Wood Stoves Are Not Metal Boxes

Back in the stone age, when Carter and his cardigan held office, OPEC raised the price of oil and Americans got a serious case of “balls in a vice syndrome”. Carter, showing the problem solving abilities of a chipmunk, orated about malaise, turned down the thermostat, and suggested that ethanol subsidies might lead to “energy independence” in some distantly imaginable Utopian future. He subsequently lost his re-election bid in an electoral college stomping that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Go America!

My family, adapting to reality rather than wishing it away, ignored every word coming out of the President’s pointy head. We acquired one of those newfangled foreign cars that zipped circles around the ponderous battle cruisers churned out by Detroit and installed a wood stove. It was a lesson that stuck with me; don’t bitch, change!

I grew to love that wood stove. It was pretty. It smelled nice. It was cheaper than fuel oil. It was a great place to hang a Christmas stocking. Pond hockey is better if there’s a warm seat in front of a wood stove waiting for you. Etc… Nobody has fond memories of a furnace.

The stove itself was nothing more than a big metal box. It worked but it was crude. Like me! I’m glad we didn’t spend those years sitting on our ass wearing a sweater.

Fast forward several decades. It’s a brave new world. Many changes have been happy or at least bittersweet but generally with an aftertaste of stupid. We didn’t eliminate war, famine, and pestilence but we outlasted disco, the AMC Gremlin, and Tab soda. Russia never dropped the bomb but we bump around in the Middle East a lot. Microbrew beer was legalized but Sudafed is restricted. Plane tickets are cheap but the TSA does things that were once termed sexual assault. See what I mean? Change that is mostly for the better but not exactly intelligent.

Why do I mention this? Because in the time between my families metal box wood stove and the one I purchased, the EPA turned its Eye of Sauron upon wood stoves and created change that is a mixed bag of good and bad with an aftertaste of stupid. Fire, something mastered by Neanderthals, is now complex.

Modern wood stoves house intricate systems of baffles and heat exchanges by law. This isn’t all bad; they’re better at squeezing heat from wood and smoke considerably less. On the other hand who gives a shit? I don’t exactly live in Phoenix. If I don’t mow my lawn it’ll eventually run rampant with Pine and Aspen. Is it really a key value to conserve wood in an environment where it grows en masse? Didn’t the EPA go to great lengths to conserve the one material that literally “grows on trees”? Should I care about conserving something I can acquire in great quantities without spending a single dime? As for smoke, I live in a sparsely populated area. Me and all my neighbors could burn cars like a summer in Paris it wouldn’t add up to much.  Count on the EPA to do things like that. They regulate the toilet tank reservoir for a guy who lives in a swamp, the wood consumption of a guy who owns a forest, and the wattage of bulbs I stick in a chicken coop. Smooth move fellas.

Time for a Curmudgeonly Gem Of Insight:

“My mental model of a wood stove is a metal combustion chamber with a flue. This was once true but the EPA drove a stake through it.”


“Modern woodstoves cost far more than you’d think; in part because they have stuffStuff breaks.”

Something in the stuff went south. The stove started smoking. It started making less heat. The draft wasn’t as efficient. It stunk up the house. In short, it began to suck.

I tried to figure out how to fix it but as far as I could tell, the internal baffles and crap were spot welded in place and I’d need to be a contortionist with a welding kit to do anything about it. In shame and misery, I put on a sweater and ran the furnace.

The furnace heats just enough to make life bearable but not much more. It takes wood to make the house “toasty warm”. I sat in a sweater and froze my ass off. It was just like the early 1970’s all over again.

This went on for several weeks. Finally I called a guy to “fix” my stove. Actually several guys before I could coax one to drive to the hinterlands (billing me every damn mile) and “fix” it.

What happened next was a surprise.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Wood Stoves Are Not Metal Boxes

  1. RogerC says:

    Wood stoves, along with beer, bacon and bourbon, are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Even crabby old agnostics like me.

    Wood stoves with heat exchangers and stuff that breaks is proof that government hates you and wants you to die miserable and poor.

  2. Steve_in_CA says:

    Stay tuned for part 2 of “What hath Washington Wrought?”

  3. Pingback: “Wood Stoves Are Not Metal Boxes.” | The Ultimate Answer to Kings

  4. MamaLiberty says:

    Well… so what happened next? Suspense is not necessarily good for old bat ladies like me. 🙂 And I’m curious as hell. I have an “airtight” stove, but it doesn’t seem to have any “stuff,” aside from the sealing thingie around the door. I need to know what “stuff” to stockpile, just in case.

    Blame Joel… he sent me here. LOL

  5. Ray says:

    Many decades ago when I was a wee lad of 8 or 9, we lived in a house that had all the modern conveniences but also had a small 2 burner Franklin stove in the kitchen. My mother liked her kitchen warm in the winter so the job fell to me to get up early every morning and start the fire then put on a kettle of water for tea and coffee. Some of the best memories of my life.

    Looking forward to part 2

  6. Expat says:

    Right now I’m sitting next to my Morso wood stove burning merrily away and it’s snowing like hell outside. You’re absolutely correct. Luckily it’s made is Norway or one of those other blonde countries where they take wood stoves seriously (a popular TV show is a video of a burning fire place and another is a reality show about cutting and stacking firewood) as it’s my only source of heat. I would mention that the best stoves I’ve used come from the Woodstock Soapstone Co. in Vermont. Did buy a POS Chinese POS but it’s in the garage where it belongs.

  7. zinger3006 says:

    And here you leave us hanging again, however the wait is always worth it! I never question why I follow your blog.

  8. Bruce says:

    If you don’t mind me asking, which stove do you have? I plan to install one next spring. Being

    • I have a Harman. Despite my current whining it has been a good investment. It doesn’t just get heat from wood; it squeezes every last BTU out of each cell of wood and pounds the remnants to dust looking for more. It’s the tightwad accountant of wood consumption.

