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  1. PSYS

    PSYS Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
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    Loc:
    WISCONSIN
    Hey everyone!

    I've been a longtime lurker and reader of these forums. I decided to finally pull the trigger and register. So... my name is Scott. Currently residing in the Fox Valley, WI (northeast). I'll apologize in advance for the lengthy post!

    My wife and I bought our first home in April. Hooray! It's a single-story ranch home at approx. 1,400 sq. feet. We have a wood burning masonry fireplace in the living room and we also have a wood burning masonry fireplace in our Unfinished basement. The previous homeowners left us some firewood but it was terribly old and has really been used for our fire pit in the backyard. I salvaged a few of the better pieces and we lit a fire in the fireplace in the living room at the end of April after we moved in. After the fire had been going for approx. an hour or so, there was an apparent smell of smoke in the basement. It wasn't filling the room, but it was certainly apparent. We have not lit any additional fires in either of the fireplaces. The home inspector gave the chimney a clean bill of health, but we are having a dedicated chimney/fireplace specialist come out to our home in a couple of weeks to do a full sweep and inspection. I spoke to the specialist over the phone and described the problem that took place upon lighting the fire and he advised it may be a damaged flue and/or some "negative air pressure" in the home. He advised after the inspection and sweep, he would perform a smoke test... although, I'm not quite sure what really any of that means. My apologies... I'm a newbie. :)

    Anyone else experience anything like this with two fireplaces in their home?

    Despite the smoke issue in the basement, we obviously realized the terrible inefficiency of our wood burning masonry fireplace. How awful! The fire was hotter than heck when standing near the hearth, but did little to nothing to actually warm our living room. Aside from the ambience and the obvious cool factor of having a fireplace, I'm quickly learning these things can really do more harm than good.

    I found this forum after speaking to a local store who specializes in fireplaces and recommended the discussions that take place here. That was about a month ago when I realized winter is coming... like it or not. I talked with him for several minutes and had varying discussions. I initially went there looking for glass doors for our fireplace as right now, there is a simple protective screen and that is it. Then we started talking about a grate with a built-in blower... and then he showed the likes of an efficient wood burning fireplace insert and t'daaaaaaah! Here I am. :)

    My wife and I are now essentially scrapping the glass door / grate blower concept and saving pennies for a wood burning insert. I'm convinced this is the way to go after seeing (and feeling) several units perform. How people managed to stay warm using a masonry fireplace way back when is beyond me. I'm still not sure I entirely understand what actually takes place within the fireplace aside from the obvious that a HUGE percentage of the heat is going right up the chimney. We're currently looking at some various small / medium inserts (Lopi Answer and EnerZone 1.8 and a couple of others)

    A friend of mine helped me take down a 25' - 30' Birch Tree that was dwarfing our tiny front yard and leaning scarily towards our home. We chopped it down in mid-May and it has been stacked up under a tarp in our backyard ever since. I got a crash course in wood splitting from that same friend last week and decided to tackle that project today. I can say without a doubt it is the most fulfilling, satisfying hard work I've ever done. Just knowing this small wood pile will be used to keep my wife and I warm is phenomenal. A few cuts, scrapes and bruises later, I managed to accumulate this pile. I have a newfound respect for homesteaders and individuals who are seasoned veterans at this. I worked through this using a 10lb. maul and for the more difficult, knotty pieces, I used a 5lb. wedge and our 10lb. sledgehammer. Needless to say, I'm exhausted but it truly is exhilarating to look out the window at what I was able to accomplish today.

    [​IMG]

    I know we'll need A LOT more wood to get us through the winter, but am focusing on getting the chimney checked out and swept and also the wood burning insert. I'll also be investing in a moisture monitor at some point in time as it looks like quite a few of you utilize one to help stack and arrange your wood pile... which is an art in and of itself, if I may add! Regardless, for my first time, it will have to do. I suspect I'll learn more and pick up certain tips as time goes on...

    I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can in regards to the art of wood, wood burning and heating our first home this winter! :)

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!
    Swedishchef and chvymn99 like this.

