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Warm Up To Wood Stoves!

Warm Up To Wood Stoves!
A centrally placed wood stove provides heat.
Building a getaway cabin or small home? Installing a wood stove as the primary heat source makes sense in certain situations. A wood stove is more compact, less expensive, and more effective at heating a small home than a traditional open fireplace, according to Mark Iacocca, architectural engineer and principal of Off Grid Shelters in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Smaller homes, like the homes I typically design for my clients, demand functional, efficient solutions for all system-related aspects of the project,” Iacocca says. “Almost all of my clients are looking for a fireplace or wood stove to integrate into their designs. Those installing wood stoves use them as a primary source of heating for a room or whole house, while those installing open fireplaces are more interested in ambiance.”

Choosing a wood stove is usually about the availability of fuel sources, adds Ross Anderson, president of Anderson Architects with offices in New York and Ojai, California. Other factors include the severity of the winter climate, considerations about keeping the fire burning overnight, and proper sizing. Only a small percentage of Anderson’s clients select wood stoves, and these homeowners, who are primarily located on the East Coast, choose wood stoves for the heat, appearance and energy efficiency.

Restrictions and
Emissions Standards
As with wood-burning fireplaces, whether you can install a wood stove in your home depends on federal and local regulations. The environmental protection agency (EPA) recently strengthened its clean air standards for newly installed residential wood heaters, allowing product manufactures until 2020 to meet these standards, although some products already meet the new standards, according to Iacocca. Going even farther, Northern California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which already bans open-hearth wood-burning fireplaces in new construction, recently strengthened wood-burning rules by banning all wood-burning heaters, including wood stoves certified by the EPA in new construction.

However, Iacocca, who works with clients all over the country, mostly in rural settings, has never encountered restrictions for any of the projects he’s been involved with. Anderson recommends Rais wood stoves (example below courtesy Rais)

because he says they are both architectural and incredibly well made. And Jøtul, a manufacturer of fireplaces recommended by Solar Environmental Architect David Wright in Grass Valley, California, also offers an array

of wood stoves (image above courtesy 
Jøtul).

Wood Stove Pros and Cons
On the plus side, Anderson says that wood stoves are more efficient than fireplaces, offer a much greater heating capability, plus you can see the flames. In Iacocca’s opinion, wood stoves utilize a low-cost fuel source (depending on where you live) and offer ambiance. Iacocca also thinks that wood stoves are arguably carbon neutral since the wood burned releases only as much carbon as it absorbed in it’s lifetime, although he acknowledges that some people might take issue with that point.

On the downside, wood stoves don’t provide the same experience as a big, open fire; are less efficient than conventional oil-fired boilers or furnaces; and require time and labor to manage the fuel quality and supply, Iacocca says. Also, before installing a wood stove, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that new homes are usually much more air tight than older homes, and installing a wood stove without adequate ventilation could possibly lead to indoor air pollution or even carbon monoxide poisoning. For more information, check out EPA’s Burn Wise website, and call your local building department regarding local restrictions.

Lighting Your Fire
Mark Iacocca, Lars Mytting (courtesy of Jøtul wood stoves), and Finn McCuhill (courtesy of Demand Media via SFGate) offer six tips for lighting a good fire and keeping it burning.

1. Choose the right wood. The biggest factor influencing the ultimate efficiency of a wood stove is the condition and species of the fuel, Iacocca says. If you’re burning cordwood, make sure it’s dry. Do not burn soft woods because they produce more tar than hardwoods, and this fouls your chimney and leads to a fire hazard. Pellets stoves are usually more efficient than cordwood stoves because the fuel quality is consistent, but pellets are often more expensive than cordwood.
  
2. Add enough air. To burn the wood most efficiently, especially when starting a fire, open both the damper below the combustion chamber and the stove door, McCuhill says. In tightly sealed homes, you might want to open a window while lighting the fire to add some air turbulence, helping to fan the flames, and/or use a blowpipe. Allow the flames to get intense and the fire to burn for between 10 and 30 minutes before adjusting the dampers. Along with heating your home quickly, intense flames reduces air pollution because the gas particles are combusted and produce heat instead of dark smoke.

3. Check the chimney. Another factor that affects wood stove efficiency is the height of the chimney stack and the amount of draft that occurs through stack effect (the movement of air into and out of the chimney) and air intake. Wood stove manufacturers provide guidelines for recommended stack heights, and all newly installed stoves should conform to those recommendations.

4. Burn from the top down. Many modern wood stoves allow you to burn from the top down, meaning that the stove reaches its operating temperature faster, the wood lasts longer, and gasses burn more efficiently. To do so, stack the logs tightly and light a small fire on top of the wood so that the fire burns downward. And always put two or three logs on the fire at a time because a log burns in three phases, and one log isn’t able to keep its own process going.

5. Watch for smoke. Once the initial smoke from starting the fire has cleared and the fire is burning steadily, slowly close the damper on the stove door. Look at the color of the smoke escaping from the chimney. If you see a little steam and some light, odor-free smoke, the stove has achieved efficient combustion. Thick, dark smoke means that the stove is not fully burning the high-energy gasses, which may be because the fire is not hot enough.

6. Heating overnight. One load of wood burns for two and three hours in most wood stoves, according to Mytting. Letting coals smolder overnight (because you don’t want to get out of bed and tend the fire) causes inefficient heating and air pollution because the fire is not hot enough to burn gasses efficiently. Plus, you risk a chimney fire. For the last wood load of the evening, use larger hardwood logs and burn the stove normally. If the fire goes out, a well-insulated house keeps much of the heat in, and the stove and chimney are still warm in the morning, making it easier to start a new fire.      

Warm Up To Wood Stoves! Inspiration

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