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Wood-burning heating options to keep warm during Arctic blast

Sterling wood-burning soapstone stove

Being prepared never had as much meaning as it does now during the deep Arctic blast the country is currently experiencing. In the Midwest and across the United States people are dealing with colder than normal temperatures for days on end and with little relief in sight. For those who planned ahead with alternative heating methods, they can relax with less worries than those who have no alternate plan.

Masonry heaters are site-built appliances that use channels to trap heat in the masonry mass, which is radiated out over a long period of time to warm the living space. They use no fans or ducts. Smaller amounts of wood are needed in a masonry heater than in wood stoves. Most masonry heaters contain bake ovens, which can be used for cooking. A Certified Heater Mason should build the heater.

Wood-burning stoves are U.L. listed appliances that use a primary and secondary combustion chamber to burn wood gas. Most are equipped with blowers, although they are not necessary to work. Heat is absorbed and radiated by the stove. Many have cook tops. Wood-burning stove inserts are appliances that are installed into masonry fireplaces in order to utilize the space and make the fireplace efficient. An NFI Certified Wood-burning Specialist or Certified Chimney Sweep should do the installation.

Masonry heaters and wood stoves are not Do-it-yourself projects.

According to the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, people are purchasing wood-burning stoves and masonry heaters more often than in the past. This is likely due to the self-sufficiency movement and a desire to be independent of utility markets. And the choice to burn wood instead of using expensive natural gas, oil, or electricity brings many benefits.

Gene Padgitt, a chimney sweep with HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri said "We are seeing a big increase in calls regarding installations of wood-burning stoves during this extremely cold weather. About 30% more than average. And more people asking about masonry heaters as well." Padgitt believes that the harsh cold has been a wake-up call for many of his customers, who were on the fence about making an expensive stove or heater purchase. His crews are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. "It is certainly better to have an alternative method of heating ready when you need it," said Padgitt, who advises homeowners to have their appliances swept at least twice during the burning season if used for primary heating.

Benefits of wood-burning:

- Radiant heat from a wood-burning masonry heater or stove provides even heating over many hours.

- Radiant heat penetrates deep into the body and eases pain for arthritis and fibromyalgia sufferers.

- Burning wood emits less Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere than if it was left to rot on the forest floor.

- Today’s modern appliances are very efficient and clean-burning.

- If the power goes out, heat is still available if an alternative appliance is installed, so there is no need to leave the home.

- Wood-burning appliances may be used for supplemental heating throughout the winter to reduce energy costs.

- Wood is always available, either on your own land or in the National Parks.

Selecting and Storing Wood:

All species of wood have similar heat (BTU) content on a per pound basis when completely dry. Therefore, denser woods will generally cost more and burn longer. Woods like oak, hickory, and yellow pine will burn overnight, but soft woods like will require a visit to the stove during the night. Because a lot of energy can be wasted burning wet wood, use wood that has been properly seasoned. Harvest wood in the spring or even a year before using it, cut, split, and stack, and allow to dry throughout the summer. Look for wood that is of even color, without any green. It should have a moisture content of 20% or less by weight. Inexpensive moisture meters take the guess work out of choosing wood.

Store wood off the ground on planks or blocks, stacked to allow for air circulation, and covered on the top to keep rain out. Keep the front, back and sides open to allow wind to blow through and dry the wood out.

Midwest Chimney Safety Council

Masonry Heater Association of North America

Chimney Safety Institute of America

National Fireplace Institute

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