Mythbusting (or not) over a pandemic Winter

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TradEddie

Minister of Fire
Jan 24, 2012
934
SE PA
Like so many folks, our regular routine was very different this year, happily my wife and I were both able to work from home, although I was able to voluntarily take time off to enjoy myself and occasionally help our teenaged kids with virtual school. Being at home all day made me an almost full time wood burner, and allowed me unusual opportunity to experiment with wood burning and associated practices, to bust some myths, but perhaps also confirm others:

North/South vs. East/West
Without a doubt my insert (Lopi Freedom) burns easier, steadier and more completely when loaded N/S. Unfortunately much of my wood supply is cut just slightly too large for N/S. There are however, a few caveats: it is much easier to lose control of a N/S load, that faster restart means that secondary burn can be achieved and maintained long before the stovetop thermometer might suggest. It is also difficult to load my tapered firebox completely full N/S, and so the longest burns are still more easily achieved E/W.

Fan on / Fan off
Previously, I would have said I see no difference in using the fan or not, but now I can clearly see a difference, not perhaps in overall heat or efficiency, but in the type and distribution of heat. If I only wanted to heat the stove room as consistently as possible, I’d never need the fan, not running the fan allows the surrounding brickwork to absorb heat (>150F!!) and slowly release that heat to the room, the room itself will not get as hot, but it will stay warm for much longer. Running the fan makes the room air hotter, but that hot air is more easily distributed to other rooms, and the stove room will cool much more quickly as the fire dies, allowing easier timed reloads.

Heat Distribution
I finally got my hot air distribution worked out, it was no great secret, but doing so without clutter of wires and fans underfoot was the hard part. A tower fan, run on lowest speed, blowing cold air into the stove room, combined with the insert fan on low speed created that sought-after circulation loop, getting upstairs bedrooms to mid 60F, adjacent living room to 70F, yet not having sauna conditions in the stove room. The cool fan breeze made the hot stove room comfortable. Running the tower fan on higher speeds was counterproductive; it likely disrupted the layer of hot air up high and resulted in colder bedrooms.

Seasoning Oak, sunlight, standing dead vs. felled alive
My wood supply consisted mostly of Oak, some CSS in Spring 2019, and the rest CSS in late 2019. Some was standing dead, some was felled alive in March when sap was already rising. All of my early CSS oak was below 20%mc within 20 months (two summers, one very wet). I couldn’t see or measure any consistent difference between standing dead or felled alive wood. Neither could I see any difference between wood from the south facing sunny front of the shed and wood from the center or shaded north facing rear. It was all (barely) under 20%, and it all lit and burned just fine. The oak that wasn’t CSS until late 2019, however was all above 20% and burning that sucked! (more on that below).

Burning wood (oak) above 20%mc.
Obviously, burning full time means burning more wood, so I used my 2+ cords of well seasoned wood and yet Winter wasn’t over. I scrounged through the piles for older leftovers, but was left with Oak that was 21-26%mc. I picked the lightest splits, split them smaller and tried my best. It still sucked. Some days random luck worked for me, but other days that wood simply would not light, it might sizzle and smoke for an hour before reaching secondary burn temperatures. Once it did get there, it burned well but it was so frustrating, I gave up and let the propane take over. Despite all that, I cleaned my chimney today, and with nearly 3 cords gone through it, I had less than a cup of coffee grounds. I was pleased.

Holzhausen
Okay, for sure they are amazing. They’re hard to build well, but it can be done with practice; your second will be so much better than the first. They hold an incredible volume of wood in a small space, they look good, and even with a rudimentary covering, the internal wood stays completely dry. They aren’t however, magic. That wood on the inside or outside wasn’t any better (or worse) seasoned than wood stacked covered in single rows.

Thoughts, comments, your experiences?

TE
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
89,761
South Puget Sound, WA
Sounds like you have the system dialed in nicely. Has the Freedom done everything you want as compared to the old Gold Marc?
 

TradEddie

Minister of Fire
Jan 24, 2012
934
SE PA
Sounds like you have the system dialed in nicely. Has the Freedom done everything you want as compared to the old Gold Marc?
For sure it has, if I were to pick one fault, I would say it heats too well! It's installed in a relatively small room and even when I can adjust that control just perfectly to keep secondaries barely lit, stovetop just at 400F, the near end of the room will easily hit 80F even without the blower. I suppose I could run it cooler and dirtier, but that would defeat the purpose. If I was shopping again, I'd go for a slightly smaller unit, or more likely a cat, but that's no criticism of the Freedom.
Mostly I'm blessed to have a good supply of hard wood on a small property, routine maintenance and storm damage has kept me in firewood for 17 years, the existing mature trees will last beyond my firewood splitting days, and more grows every day!

TE
 
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kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
5,971
07462
My only mythbusting I did was, beginning of season : since I'm working from home more, I'm going to burn through more wood. Reality burnt less wood (due to a damper from a tested high draft) but all in all, I did not fiddle with the stove like I thought I would have.