Friday, March 16, 2012

In Hot Water

I felt quite blessed this morning.  I didn't have school today because we had had parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday and Thursday evenings of this week, so I got to stay home for most of the day.  The alarm went off at five, and I got up and stirred up the fire.  I filled the reservoir (a job which should have been done last night) and the 40-cup coffee pot with water and went back to bed until 6:30.

After a shower in wood-heated hot water, I threw a small load of permanent-press stuff into the high-efficiency automatic and proceeded to make a Rocky Mountain Pancake for my breakfast.  I haven't had one of those in quite some time, and it tasted very good.  The recipe is not mine to share, but you can find something similar cooked on a wood cookstove here.  The recipe that I make is not so large and is, therefore, a much thinner pancake.  If you've never had one, they are delicious.  When we had them when I was growing up, we used to sprinkle powdered sugar on them.  Unfortunately, I'm naughty and just go ahead and mix up a thin glaze to put on the top.

The sun was finally up by then (I'm having a terrible time adjusting to Daylight Savings Time), and I did chores.  Then I washed a few dishes and scalded milk to make white bread.  I had the radio tuned to The Bible Broadcasting Network while I was puttering around the kitchen, and I was nearly "suffocated with a sense of well-being."  Sorry, I couldn't resist borrowing Edith Wharton's line from Ethan Frome.

By about 9:15, I had the bread dough rising on the back of the reservoir, which turned out to be an excellent place for that activity, and I was ready to begin my laundry adventure.  Today was a test to see if the Margin Gem's water jacket and attached Vaughn range boiler paired with the reservoir and 40-cup coffee pot could provide enough hot water to do a large washing.  The answer is yes. 

Our electric hot water heater has remained off since last Friday night.  Our Saturday morning showers were warm, but not hot enough to suit Nancy, who prefers her shower water so hot that, were she a tomato, her skin would slide right off.  She was quite unhappy, but hid the fact well since we were headed to Ames for State Speech Contest.  I thought that it was odd that our showers weren't very hot because when I put my hand on the side of the range boiler, it felt quite warm to me.  As I was getting out of bed on Sunday morning, though, what the problem was dawned on me. 

Due to the fact that in a wood-fired water heating system like ours you really don't have any control of how hot the water is in the boiler, a tempering valve is installed in the hot water line that connects to the house plumbing.  This tempering valve mixes cold water with the hot water if the hot water leaving the tank is above the temperature that you have set the valve at.  Somehow, during installation, the tempering valve handle was broken off, and the little plate that indicates which way to turn the valve for hotter or colder water fell off the handle. 

Long story short, I had turned the valve the wrong way.  Sunday's showers were much, much warmer, and every shower after that has been equally comfortable.  In general, we have found that we have to mix much more cold water into the flow at the shower valves because the hot water on tap is considerably hotter than what our electric water heater would put out.  The trade-off is that the recovery time of the wood-fired system is not as fast as the electric one.

Back to this morning.  As I said, I had already washed one small load in the front-loading automatic after showering this morning.  Knowing that I would be using quite a bit of hot water later in the morning, I had kept the fire pretty brisk, and everything worked out beautifully.  I put a very full load of overalls, jeans, and heavy things like that in the front-loading automatic and set it on hot.  While it was starting its cycle, I emptied the reservoir, the 40-cup coffee pot, and our gallon teakettle into the wringer washer.  After the automatic had taken what it needed, I then turned on the hose to fill the wringer washer the rest of the way, fully expecting to drain the boiler of all of the heated water.  Much to my surprise, the water coming from the tap remained quite hot.  In fact, it was so hot that I had to shut it off before the wringer washer was full and add cold water to finish filling it, just so that I wouldn't scald my fingers while running the items through the wringer. 

The first load of sheets starting to agitate in the wringer washer
full of hot water from our Margin Gem cookstove.
I washed for the rest of the morning (I had been saving up dirty laundry for this test) and never ran out of hot water.  The following pictures are intended to show you how much laundry I was able to wash with the hot water from the cookstove.  I was impressed.  I actually ran out of dirty laundry rather than hot water.

All of the clothes hung on the clothesline were washed in hot or warm
water which was heated on the Margin Gem cookstove.  This is a view from
the east side of the clothesline looking west-northwest.

A view of the same set of clothes on the line looking east-northeast.
The clothesline is four lines deep, and if I remember right, we've got
over two hundred feet of line.  That's a lot of hot water!
The range boiler would have been easily able to keep up with the hot water needs of the front-loading automatic washer.  It has a 4.5 cubic foot drum, so it can wash a large load, but its cycles are so long that the slower recovery time of the range boiler system would not be a problem.  Of course, the wringer washer lends itself really well to bucketing hot water from the reservoir, but I think that the range boiler would have been able to keep up with its needs, too.  I don't think, however, that it would have been able to keep up with the needs of a top-loading automatic due to their greater water consumption and shorter wash cycles.  We still have our old top-loader, so I may test this theory sometime.

Two short sidenotes about heating water with the wood cookstove:

1. I had read several articles about the water jacket/range boiler system of heating water before we had ours installed.  I didn't really believe the writers who said that having the water jacket in the firebox affects combustion because of the cold water constantly circulating into it.  That was stupid of me.  There is a visible difference in the flames and the coals which are next to the water jacket compared to the flames and coals that are on the oven side of the firebox.

