Monday, May 28, 2018

Waving the White Flag on the 2017-2018 Heating Season

Well, after having a fire in the Margin Gem every day since Sept. 27, 2017, which was when we turned the electric hot water heater off for the season, we finally decided to tie a bow on the 2017-2018 wood heating season this morning.

I know several of you just gasped and shook your head at the discovery that over the last few days we had still been using the wood cookstove daily when our temperatures have been soaring into the upper nineties, even reaching 100 on Saturday.  Other readers who know me just had their suspicions regarding my sanity confirmed with this revelation.

To use the cookstove exclusively for hot water from Sept. 27 - May 27th ties our record which was set during the 2013-2014 heating season. During this time, not only was all hot water heated with wood, but I think all but about five of the meals which were cooked at home were also cooked over wood heat.  One of those five meals was a regular meal a couple of days ago.  The others were just boiled eggs or frozen pizza.

Some of you may be wondering how we were able to use the stove for so long in such warm weather without suffering too much.  Many factors contributed to our endurance:

1) Our century-old farmhouse was designed to have a woodburning cookstove in the kitchen.  This is a major factor in our ability to use the stove in warm weather.  The kitchen has six doors that open into other areas of the house, but all of these except for the pantry doorway can be closed in order to keep the heat out of the rest of the house.  The large east windows are double-hung, so the top sashes can be lowered in order to facilitate heat escape.

The kitchen windows with the top sashes open.

Also, since it is a two-story house and the stairway opens into the kitchen, we can open the upstairs door and let a great deal of the heat escape up the stairs where a fan was positioned in a window at the top of the stairs blowing hot air out of the house.

When our kitchen re-model is finished, yet another way to exhaust heat from the stove will be restored, so stay tuned for another blog post about that.

2) Our house is surrounded by large old shade trees.  Our shade is not as dense as it once was, but we still have a lot of it, and this makes our house stay much cooler in general.

3) We don't have to have a long-running fire in order to have sufficient hot water to meet our needs.  A fire which burns briskly for less than an hour creates more than enough hot water for a good shower in the morning. This also means that I used small pieces of wood which burned hot but not long.

4) We closed the "hyper-heat" reservoir damper and often opened the oven damper so that the stove itself wasn't radiating so much heat into the kitchen.

The reservoir damper in the open position.  When it is closed,
it is in the vertical position.

5) I would also fill the teakettle and our 40-cup coffee pot and put them directly over the firebox while the fire was burning.  These, coupled with the water in the reservoir, supplemented the hot water in the boiler and provided enough hot water to wash dishes and do a little laundry when necessary.  Of course, water in the kettles and the reservoir was used in the wringer washer and in hand washed laundry only.  It would have been difficult to get it into the high-efficiency front-loader. Anyway, heating water in this way absorbed the majority of the BTU's which would have emanated into the house from the cooktop.

6) Though we had some extremely warm days, the nights were still getting cool, so we could pull all of the heat out of the house during the night. Then we would shut the windows in the morning before the outdoor temperature got warmer than the indoor temperature.

7) The weather we have been having has been extremely dry.  This is not a bit good for any of our crops, but it made it so that the high temperatures were more bearable than they usually are in our area of the country.

Q. So what changed between yesterday and today?

A. Last night the outdoor temperature did not fall as low as it has been.  It was 67º outside when I woke up a little before 6:30 a.m.  The living room temperature was still at 77º.  This was only four degrees lower than the high temperature that we observed yesterday afternoon.  I always kind of figure that 70º is roughly our breaking point for comfort.  If the outdoor temperature doesn't dip sufficiently below that during the night,  we are uncomfortable.

Thus, after draining the electric water heater and flushing it out (the water in it always sours), we are back to paying for hot water, and I even broke down and turned on the air conditioning.  I'm feeling pretty weak today, but I'm comfortable!

Now, don't think I won't have anything to blog about over the next few months.  My goal is to get the summer kitchen moved from the end of the driveway up to the north side of the house within the month (we'll see if that happens), and I have a raft of wood cookstove literature to review, too, so check in frequently.  We'll be in touch!


  1. I know this is your "down" time with the woodstove. How about more of your great aunt's recipes or info from their farm journals? That would interest me.

  2. your house sounds perfect sounds like a big project but that will be nice to have a summer kitchen in the house-my grandma always had two kitchens
    I enjoy your recipes too

  3. Jim,
    Great posts and recipes.I need help with a question. Can I heat a 360 sq ft cabin overnight with a cook stove? My location is the southern Appalachians at 2000 feet. For 20 years have heated the cabin with Vermont Castings Defiant. No other heat source. Will send more info if it helps. Thanks.

    1. Randy,
      Welcome to my blog and thank you for your question!

      Lots of factors need to be considered when calculating the heating capacity of any woodburning stove. Manufacturers of new stoves attach square foot ratings to their stoves, but in my experience anyway, these are unreliable. In my humble opinion, the following aspects need to be considered in addition to square feet when deciding which woodburning stove will provide adequate heat:

      a) stove location inside the building
      b) building insulation
      c) draftiness of windows and doors
      d) ceiling height
      e) environmental characteristics of your geographic area
      f) what you consider an appropriate indoor temperature, and
      g) how long a stove can emanate useable heat between fueling.

      With that said, you can see why the question is a little difficult to answer.

      I guess my short answer would be that if your cabin is fairly tightly constructed, I believe an airtight wood cookstove would have no problem heating your cabin overnight. Our Margin Gem would keep you quite toasty, I think, but with its footprint being significantly larger than a Vermont Castings, that could be a problem in 360 square feet. I believe the same would be true of a Kitchen Queen or Pioneer Princess. My recommendation would be to look into finding a Heartland Sweetheart.

      I think any non-airtight, old-style cookstove would have no trouble heating your cabin during the day, but the chances of it holding fire overnight without needing refueling are extremely slim. When I lived in the little house on our farm and had the Qualified range installed there, when the stove was going at a moderate rate, it kept the 800 square feet PLENTY warm (I'm not sure the ceilings were even seven feet tall), but it would get chilly at night if I didn't get up and add fuel.

      I don't know if any of this helps you or not. I would welcome more questions, but please understand that all I can give is opinions.

  4. Hey Jim,
    The heating season is indeed over but canning season is in full swing. That means the Homecomfort in the summer kitchen is up and running and just finished a canner of green beans. Always enjoy your blog. God bless. Tim

    1. Hi, Tim.

      Green beans already! Remind me where you're located, Tim. Here the last snow was on April 15th this year. Our green beans are a long way off yet.

      We worked on clearing the new spot for the summer kitchen today. I've got my fingers crossed that we will have it moved to a more convenient location before our green beans are ready to be canned.

  5. Hey Jim,
    Just south of Charleston SC, zone 8b-9a. My first planting of green beans was March 15.

  6. I appreciate the information on how you were able to go so long and the things about your house that accommodate that. In building a house I would want to keep those things in mind. The house we live in now was built during the “energy is cheap and will always be plentiful” era.
    How is the summer kitchen coming along?
    I’m looking forward to finding out what you glean from the literature on cookstoves!