When we first came to live off the grid, I had never used a wood stove.
We had a little fireplace back east. It was in the basement and it may have even been gas-operated. We never built a fire in it and I would bet squirrels took over the chimney and built nests in it. I didn’t like it because it was so small it couldn’t possibly heat anything and during the winter all it gave us was a cold draft in an already cold basement. I put a big piece of plywood over the opening during the winter and ignored it.
When we moved to Northern Arizona and off the grid, it was summer. The wood stove in the main house looked a little intimidating but I had some time to learn about it. I had a new wood stove installed in my studio because the old one had been removed. In my husband’s office, we installed a fireplace.
Knowing that I was going to have to learn about all of this, I did what any true blue city person would do. I called someone. First, Bob, the wood guy. He brought out cords of wood. Then Bones, the chimney guy. He came out and cleaned everything, and taught me how to use the wood stoves and the fireplace.
The first winter here, I don’t think I slept very much. Because I was worried the wood stove was going to have a meltdown in the other room, I was up checking on it numerous times during the night.
I loved the idea of the stove keeping the house warm, so it was burning day and night. Even when it was warm in the house, I kept that fire going and opened windows. I wasn’t working much in my studio, but there was a fire going most of the time for the cat who had taken up residence there during the day.
We went through a lot of wood the first winter we were here. Looking back, it wasn’t that cold. We learned how to use the wood stoves and the tools that we really needed and the ones that are unnecessary for wood stoves, but needed in fireplaces. For instance, you don’t need a fireplace grate in the wood stoves we have. They won’t fit. You should have one in a fireplace though. I, of course, bought three. One for each stove and one for the fireplace. Since they don’t wear out, we will probably have two extras forever. Any ideas on repurposing them?
A “coal keeper” ash shovel keeps me from losing those hot coals and allows them to be used for restarting the fire. Using it also keeps burning coals out of the ash bin and that’s a safety issue. Our house wood stove is in the living room. We got a heat powered fan to circulate the heat and it even warms the bedroom. I got a smaller model for my studio because it has a loft. When that little fan gets going, the loft warms up quickly. The cat is quite pleased with that purchase.
The humidity here in Arizona is low, even on a rainy day. The static and dry air gets worse with the wood stoves burning. The teakettle steamers have really helped keep a little moisture in the air. When placed behind the fan, the steam gets circulated really well. We are much more comfortable when fan and kettle are going strong.
I use my wood stove to keep a tea kettle filled with hot water in the winter. This is not the same as the teakettle steamer. It’s the regular tea kettle that I use on the stovetop. It’s nice to have a cup of tea as soon as we come inside when it’s cold. We don’t have to wait for the water to heat up. I also wrap potatoes and winter squash in foil and cook them in the coals. It saves propane and I can cook and keep warm at the same time. I even put my dutch oven inside and make stews and other things. Multi-purposing is a good thing. Tip: A good pair of hearth gloves is helpful when cooking in a wood stove. They are far better than oven mittens.
Last summer, we decided to save money and clean the chimneys ourselves. We got the brushes and the poles and went to work. It was a HUGE mess, but we did it and they were ready to go for winter. During the winter months, we always burn the soot and creosote reducing products at least a couple of times a week. They really help keep the chimneys cleaner. Maybe next year’s cleaning will be easier because of them.
This season, hopefully, the whole process will be easier. The cost of brushes and poles and filters for the shop vac are a lot less than having someone out here to do the work for us. Besides, we aren’t city folks any more. We need to do these things ourselves.
I wasn’t sure how heating with just one little wood stove in the house would work out, but after four winters here, we are happy with it. The cost is less than what we had back east and we are just as warm. I don’t burn the stove as much any more. The solar gain is very good and the house stays warm enough on sunny days. When it’s windy and cloudy, we love having a fire. With the accessories we have, the stove is more efficient and easy to use.
What I thought would be a huge amount of learning and work just to keep warm has turned out to be something that makes our winters pleasant, efficient and warm. I don’t know how I ever lived without it!