Heating by woodstove is like gathering water from the spring. You own the process. It is your labor that sustains you. You know how much fuel you are using. You build a woodpile, you watch it deplete through the season, you work it, and you carry it. You know your heat source. You provide the labor and see the results.
There are moments when I think we are crazy to heat our home with a method that requires daily effort—what happens when we are sick? Aged? Not home? These are concerns to work out. More often than not, I am comforted by woodstove heat.
In order to keep the happy by the hearth, here are some of the challenges and our solutions.
Our woodstove dries the air intensely in the wintertime. If we don’t add moisture into the air, my skin cracks by midwinter. Rosemary Gladstar’s face cream is my go-to body moisturizer. To add moisture into the air, we put a cast iron pot of water on the stove. We also run two humidifiers. We are very pleased with our Homedics humidifiers.
Another challenge of wood heat is tracking wood debris into the house. Admittedly, it is messier than alternative heat sources. However, it is also nice to carry logs in, bringing some of the woods into the house. As for the bits that fall behind, I have a collection of handmade brooms from a local artisan. Full time wood heat might require a relaxed attitude about cleanliness or a lot of time with floor control. Ours is an indoor-outdoor house and we like it that way.
Feeding the Fire
We pack the stove as needed, generally in the morning and evening, and once midday. Keeping it fed is easier than lighting a fire. Making a stack on the deck once a week pays off with daily convenience. Grabbing a few logs from the stack on the deck is better than putting on a coat and shoes to haul some in from the front yard stack. Everything is easier if your stove is big enough and effective at heating your space. You can decide if there are rooms that don’t need to be heated, by hanging quilts to hold in heat where you want it. The heat will rise, even subtly. Our house is only divided by two steps down, but it is significantly colder “downstairs”.
Heating by woodstove is a Do-It-Yourselfer’s system, and sometimes you just can’t do it yourself. Then what? We own small electric space heaters for when we are sick or when we are away and have a house sitter staying on the farm. It can be hazardous and stressful for someone who has never operated a woodstove to get a fire started, keep it going, and remember to shut it down properly. We have baseboard heaters in the bathroom, for comfort during a winter shower and for keeping pipes warm when we are on vacation.
Designed for Wood Heat
Phil designed our house to be heated by woodstove. The bedrooms have curtain walls which are open at the top. Each room has a ceiling fan to draw heat in during the winter or out the windows during the summer. The open walls allow the heat to move into each room.
We have a Vermont Castings Defiant woodstove on slate tiles in the center of our main room. The Vermont Castings website states: Function is an art of its own. This speaks of the beauty of a well-made woodstove, for its function and structure in the room. When we upgraded to the larger stove, we installed the smaller Vermont Castings stove downstairs in our Great Room. While it is cooler downstairs, we only keep that stove running when temperatures are 25 degrees or less, or when we want to be especially cozy downstairs.
Rick Riordan wrote that “hope survives best by the hearth”. Everything is cozier by woodstove heat. With the right setup and a few solutions to the challenges, you can enjoy the comforts of home heated by woodstove.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm’s Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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