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  2. StoveWannabe

    StoveWannabe Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2011
    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Central NY
    Welcome to the forum! I understand how hard spitting is. I was doing it today and look forward to getting a real axe (Fiskars). Hope you have luck with the inspection.
  3. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Messages:
    4,891
    Loc:
    Averill Park, NY, on Burden Lake II...
    Welcome to Hearth.com, Scott. You are definitely not the first to deal with the negative pressure issues of basement fireplaces. In fact, you may have the same issues with woodstoves. You will need to have this year's wood cut stacked & split last spring at the latest, so you're already behind. Get yourself a moisture meter so you can verify just how dry any wood you will buy actually is, especially when your local wood guy tells you that it's "seasoned." Stick around & we'll turn you into another wood burning addict!
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
    PapaDave and webby3650 like this.
  4. PSYS

    PSYS Member

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    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
    134
    Loc:
    WISCONSIN
    BOB:

    Thanks for the reply! Much appreciated!! I'll do some research and reading on the effects of negative pressure issue...

    Unfortunately, I am VERY much behind the curve right now. I was really uneducated on how a masonry fireplace actually performs. We've been so preoccupied and busy with other areas of the house, I did not give the fireplace a second thought until our nighttime lows dipped into the 40's last week. I'm going to do my best to get us up to speed before the onslaught of winter. It's not going to be easy, but I'm bound and determined.
  5. northwinds

    northwinds Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2006
    Messages:
    1,288
    Loc:
    south central WI
    Welcome fellow Badger. You are at the same place that I was back in 1990 when I discovered that my fireplace was great for ambiance but didn't do much for heating my Green Bay house. This forum has a wealth of information via the search tool.

    You have already taken a good first step by getting your chimneys swept and inspected. It's going to be pretty tough to heat your home with wood this winter. But time is on your side. Once you get an efficient wood burning insert or stove installed in your masonry fireplace(s), you can start working on buying/scrounging wood for next year. Stay
    away from oak or hickory as those will take 2-3 years to season after being split. The birch will actually burn great after you get it 6-9 months of seasoning, but you
    will need more of it to heat your home
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
    begreen likes this.
  6. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2009
    Messages:
    3,207
    Loc:
    Holliston, MA USA
    The not so secret "secret" of the old days is that they didn't. Thats why bed warmers and 4 post beds with heavy drapes where so common in the Colonial era and earlier. Waking up to pitchers of drink frozen solid in the kitchen was not unusual. Baths waited for spring :(



    Oh BTW, a warm welcome to hearth :)
  7. PSYS

    PSYS Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
    134
    Loc:
    WISCONSIN
    Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone! I am definitely doing all I can to read this evening... plus, I'm not gonna lie. I'm kinda sore from splitting and stacking that wood today so the reading is nice. So, according to some of the online cord calculators here on the forum, I've barely amassed a mere 0.60 cord. That isn't going to cut it and I have a slow, sinking feeling that I may be in for a rude awakening. Obviously, as a lot of these threads seem to indicate, winters are prepped for much earlier than I've started. I'll need to continue making the best out of this situation and do as best as we can.

    I'm a little concerned about the negative air pressure I'm continuing to read about. It sounds like secondary basement fireplaces are commonplace for the negative air pressure issue. Hopefully, it is easily remedied. *crossing fingers!*
    Oldhippie likes this.
  8. rideau

    rideau Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2012
    Messages:
    1,920
    Loc:
    southern ontario
    Look at wood stoves as well as inserts, if you have room to put one in front of your fireplace. A woodstove heats really nicely, some are very attractive, and you can vent it up your chimney through a liner, just like an insert.
    Oldhippie and Backwoods Savage like this.
  9. Rob From Wisconsin

    Rob From Wisconsin Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2005
    Messages:
    531
    Loc:
    East-Central Wisconsin
    Nice to see another "cheesehead" entering into the Forum!
    I've been away for a bit (long work hours, "back-to-school", etc.), but it's kinda nice
    to be back with heating season about to return.
    I'm sure you'll find woodburning truly a multi-dimensional experience (and worth all of it).
  10. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    4,067
    Loc:
    southern Indiana
    Oldhippie likes this.
  11. Sprinter

    Sprinter Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2012
    Messages:
    1,889
    Loc:
    SW Washington
    To combat negative pressure problems, you need to bring in outside air for combustion - so called "OAK" for outside air kit. In fact they are required for stove installations in mobile homes because those manufactured homes are often built tighter (or at least that's the theory). Most all stoves can be so equipped. You'll probably be looking at a medium sized unit around 2 cf of firebox size.