      If you buy one make sure to get the optional fan, without the fan it’ll function properly (and it’s no big deal keeping warm during power outages and such) but shoving air around is a key part of it’s efficiency. I leave the fan on most of the winter. (This might be an issue if you’re off grid.) The need for a fan is a disadvantage to modern stuff and a solid point for the big stupid inefficient boxes of yore.

      I was also impressed with Quad-Fire but, like many things in the hinterlands, I couldn’t find one nearby for sale.

      • Bruce says:

        The Quad-Fire is the preferred brand here…. Maybe I should buy two and sell you one. Sounds like I could get paid the labor paid in beer and tree destruction lessons.

  9. cspschofield says:

    There is no technology so established and stable that it cannot be ruined by an upgrade.

  10. banffbound says:

    First time interjector.. and I L-O-V-E your blog BTW… but this is one of the .00372% of the time I am going to have to disagree with your (usually) spot on logic (and wit, and satire, and humor, and pretty much all around Curmudgeonly awesomeness).. but making those wood stoves more efficient.. even if it is the .. errr.. ahem.. Government doing it.. is.. by and large.. a good thing (though it pains me to say that). I currently live in an area where the air quality (especially during ‘burning season’) will routinely bankroll a full month of Claritin D research (and that includes building overhead and janitorial staff). So cleaning up the air quality where the human population is a tad more dense is a really good thing (my current locale is an unfortunate fact of life for me; I hold hope in my wildest Dreams that SWMBO lets me/us move to a spot such as your beloved neck of the woods when I retire). Most idiots/ignorant masses/drones.. (okay).. people don’t take the time to invest and devote the mental cognizance required to make an intelligent consideration as to what might be a ‘best investment’ woodstove prior to a purchase of said item (from costs incurred to heat released per fuel unit burned as well as the environmental perspective) .. so in this one (very rare) instance, I think we are better served by having the overarching hand of ‘people paid to think about this shit’ mandating certain standards for everyone. Just my humble opinion.. Happy to expound.

    • Let us disagree then. An efficient woodstove makes sense where the air quality is shit and a non-efficient woodstove makes sense where the population is darned near non-existent. Different choices for different locales. How hard can it be to grok that? I hardly think some limp noodle at a desk should take over because us helpless peons can’t differentiate Manhattan from the hinterlands. (That said I have lived in places with air pollution and it sucked. You have my sympathies.)

      Another note on efficiency, a more efficient woodstove means you need less wood to equal the same BTUs. Since my time is finite I’m happy with the tradeoff. The downside is that my stove is a bit tinkery and seems to really prefer the very best quality wood (i.e. nice and dry). My neighbor can get away with burning cold wet crap but I’ve got to pay closer attention. This isn’t a big deal since I’m pretty uptight about firewood quality as an inherent part of my personality. It might annoy the heck out of my neighbor who has never cut wood earlier than Thanksgiving.

  11. Epat says:

    Wonder how the Brits managed to conquer the world without the EPA?

  12. John Ackerly says:

    Sorry, you lost me in beginning of your story – which was humorously well written. President Carter installed at least 6 wood stoves in White House and executive offices. He gave a huge boost to the industry by his support. Secondly, the EPA hasn’t cared about efficiency of wood stoves. They have never even required measuring it, much less meeting any minimum. But efficiency is great for the consumer who buys wood, and for most who cut it themselves.

    John Ackerly, Alliance for Green Heat

    • Actually you’re right that Carter didn’t have a beef with wood stoves. Fair point! In fact, when I was researching my purchase a few years ago I found lots of government literature encouraging wood stoves from the 1970’s and lots of stuff discouraging them from more recent times. It’s my experience that the vaguely anti-woodstove regulatory bias I detect is a more or less recent phenomenon. Also making fun of Carter doesn’t mean I blame him for regulatory hassles in 2013 (or Tab soda).

      On the other hand I’m having a hard time reconciling the EPA as disinterested about woodstoves with my personal experience. Ten minutes with Google yielded this:

      “Since 1988, EPA has required manufacturers of wood stoves to certify that each model line of wood stoves offered for sale in the United States comply with the EPA particulate emissions guidelines in the Clean Air Act. EPA-certified wood stoves are cleaner and more efficient than a wood stove manufactured before 1988. As part of the certification process, each wood stove model line is required to undergo emissions testing in accordance with EPA Reference Method 28 and sampling methods 5G or 5H by an EPA-accredited laboratory. Only after successfully passing these tests can a wood stove be offered for sale in the United States.”

      One could say they’re not interested in efficiency. They’re interested in emissions. Either way the EPA says the crude stupid simple old school woodstove of my youth is now verboten. Further the same certification rules apply equally to a lonely windswept ranch in Wyoming and a suburb of L.A.. This makes a lot more sense to someone living in L.A. than someone living in a place where the nearest neighbor is over the horizon.

      Also, efficiency is great. I love efficiency. I’m all for people voluntarily choosing what’s best for them. I have an efficient wood stove and like that it reduces back breaking labor; but my patience runs thin should it become unreliable or cost more in maintenance than I save by cutting wood. At some point, it’s too much of a hassle and I fall back to fossil fuels. (In fact I did that for several weeks while the stove was kaput.)

      I’m thankful I have sufficient wealth that I can choose to spend more money on a stove and less time on wood. I certainly wouldn’t force my choice on my poorer neighbor who has lots of trees, plenty of time, and hardly any money.

      Source: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/monitoring/programs/caa/whcert.html

  13. Pingback: Wood Stove Efficiency Win | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

  14. Pingback: Cookstove! Nothing Is Easy. | Adaptive Curmudgeon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s