Lately, I have noticed numerous questions on a Facebook Homesteading Group regarding wood heat. What kind of stove or fireplace should I use? How much wood do I need for the Winter? Where should I put the stove in my homestead? What is a more effective heat, stove, or fireplace with an insert? Confidence in owning a wood stove comes with knowledge.
These are all great questions, but unfortunately, there isn’t an overabundance of places to get answers. So I decided to do some investigating and answer some of these questions. First, let’s look at why you want a wood-burning stove.
There are several reasons people decide to invest in a stove. Heating is usually the main one. Sustainability, location, and not being fossil-fuel dependent are others. Oh, yeah, they look cool too!
So you want to live off the grid and have a sustainable lifestyle on your homestead and need heating. It gets very, very cold where you are going, and you need a good heating stove you can depend on. Well, here we go. Let’s see what we’ve learned.
First, figure out how much heat your new homestead needs to keep you cozy.
I found out that to keep a 1,300 sq. ft. home warm, you will need a stove that puts out 42,000 BTU of heat. A home of 2,000 sq. ft. will need 60,000 BTU. That’s British Thermal Units, how they measure heat. That means you will need a stove that puts out that much BTU of heat.
Now that you know how much heat your house requires, let’s see what the best way to get it is. I’m not going to talk prices here because there is a larger variation of prices than there are stoves.
There are several different types of wood heat options but I will just look at five. The old standby, fireplace, the Franklin (typical) wood stove, the pot-bellied, the traditional cookstove, and then there’s the pellet stove. There is a host of variables of all of these to choose from.
We use an Earth Stove and I’m not sure if it is a Franklin or Airtight stove. It only has one air regulator and damper. Over the years we have replaced brick and rope but it seems to do its job keeping us warm.
Fireplaces are great for aesthetics, romance, and hanging stockings, but not great for heating a house. They are dirty, smokey, inefficient, and suck the warm air up the chimney. Their opening is large and does not keep the heat from escaping up the chimney. You can add a heat exchanger to improve this. The exchanger pulls the cold air from the room, heats it as it goes through pipes, and then pushes it back out into the room through vents. Just a flip of a switch to have more heat. Still not very practical, efficient, or clean.
Next is the good old Franklin stove. It is usually a square box with a “U” shaped flue. It draws the hot gasses from the fire into a hollow baffle and expells back into the room through vents at the top of the stove. Yes, this is Benjamin Franklin’s design from 1741. Several changes have been made and updated to EPA standards but it’s still the same wonderful stove.
If you have an older model you can add a heatilater that will improve your stove’s heating ability. It is a unit that is either connected to the outside of the stove box or put into the stove pipe. It circulates air around the wood box or stove pipe and sends it back out with fans. You don’t lose all your hot air up the chimney. These stand-alone stoves are made from cast iron. The stove box heats where a fireplace is made of stone and sets in a wall limiting the amount of area that heats up.
Then there is the old standby, the Pot-bellied stove. Made from cast iron and looked like a pregnant barrel. This stove made its debut during the 1860s throughout North America in train stations, cabooses, meeting places, and lodges. You could burn wood or coal in an enclosed wood box. These stoves were supposed to be airtight but some did have leaky seams. They would fill the box, light it, and close it. The fire would burn slowly and keep going for hours. These were the most efficient stoves of their time. They would be placed in the center of a room where it would heat the whole area. The newer models are rated at 200,000 BTU. That’s some heat.
Traditional Cook Stove
Now let’s look at my favorite stove, the Traditional Cook Stove. These were introduced in the early 1800s when potbellied manufacturers were looking at making cooktop stoves. Cast iron surfaces, and an enameled oven that could cook a 22 lb. turkey. A water reservoir and warming oven on top. The newer versions can produce 50,000 BTU an hour. That can heat a 1500 sq. ft. home. This probably isn’t the most economic stove wood wise but when the power goes out and it’s below zero, you won’t care.
The pellet stove is not my favorite only because you need the power to make the auger work that puts the pellets into the (hopper) burning chamber. They can use anywhere from 1 1/4 lbs. of pellets an hour on the lowest setting or up to 5 – 6 lbs. an hour on the highest setting. Pellet stoves require a bit more maintenance due to their mechanical parts. They are a renewable, sustainable heat source which is great. The pellets are made from compressed wood or bark. You won’t get the same flame experience with the pellet stove as you would from a fireplace but you do get to see the flame. The pellets are easier and cleaner to store than wood.
These stoves made their debut during the 1973 oil embargo. As a result, Between 1973 and 1980s Four hundred fifty million airtight stoves were sold in this country. People wanted a cheaper, eco-friendly, non-fossil-friendly way to heat their homes. The airtight stoves would last for 8 hours by shutting them down after starting a fire. Thus, much like the old Potbellied stove. They would use less wood due to their slow burn. The downside was that due to the slow burn they were smokey and let out more pollutants. There are still a significant amount of these stoves around everywhere.
As far as wood type it all depends on where you are, and if you are going to go harvest it yourself or purchase it. The harder the wood is better and leaves less ash, soot, and unburned creosote. Here in the Northwest, we burn Tamarack, cottonwood, then red fir and lodgepole and try not to use pine or white fir. Because they just burn too fast and leave lots of ash. If you can get your hands on oak, you are great.
Well seasoned wood is your first concern. The best information I learned was from forresters working in the woods, is to try and find a tree that has dried standing. If that isn’t possible, harvest your wood during the summer before you need it, and make sure you store it in a handy dry space.
If you are wondering what size to split it into it depends on what size the opening of your stove is. When splitting your wood make sure you have different sizes. Because you will need larger and smaller splits. To keep your fire going through the night or if you step out for a couple of hours, you will want them larger. Split your round into quarters. The smaller splits you can use for starting or making your fire hotter as well as the bark. Gardens, walkways, or the foundation for your wood stack can be made with the bark.
More effective, stove or fireplace?
I will have to go with the information available and say the wood stove is more efficient than the fireplace unless you can put a heatilator in the fireplace. Even though the fireplace has more ambiance, the wood stove will keep you warmer.
How much wood?
This is our wood for the winter. It’s 3 rows back and 6′ high at the highest point. How much wood you need is more or less a personal choice. You want to make sure you have enough to get you through the cold season. I found a rule to go by, “If you have a 1,000 sq. ft. home you will need 3 cords”. A cord by definition is how they measure and sell split wood. Making a rectangle stack that measures 4’x4’x8′.
Make sure you have a little more wood than you think you’ll need because the weather person isn’t always correct.
For more information on the how’s and why’s of wood stoves visit: