Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Review of the First Year with the Margin Gem

The Margin Gem cookstove busy baking Christmas cookies, boiling
fudge, steaming pudding, and heating a bowl of soup while she is
heating our hot water and our home on a cold December night in 2012.

It has been over a year now since Marjorie the Margin Gem was installed in our kitchen, and I would like to use this post to document how the Margin Gem affected our household over the last year.

First, a little review:

Marjorie the Margin Gem Cookstove was installed on March 9, 2012.  She was in daily use until the latter part of April when the weather got warm enough that we began only sporadic use until mid-June when we started firing her every Sunday afternoon and Monday while baking for the Monday Markets.  Most of spring 2012 saw above average temperatures.

Once school started in August, use was again sporadic until the weather became cool enough for continual use.  Autumn 2012 was plenty warm, but just a few days before Christmas, the weather became cold and stayed cold until the first part of May.  I think it was late October when we turned off the electric water heater for the winter.  The Margin Gem was then fired nearly continuously until the first week in May--when we actually had snow!  It happened that we began to run very low on firewood at about that same time (I didn't have time to cut wood because I was so busy with research paper checking), so using the stove was sporadic in May.

We continue to work on the kitchen remodel little by little, so we purchased our new gas range in June.  However, it was not hooked up in time for the first Monday Market (the farmers' market/misc. market in our local town), so all of the baking for the first Monday Market of 2013 was completed on the Margin Gem.  Since then we have used the gas stove, but Marjorie has been fired occasionally when the weather is reasonable.

So, what major differences exist between life with the old Qualified Range and life with Marjorie the Margin Gem?

1. WE DIDN'T BURN A SINGLE DROP OF PROPANE FOR HOME HEATING ALL WINTER!  Words cannot express how happy and proud this makes me.  I can truthfully say that this feat has never happened since my grandparents installed the first propane furnace in this house in the late 1960s.  The house has had auxiliary wood heat since they installed the first heating stove after enclosing the south porch in about 1977, but propane was the main source of heat for them and for my parents when they lived here.  I switched to burning mostly wood when I moved in in 1998, but there were always a few cold snaps when the furnace had to be turned on--even after the Qualified Range was installed in the kitchen in 1999.

But that isn't all.  Before Marjorie came to live with us, I had a very strict routine before going to bed at night.  Besides banking the fires, I would be sure that the door to the pantry and the door to the utility room (both doors open to the north off the kitchen) were closed tightly to preserve as much heat in the main living area of the house overnight.  Even with the two fires banked and the doors shut, the temperature on the main floor always dipped into the fifties overnight.  It was also not uncommon to see temperatures in the forties!  The upstairs was even worse.  It was cold in our house in the winter.

The pantry door was removed during the remodel because it was neither original nor period, so it could not be shut this winter, and we never worried about shutting the utility room door.  However, this year, even with seasonably cold winter temperatures, the temperatures only dropped into the upper fifties a couple of times!  For a variety of reasons that I'll talk about in later posts but mainly because Marjorie is such a good heater, the upstairs of our house was also much warmer.  We used to sleep under five quilts during the winter, but this year we were often too warm with just two.

2. I WAS ABLE TO SLEEP ALL THE WAY THROUGH MOST WINTER NIGHTS WITHOUT HAVING TO GET UP TO TEND FIRES.  Because the Qualified Range was not airtight and our Jotul is so small, Nancy would always wake me in the middle of the night when she got up to go to the bathroom so that I could go down and fuel the fires.  This only happened on the very coldest of nights this winter since the firebox is not only large but airtight on the Margin Gem.

3. NOT A SINGLE WATT OF ELECTRICITY WAS USED TO HEAT WATER FOR SIX MONTHS STRAIGHT! What a savings on our electricity bill! We enjoyed the abundant hot water from the cookstove. In fact, Nancy told me that even though she was ashamed to admit it, once we began using the electric hot water heater again in May, she missed having hot water from the cookstove. There were only a couple times that we had to schedule showers/loads of laundry carefully due to the availability of hot water, but we have to do this with our electric hot water heater too, so it was not out of the ordinary for us.

What we liked about the hot water from the wood cookstove was that it was quite a bit hotter than what we get from our electric heater. Clearly, we could adjust the temperature of our electric hot water heater to make it so that it has hotter water than it currently does, but this would result in significantly higher power bills when it is in use.

4. INSTEAD OF HAVING TO BUILD A NEW FIRE EVERY DAY AFTER WE RETURNED FROM WORK AND SCHOOL, WE JUST STIRRED UP THE COALS AND REKINDLED THE SAME FIRE.  In fact, I think that one of our fires lasted for over a month.  We used a lot less newspaper than we used to.