    The decision to ditch the open fireplace for an insert or stove is a wise one. Chances are, however, that your wood is going to be too green to burn this year. But as suggested above, get a moisture meter (around $20) and check it. You need to be under 25% moisture content on the face of a fresh split. If you go to buy wood now, most wood will not be really dry enough. Suppliers will tell you it's "seasoned" but it almost never is good enough. If you can find some that is not too bad, you may be able to work around it by supplementing it with manufactured products like Biobricks, pallet wood, or other ultra dry stuff.

    In any case, you'll get plenty of help here with that and selecting a good unit. Good luck.
  12. PSYS

    PSYS Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
    134
    Loc:
    WISCONSIN
    Thanks again for all the replies, you guys...

    In regards to the negative air pressure situation going on in our home, I'm curious about the cap that WEBBY referenced as I read about that last night. Our basement is not finished and we will not be using that fireplace for quite some time. Would capping the flue for that fireplace eliminate the smoke smell in the basement when operating the fireplace in our living room? It seems like that would be the obvious no-brainer and definitely the less expensive option as best as I can tell.

    I did a search on the forums in regards to moisture meters and is there any one band that you guys tend to lean towards? I did a quick search on eBay and all of the sellers in North America seem to use $20.00 as a starting point. Just wondering if any of those would suffice? I don't think I need it down to the tenth of a percent for accuracy purposes, but I don't want to be so far off that it's rendered useless.

    I'm going to check out our fuel possibilities like the BioBricks I've been reading about here on the forum. I'm certain there's other alternatives, but plan on checking out our local craigslist advertisements once I have a moisture meter in hand. It seems every ad I come across for firewood uses words like "ultra dry", "highly seasoned" and "ready to burn this year". Now I'm skeptical.
  13. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2010
    Messages:
    1,698
    Loc:
    Chittenden, VT
    Hello Scott, welcome to the forum!

    As you know already that wood will neither be enough nor dry for this winter. Your best bet for this winter may be some kind of processed logs like Biobricks, Enviblocks etc. Pallets, often found free from big-box stores, or lumber scraps may be other options. If you find a firewood dealer that advertises seasoned wood ask him how long it has been cut, split and stacked. Should be at least one year. When he delivers, split some pieces and test the freshly exposed center with a moisture meter. Usually it should be below 20 % but if it is less than 25 % I would still take it. Above that I would only pay for green wood and stack it for next year. Or reject the load but negotiate that before the delivery! To make your splitting easier in the future get a Fiskars X27 e. g. over the net or maybe at your local Walmart.

    What kind of inserts are you looking at? Unless your house is not terrible in terms of insulation a slightly larger medium-sized insert should be sufficient. Some options:
    Osburn 2000 or Matrix, Enviro 1700 series, Regency I2400, or a BlazeKing Princess if you want very long burn times. However, the latter is a catalytic insert which requires replacement of the catalyst about every 5 to 8 years.

    To relieve the negative pressure in your other fireplace you can seal the top and/or the damper as already mentioned. If the chimney of your upper fireplace is not that tall you could also extend it which would improve the draft and make it less likely that the other flue sucks in the smoke. One option: http://www.extendaflue.com/
  14. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2010
    Messages:
    1,698
    Loc:
    Chittenden, VT
    You want one that gives you an idea how dry the wood is within a few percent. There will be no noticeable difference between wood at 20 % and 23 %. I and many others here use that one: http://www.harborfreight.com/digital-mini-moisture-meter-67143.html It does the job and is one of the cheapest options out there.
  15. brenndatomu

    brenndatomu Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2013
    Messages:
    388
    Loc:
    NE Ohio
    Something else to consider for your basement fireplace would be one of those balloons that you put up in the fireplace flue then blow it up to seal things up until you want to build a fire. They have a red tag that hangs down to remind you to remove the balloon before you start that fire.
    Just throwing out some possible options for ya.
    If you do an internet search for chimney balloon, there are a bunch that come up.
  16. northwinds

    northwinds Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    1,288
    Loc:
    south central WI
    If your basement is unfinished and you don't spend much time there, you are correct that you are best off focusing on putting an insert or stove into the upstairs
    fireplace. Those basement walls will suck much of the heat you would be producing downstairs anyway.

    Most of the firewood dealers in the Valley will have already sold their best wood by this time of year. If no one has good seasoned hardwood, be open to birch or pine
    that might be available and seasoned in your area. It takes more wood but it takes less time to season. If it's just been split in the last few months, you're better off
    saving it for next year.
  17. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2007
    Messages:
    27,816
    Loc:
    Michigan
    Welcome to the forum Scott.

    Looks like you are onto the negative pressure idea and good luck. On the wood, first off, never believe what is advertised as dry, seasoned and super dry or any other adjectives they like to use. Most folks just don't know! Most regular wood sellers also can not have good dry wood because that would require them to stack wood and split ahead of time then stack. All that handling can not be done and still make money. That is why it is best to put up your own wood. I'll take this opportunity to invite you to The Wood Shed here on hearth.com. Many wood burners there with lots of good knowledge.

    On the birch you have, it can usually be burned if cut one winter and burned the next. However, you also need to know that birch is one in particular that really needs to be split soon after it is cut. The reason is that the bark sort of seals in the moisture so it rots from inside out. On pieces you don't want to split, you can take the saw and draw a line down the length of the wood to open it up a bit and let moisture out.

    In addition, keep in mind that drying time for wood usually starts only after it has been split and then it is best to stack it outdoors in the windiest spot you have. For sure don't try to burn oak in your first couple years because that stuff dries super slow. Once you are ahead on the wood supply then cut all you can get because it is one of the best. You will find in the Wood Shed that we recommend folks try to get ahead on their wood supply a total of 3 years! More doesn't hurt. It takes a while to get there but it is well worth the time and in the end will save you money and labor.

    Good luck.
  18. PSYS

    PSYS Member

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    DENNIS:

    ...interesting stuff about the Birch! I did not realize this was the case, but I can see where that would occur. The bark in and of itself seems to be fairly porous, yet in some spots fairly dense. I wish I would've known this earlier as I would have split it immediately after we had the tree down. This entire first home process has been a constant learning experience, but I would not trade it for anything!

    We downed the tree in mid/late May and up until this point, the cut logs had simply been sitting in our backyard. I did not actually split the logs until yesterday. Again, the learning process is one I still need to learn. I can now understand why you guys are cutting and splitting woods upwards in three years in advance. It sounds like finding wood is a non-stop, year 'round process. But that's what makes it all the more satisfying! :)

    I'm off to do more research. Many, many thanks to everyone for all the replies and for tossing in your two cents.

    Best. Forum. Ever.
    Cynnergy and Backwoods Savage like this.
  19. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Michigan
    Thanks Scott. This is a great place to learn and I'm still learning too.

    Getting to 3 years ahead might take a little time as most can not do it in a year. That is okay as you have a worthy goal to work towards. As stated, the benefits of doing this are enormous.

    Glad you enjoy the wood cutting. I've done it most of my life and still enjoy it as much now as I did 50+ years ago.
  20. Huntindog1

    Huntindog1 Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
    South Central Indiana
    Most people have a Lowes close by and a good moisture meter there is $30.
  21. brenndatomu

    brenndatomu Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2013
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    Loc:
    NE Ohio
    Two more pointers...
    1. If you can scrounge up some Ash wood, it can usually be burnt the winter after it is cut, (cut, split, & stacked in the spring, burn starting in the fall) especially if it was a dead standing tree. Point is, if you can find a wood dealer that has Ash, you would have a decent chance at getting useable firewood same year.
    2. Any Cherry wood that has that thin, smooth, paper type bark like Birch will have the same rotting problem as Birch if ya don't get it split.
  22. PSYS

    PSYS Member

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    Loc:
    WISCONSIN
    Phenomenal info and I appreciate the tips! I'm making a little cheat sheet for myself and have added those tips to it. This is good stuff to know and I don't know how I would've come across that information had someone not told me. Being this is our first home, I've not exactly had a need prior to this to chop firewood and hoard it for winter. I really appreciate the info!
  23. Huntindog1

    Huntindog1 Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    South Central Indiana
    If you do some investigating and asking around you might be able to still find some seasoned wood. Take your moisture meter with you and check it before you buy.

    Some places to ask around is the feed mill/store, tractor supply stores, rural king , or farm co-op type stores. Alot of them have bulletin boards with business cards and advertisements pinned to them. Some restaurants that the farmers hangout at I have seen same kind of bulletin boards. Dont be shy if your in one of those rurla type returants and the farmers are usually all sitting around shooting the bull just ask them if they know anyone selling good seasoned wood.

    Alot of guys dont advertise but go by word of mouth , they have good wood and that usually is all they need to sell alot of wood.

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