a 30-day rental. It sure would have been nice to know that a while back, but hey, live and learn.

I assembled the pieces quickly and throw up the planks. I grabbed the remaining pieces and connected them together with screws, even though it wasn’t necessary. I easily placed the tower of three sections of chimney pipe up and twisted it into place, chimney cap and all. A quick couple of screws and the chimney stood proud. 

The last step was to add the support brackets. With the brackets already pre-mounted when I put it up, I stretched them out onto the roof. With only a few “sporty” moves, I fastened down the brackets and the woodstove install was complete. Finally, we are going to be warm this winter.

7 Lessons Learned from a DIY Woodstove Install

1. Make sure you figure out where the hole you cut out on the outside too. Fortunately, my mistake was a quick fix this time.

2. Check multiple local stores. Our kit was slightly cheaper then other kits available, but part of it is galvanized and not stainless steal. It would have been $20 more but looked better and lasted longer.

3. Buy only one brand. When you pick your pipes, keep them all the same. Most manufacturers have there own connection systems.

4. Talk to the local fire department. Our local fire department wants us to install our woodstove to manufacturers specification. As I understand, that is fairly common but always check with the fire department and building inspector before buying your pipes. It can save you time, money, and hassle.

5. Know your chimney distances to obstructions. In my situation, I have to have my chimney 2 feet higher then anything within 10 feet or 3 feet over the peek if it is under 10 feet away. My chimney just meets the 2 feet over the 10 feet rule fortunately, but yours may not. One again, check with your local building inspector on this.

6. Think about how your going to get that chimney up there. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the outside part, which made it a 2 weekend job. If I had figured out I could rent staging cheaply, it would have been a day at best.

7. Inspect your woodstove. We got our woodstove free from our brother, and it’s perfect size for us. It did need a new door gasket and a couple of parts to make it new, not having a door gasket is dangerous if you were to use it. For a $80 investment, we got a sweet stove.

Wood-fired stoves are essential to a off-grid homestead. Rocket mass heaters are also a awesome option if building codes would ever allow them. Whether or not it is your primary source of heat, doesn’t really matter. Having one on the homestead is key. If you lose power for whatever reason, you still have heat, hot water, and a stove-top. Being off-grid is all about self-sufficiency, and with would heat you are just one step closer.

Jamie Leahy is founding mountaineer at North Ridge Mountain Guides. After a few years commuting to the White Mountains, Jamie and his girlfriend, Becky, decided it was time to move to New Hampshire’s White Mountains and follow their dream of building an off-grid, mini-homestead debt free. Follow him at White Mountains Off-Grid. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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