5. WE HAD TO CLEAN THE KITCHEN CHIMNEY MORE OFTEN THAN BEFORE.  With the stove having a fire burning in it for more hours each day than before, and since it was airtight and we purposely had a long, slow burn during the night and while we were away during the day, more creosote accumulated in the chimney.  Creosote accumulation inside the stove itself and inside the stovepipe was only a little greater than what we would have seen in the Qualified.

6. I'M ASHAMED TO ADMIT THAT I'M STILL LEARNING HOW TO CONTROL THE HEAT OF THE OVEN.  I haven't ruined anything, but I've had my challenges.  I've done a great deal of baking in the Margin Gem, and more and more it seems that the biggest key is to have plenty of small pieces of fuel available.

7. WE BURNED MORE WOOD THAN WE DID BEFORE.  That said, the wood was doing more than it had ever done before, and since we didn't burn any propane at all, I'm fine with the increased wood consumption.  We have so much firewood available to us here on the farm that increased consumption will not be a concern for several years--if ever.

Overall, we are very happy with the Margin Gem, and I feel that it was definitely the right model stove for us.


  1. Congratulations! It is a feat! We're doing a big remodel also and I'm having a hard time deciding what kind of wood stove to add in. Since it's going in the living room, I'm leaning toward a Jotul, but I'm so so tempted by a cookstove like yours.

    1. We love our little Jotul heater, but I've seen some pictures of cookstoves in living rooms that didn't look too bad. Or maybe you just need to add on to your kitchen. Best wishes with whatever you choose!

  2. We bought our Gem (just like your only all black) in 2005. We heated out Amish house we bought cooked and heated water the first year before we got a hot water heater. In my opinion the best stove ever!
    Fast forward to the sale of our home with the stove:(
    I now have a Flame View (2011) with just the warmer, NOT impressed with this stove at all. Very hard to clean, wasted space, does not throw the heat my Margin Gem did. The only thing I do like about it is the venting grids on the stove to allow more heat out.
    Someday I will replace this one with anothe Gem!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Teri,
      Thanks so much for your comment! Since I want this blog to be as informative as possible, I would appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions. First, what about the Flame View makes it hard to clean? Second, what did you mean about wasted space? I've never seen a Flame View in person, so I find your opinion very valuable. Thanks!

  3. Jim,
    The flame view has a wood box on the side much like a regular woodstove it is easy in one aspect but, hard to load a large amount of wood as it has a metal roll bar that keeps wood from rolling out,( a good thing) but really just don't like it, unlike the easy top load of the Gem. You don't have to woory about the logs rolling back out. Also the glass door stay forever black. The flame view has a large enough oven, and again unlike the Gem you have two smaller ash buckets at the bottom which are very hard to get the doors open and then closed and secure again. I feel that the wasted space is at the bottom of it where the put a drawer, which I NEVER use.
    It is a pretty stove to look at, but our money will be save for another Gem, my first love!

    1. Thanks, Teri, for answering my questions. I appreciate your input. You've just made me even more glad that we chose the Margin Gem.

    2. I have to say, I'm interested in the Gem after hearing your review, but we love our Flame View. We don't find anything about it horribly difficult, and it's done a lovely job of keeping our house warm and our water HOT! I chuckled when I read your words about liking the water temperature when heating with wood, because we do too. I couldn't wait to shut off the electric water in the fall and switch to heating it with wood! ;)

  4. We bought a Margin Gem in Nov 2012 and used it all winter as our primary heat source and cook stove. It heated our house well and burned long for the size of the firebox. The oven produced nice even heat- no need to turn anything around during baking. I have used quite a few wood cookstoves in my life of various vintages and after much research I settled on this one and we are very pleased with our decision. Better than any I've used. I honestly can't think of any negatives - might have hoped for a larger firebox as we depend on it for heat fairly heavily, but that comes with other trade-offs, I suppose.

    We attached it to a straight flu so it gets a good draft, and the stove provides plenty of range of control for draft - there is a side bell vent, front bell vent, flu damper, of course, and the ability to vent exhaust around the oven or directly up the flu when starting the fire or adding wood. Most of the cooking surface gets good and hot - not just over the firebox, but there is still a nice temperature gradient to work with across the surface.

    If I had to think of a negative, it would be that I wish it heated up faster from a cold start for those times when we want to cook a meal on it after the stove hasn't been burning for more than a day, but that's the nature of wood cookstoves. I often get impatient and try to start the pancakes before the stove is ready ;-)

    1. Greg,

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that the Margin Gem is a great stove. I look forward to having you chime in frequently as it is always good to hear from another wood cookstove user!

    2. Thanks for keeping this blog, I was very pleased to find it when we were first investigating stoves for a old farmhouse restoration.

      The colder nights and anticipation of fall are making me antsy to be able to use the stove again regularly, so I've been roving the internet today looking for people as enthusiastic about their wood cookstoves as my wife and I are. Bring on those frost warnings! :-)