Keeping Warm This Winter: Your Wood Heater Guide

wood-heater
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Heating your house, heating water and cooking are major users of energy in your home. Using wood to create some or all of this energy use can be one of the simplest ways to increase your household self-sufficiency. It’s efficiency as a renewable energy resource is value-added if you are using wood that is sustainably grown and harvested, or collected as waste and salvaged wood. This value particularly applies when the wood heater is properly maintained and is used correctly (burning dry, seasoned wood).

Wood burners can be cheap to run even if you have to buy firewood; and they work during power cuts – increasing your household’s resilience. Wood burners can fulfil many purposes including heating, cooking, heating water, drying your clothes, raising your sourdough bread before its baked and providing ash and charcoal for your garden. They are an efficient way to clear up fallen sticks and branches around your property. Learning to understand and safely use fire is a great skill to pass on to our children and brings us closer to our ancestors. Not least to mention is the wonderful atmosphere of having a ‘bush TV’ flickering in our loungerooms.

Decide On Your Needs

There are two types of wood burners: radiant heat and convective heat. Radiant heat wood burners heat up a solid mass and radiate the heat outwards. This is great for large rooms with high ceilings and rooms where the insulation is poor or there is a draught.

Convective wood burning heaters will heat the air, which then rises to the ceiling. This means you get less heat in the bottom part of your room, unless you use a ceiling fan to mix up the hotter and cooler layers of air. Convective heat makes it easier to move some of the warm air to other parts of your home.

Indoor wood burners can be made of welded steel, cast iron, masonry, soapstone and other materials. They come in a range of heating capacities, which dictates their ability to heat a designated space. You also need to consider the woodbox size and how logs will fit into it; plus the ashpan and how you will handle and dispose of coals and re-use ash.

Consider whether you need options for heating water. Even if you are buying second-hand it may pay to talk to a woodstove dealer to find out what options can work for your family. Make sure you have enough undercover space to store sufficient wood for at least a couple of days use.

Options For Inside Your House

Wood heater or firebox – Much more efficient than an open fireplace, wood heaters usually sit in your loungeroom and provide warmth and atmosphere. Some models you can cook on top of and some have a wetback to heat your household water – this is where copper pipes carrying water are installed to pass behind your heater.

Masonry heaters – These heaters warm the inside of your home by creating radiant heat. The firebox is filled with wood and burns very hot and fast for about two hours. The heat is stored in the masonry mass and released slowly over the next 24 hours. It’s a very efficient way of heating (around 80%) with very low emissions. You won’t get creosote in your flue, soot in your firebox or piles of ash, because everything combustible is converted to heat.

Wood oven – Popular models include the Aga or Rayburn. With a smaller firebox, you can adjust the fire and heat to cook your food on top or in the oven, plus dry food in the warming cupboard, or through radiant heat on the top or sides of this type of heater. Wood ovens can also have an attached wetback, and you can run water through pipes to radiators in bedrooms, for dissipating heat and warming your entire house.

Pellet heaters – These types of heaters burn compressed wood or biomass pellets, fed continuously through a hopper. New pellet heaters produce very low emissions and can be as high as 85 percent efficiency. But you do have to buy the pellets.

heater

Keeping Warm And Cooking Outside

DIY metal drum wood burner – This can be easily made out of any round 20-litre tin or a 44-gallon drum. With the top removed and a hole cut in the base for feeding wood, and another smaller hole for more air, these simple wood burners can be lit and be ready to boil water in a matter of minutes. They are an efficient way to provide outdoor heating and cooking while cleaning up fallen sticks and branches, as well as a great tool to learn better fire skills.

Rocket stove – Is an efficient, hot-burning stove that uses small sticks of wood. Most often used as a portable stove outside for cooking, rocket stoves can also be used in conjunction with an area of thermal mass, to heat an indoor area.

Woodfired pizza oven – These ovens need a complex construction, set in an outdoor area, and take a lot more wood to produce a lot of heat for a long, slow burn. A pizza oven could be used once a week to make pizzas, bread and slowbaked food which can be left inside it overnight as the fire slowly diminishes.

Proper Use Of Wood

Efficient use of wood makes a big difference to how your wood burner operates and how much greenhouse gas emissions you produce. Some tips:

  • Plan ahead – Use wood that has been stored in a dry, sunny, airy place for at least a year before burning.
  • Correct wood type – Burn the right type of wood at the right time. Softwood is good as kindling to start a fire, and when the fire gets going, hardwood is denser and burns for longer.
  • Regulate your burn – Keep the air setting high enough to achieve a clean burn and use the correct amount of wood. Avoid keeping a slow combustion heater working overnight, as this produces more smoke pollution.
  • Don’t burn – Chemically treated wood and household rubbish can release toxic fumes into the air, damage your wood burner and flue and can create toxic ash, which is a challenge to dispose of.

What Is Sustainable Firewood

Wood and off-cuts from managed forest plantations are considered sustainable, as is collecting wood from certain designated forest areas. Private property can be a source for wood supply. Talk to your neighbours about sharing this resource, because it might help reduce fuel loads, for bushfire safety, on the properties surrounding yours. Recycled timber from tree-cutting, sourced from demolition sites and harvested from shelterbelts and tree lots are also considered sustainable.

Types Of Wood To Use

Some types of firewood are better for burning than others. This relates to their density and water content. The more dense and dry the wood is, the better and more efficiently it will burn, and the more heat it will produce. You can usually tell dry wood from green wood by its weight. Green wood will feel heavier and, when split, will look darker in the middle than the outside and feel cool to the touch as the water evaporates.

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