2. Nancy mentioned to me this morning that since we've been heating our water with the cookstove, she has not had to condition her hair after she washes it.  The Vaughn range boiler that we purchased from Stoves and More Online is lined with stone, and I wonder if this has something to do with that.  Otherwise, I cannot account for it.

I've got so much more to tell about other aspects of this stove, but I've got to sign off for tonight.

P.S. You can find additional information about our hot water heating system in the post entitled "In Hot Water, Part II."


  1. I have avidly been reading your blog as I cook on a Copper Clad stove now! The information you provide is interesting and very informative! We have decided to sell our present home and have bought another, larger home...I am very interested in the Margin Gem to replace the Copper Clad...I would also like to order a range boiler with it...

    The information that is lacking is that the Margin Gem replaces (according to one web site) the fire brick to accommodate the water jacket...does this affect the heating capacity of the stove?

    Also...what happens to the range boiler when you heat the whole house with the stove for extended periods...does the water over heat? where do you vent off the excessive water if the TPR releases? do you even have this problem?

    Can I ask the price of your stove? if not, I understand! Hee Hee...quite personal...

    We have an existing chimney but it has a "witches bend" in it and we will be installing a stainless steel you think this will affect the draft?

    Do you notice excessive creosote build up now that you replaced the brick with a heating coil?

    Thank you so much for this information! the www seriously has a deficit!

    1. Lisa, Welcome! I'm excited to get a chance to communicate with you because I've been admiring pictures of your kitchen on the Internet for over a year now. You've done a beautiful job with it! It's also always fun to make contact with another woodstove cook. Please feel free to comment frequently to help share as much information about wood cookstoves here as possible.

      I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to reply. I thought that you had some great questions which needed to be addressed in a blog post of their own, but I needed time to snap some pics, etc.

      Here are my answers to questions that I did not include in the new post:

      Truthfully, I can't remember exactly how much we paid for our stove. We purchased it with the waterfront already installed because it is my understanding that the Margin Gem's design does not allow it to be installed later. The Margin Gem and its extra features (reservoir, warming oven, extra oven rack, white enamel, etc.) along with the Vaughn boiler all amounted to a little less than what a Heartland Oval without a boiler would have cost at the same time last year.

      As to your chimney question, my aunt and uncle had a witches bend in one of their chimneys, and I never heard them say that they had any trouble with it drawing. I would think that the effect would be less than what an elbow in stovepipe would be because witches bends usually don't have such a severe angle. I also think that it would depend on where the bend is in relation to the stovepipe entrance. If there is a fairly long vertical run between the stove and the witches bend, that seems like it would help. I don't personally have any experience with this situation, though. How about it, readers?

      Are you taking the Copper Clad with you initially, or are the buyers of your former house keeping it?

      Again, so glad to hear from a fellow wood cookstove user!

  2. OOOH! Your reply made me feel like I won the lottery! HEE HEE! Big Grins thru the whole reply! THANK YOU! Cannot wait to read your post on this topic!

    The people in my neighborhood seem to think I am an anomaly with my "old fashioned" ways and continually ask questions about my lifestyle...It just reflects my ignorance in a lot of these matters! Haha! I feel like wood cook stoves are like never know enough and you learn daily...I have learned an immense amount from your blog and I cannot express how much I appreciate you putting this information here for all of us!

    My Husband is very attached to the Copper Clad.. as am I.. and we think we will make a summer kitchen akin to yours with that ole girl! She is wonderful although limited...

    So grateful for your kind words in regards to my humble kitchen!

  3. I forgot to mention...if anyone wants to price out one of the Margin Gem stoves...the best site I found was

    They have pricing on their site and the sales folks are wonderful to talk to! They know their products, will give you a shipping quote on the phone and offer suggestions!

    1. Thanks for adding information to this blog, Lisa! Your comparison of wood cookstoves to horses is a good one and makes a lot of sense to me. I hope to see pictures and updates on your blog as your transform your next house into a home.

  4. I have really enjoyed so many of your blog posts, especially this one. Just found your blog today. In the above post I appreciated many things! The way you heat your water is great. Two of my grandparents grew up with their kitchen stoves heating the water for the home in a water tank positioned behind the stove. My grandmother said the neighbor women were somewhat jealous of her and her "running" water.

    I am/have been in the process of "restoring" an old farmhouse my grandparents own for several years now - I'm only 25 by the way. My current cookstove - I've owned several - is a Cream Monarch with reservoir and warming ovens. It is almost identical to the stove one of my grandparents grew up with. I think you can view my stove here - You might need facebook to view this...

    I also really appreciated your comment on state speech as I have been a speech coach for the past three years :).

    The most important thing that I appreciated and the reason I continued to checkout your blog is that you list that you are a Christian - I am too :)

    Thank you for having this blog and I look forward to following you and learning from your experiences and hopefully sharing some of my findings along the way!

    1. Thanks, Tim, for your kind words, and welcome to my blog! I wasn't able to view your cookstove, but I've heard many good things about Monarchs. Please feel free to chime in regularly to give us your viewpoint.