At the Bar B staying warm isn’t always about flipping on the thermostat and waiting for the furnace to come on. Why fuss with electronics when something so fundamental as a woodstove can make the house cozy and warm in about the same amount of time?
The smartest thing about a mountain home is a woodstove and I’ve got a doozey. I have an ancient Lopi that is only about 20 percent efficient but does an amazing job of heating up most of the 1,200 square feet of the house.
Most people don’t realize you don’t just “start a fire” is a woodstove. There’s lots to consider and most fire neophytes freeze up when faced with the prospect of opening the heavy iron doors that squeak like a dungeon gate.
Here’s what you need to know:
Building a fire quickly and efficiently is really a matter of skill; matches, paper, kindling, smaller pieces of wood and larger, heavier pieces are the recipe for long-lasting warmth.
My method is to start with a relatively clean woodstove; place a small, dry log sideways in the stove, wrinkle up 3 or 4 pieces of newspaper (The Denver Post works well), cover that with a layer of kindling and on that a small layer of branches. Once the fire has completely ignited, larger pieces of wood can be added to get the flames going. Be careful, too many large pieces of wood will smother the fire and you’re back at square 1 except you have a pile of burned logs to deal with.
Some woodstove novices make the mistake of using chemically treated accelerants such as treated pieces of wood and fire stix. I will admit I have had to resort to these tactics once the snow is several feet deep and no kindling is available to use. It’s my little mid-winter dirty secret.
Woodstoves that are up to county code sit on top of a platform that raises their weight and temperature away from flooring. Stoves must also be at least 18 inches from a sort of “backstop” a structure build of non-flammable materials and covered with a non-flammable surface such as ceramic tile. Stove pipes must extend at least two feet beyond the roof line. Stoves must be cleaned each year in order to reduce the creosote build-up that comes with burning pine. Do-it-yourself cleanings aren’t good enough; ask the next door neighbor whose chimney caught on fire due to a “homemade” cleaning.
Warmth is key with a woodstove – they get hot – fast. The top can get hot enough to cook on and the sides are white-hot and can leave a nasty burn if someone touches it.
On days when the woodstove had to be cleaned out before a fire could be keenly burning, it’s necessary to go outside, get the metal-lidded tin, scoop out the accumulated ashes and safely deposit them in-can in a snow bank.
The correct disposal of ashes is a first-grade subject for mountain dwellers.
Ask the lady who lived in the house in Pine Junction about what to do with ashes. She’ll tell you to never place them in a paper bag and put them on a wooden deck on a windy day. The upside is when they rebuilt the burned-out house on Nova Road, they updated the electrical and the plumbing. Leaving ashes in a flammable container is a mistake most people make only once.
Non-flammable rugs are a must around a woodstove since embers and sparks can fly long distances from the woodstove once it’s opened either to add wood or to move logs around. Those sparks move fast and fly far. On that same note, curtains are a no-no around a woodstove.
It’s smart to have either ceiling fans or portable fans to circulate the heated air around the house. The area near the stove may be toasty warm but the back of the house can have ice on the inside of the windows. Distribution is the key.
Once all the safety precautions are used and the equipment is well-maintained, fires in the woodstove are a life-saver and a pipe-saver on days when the electricity and the furnace (water heater, telephones, toilet, well, and your iPod docking station, it’s all electric up here) goes out.
It wouldn’t be a real mountain house without a woodstove.