Here on our small hobby farm in Michigan, we use strictly wood stove heat in winter to provide our warmth. It's now been three years since we've needed to turn on our furnace (when we first moved out here, we were using a combination of wood stove and propane furnace). All of the wood we burn is harvested as fallen trees in our own forest, minimizing environmental impact. In fact, there are more fallen trees from our violent summer storms then we can manage!
We are currently trying to maximize the efficiency of our heating system. We purchased a new wood stove in 2006 that was extremely efficient and does a great job of heating our house, despite its relatively small size. Still, we burn a lot of wood, and want to try and minimized the environmental impact of that burning.
Wood stove efficiency has come a long way. Newer EPA-certified models are about one-third more efficient than the old pot-belly stove models, and they produce about 90% less particulate matter (smoke) than the older models. Fires also ignite more easily and burn more completely in these new stoves. We added a blower that sits on top of the stove for better air circulation, and a ceiling fan directly above the stove that circulates the heat throughout the room.
But still, we constantly seek to maximize efficiency with our stove by asking the question, "What else can we use our stove for besides heat?" An obvious answer is cooking food and boiling water. A teapot resting on top of a roaring wood stove brings the water to a boil in no time at all! I am still mastering the art of cooking on the stove, since you can't just "turn down" the flame when needed.
One of the things we've had to address is the extremely dry air that the wood stove produces. Without some sort of humidifier in the room, it quickly becomes very unpleasant. I can remember one night before we realized this, when my dad was visiting. He actually ended up sleeping with a damp washcloth over his face, because he was so unaccustomed to such dry air! Now we place a large pot of water on top of the stove, and let it slowly evaporate throughout the day.
We also realized that hang-drying our laundry would have a two-fold benefit. First, we would save on our very expensive propane bill by not using our dryer (we always hang-dry our clothes in summer, but used to switch to the dryer in winter). Second, as the clothes dried, they would contribute badly needed moisture to the air. A perfect solution!
The only problem was creating the space to hang the clothes without having them be constantly in the way. Our wood stove is right in the middle of our living room, and so the clothes would have to hang in the living room, too. The solution? Alex designed a simple but functional hanging rack, suspended from the ceiling along the side wall, and it has worked perfectly, saving us money and keeping the air humidified! When not in use, he made it attractive enough to not be an eyesore. It's working so well, I might even ask him to build another!
Have any other uses for your wood stove? We'd love to hear about them!