The Milkweed Diaries

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Firing Up the Wood Cookstove

Over the weekend Christopher finished installing our wood cookstove. 

C. was in charge of all of the work of installing the stovepipe, cutting holes in the roof and ceiling, running pipe up through the attic and out the roof, and hooking up the stove. I catered, deejayed, and photographed the event and otherwise provided support.

Christopher on the roof as the chimney takes shape...

...and the hole in the kitchen ceiling.

It was about four years ago that we bought this stove, made by an Amish stovemaker in Canada (ordered via Lehman's).

It was our primary heat source back when we lived in the old, drafty 1600 square-foot house in town before we moved to the ruburbs.* We learned back then that this stove can really pump out the heat. In those days we were living with two friends, and many was the winter night when we all stripped down to tank tops and shorts for a night of hot, sweaty dominoes as the stove blasted away.

Our intention all along was for this stove to be the heat source for our house here on the farm, and also our stove for cooking.  We used it to cook occassionally back in town, but cooking by wood was mostly a novelty at that point.  Now its a way of life.  

The cookstove differs from a typical woodstove in that it has an oven (with temperature gauge) and a large cooking surface on the stovetop. It is also built to accommodate a waterjacket for heating household hot water.  

This summer, our plumber friend will hook the stove up to our hot water system so that when we're using wood heat and cooking on the stove it's also  filling the hot water heater.  Our solar hot water panel will heat household water in the warm months when we're not using the stove for heat, and our plan is to turn off the electric hot water heater all together, using it only as a thermos for water already heated by wood and sun. 

Heating water for household use with electricity is one of the biggest energy hogs in a typical household, and by eliminating this power drain, our electricity load will be reduced to the point that we will be ready to go to a relatively small on-site photovoltaic (PV) system for our main power source.

I love using a woodstove for heat and cooking and hot water. When I lived in Ireland, I cooked on a stove very similar to this one, and I remember loving the simple tactile pleasures of stoking the fire, feeling the air around me gradually grow warmer and drier, and holding my palms above the surface or in front of the open oven door.  

Getting up in the morning, stirring the coals, and putting the kettle on feels like a beautiful natural rhythm to me.  It's so much more grounded, sensual, and humanely-paced than rushing out the door and grabbing a coffee to go.

Another thing that is so satisfying about using the stove is the idea of "stacking functions," a permaculture principle.  The principle of stacking functions means that every component of a well-designed sytem should serve more than one purpose.  

Here's a great description of what it means to stack functions: 

"To stack functions, one designs strategies that meet the most needs with the least effort. Thinking this way helps one become a problem solver: creative, adaptable, effective and abundant. One’s entire life can be based on these principles; they can be implemented with every decision that you make."
- Jennifer Dauksha-English, Financial Permaculture.

The wood cookstove, which heats our home, cooks our food, heats water, and can even dry our clothes (hung on a rack) is a great example of stacking functions.  It feels easy.  I've already found myself thinking things like, "the stove going to be fired up all day today anyhow, I'll put a pot of beans on and they'll be cooked by dinnertime...and maybe I'll make a pot of ginger tea, too."

The final stacked function of the stove that we have discovered is cat happiness. Having a fire in the stove makes Frankie the 
cat very, very happy (here she is sprawled out in the heat about four feet away from the back of the stove).  One downside, however, is that the dry wood heat has apparently made her very thirsty, and driven her to uncharacteristic water theivery.

*ruburbs=rural areas around a city

1 comment:

Dana said...

Hey, lookin great! I bet your unimaginably cozy pad just stepped it up a notch. Cheers!