Heating your home with a wood stove: the good, the bad and the ashes

Mar 20 2017
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We are just concluding our second winter living in my grandparents’ 100 year old farm house. When we gutted the home we removed the old fuel oil burning furnace in the basement and all of the old corresponding duct work. Then it was the question on how we wanted to heat our home. My plan initially was to have a small wood stove in the kitchen to support electric off peak heat. Within a month of subzero temperatures though we knew we would never be willing to afford the electric heat… oh my gosh expensive! So, we kept our little wood stove burning hot all of the time and found out real quick a “little” stove was not going to cut it against a northern Minnesota winter!

UPDATE: December 27, 2018. Joe and I are now divorced so its just me now making it work with the wood stove. It still feels like good work and, in the end, there really is no beating it for cost! Hopefully before I’m old and gray though I will have the option to switch to natural gas!

Enter our “big” wood stove. Once getting it in place Joe spray painted it to make it look nice and we’ve been happily using it ever since. Before (with the little stove) we were waking up regularly to mornings at only 40 degrees in the house no matter how much wood we burned! On top of that we had our electric heaters kicking on and spending upwards of $500 a month on our electric bill besides. We happily removed said little stove and fired up our new big wood stove in the kitchen and I am very glad to report that the house is toasty, our electric bill is less then $100 a month and I have yet to even turn on our electric heat at all. So, after two winters of experience under my belt, here’s all of the good and the bad about heating with wood!

Heating your home with wood all of the tips and information you need to decide whether or not you want to heat your house with a wood stove

#1 If your time is worth nothing it is extremely cheap heat!
We never stop looking for wood to bring home, it is literally a 365 days a year job that Joe never slacks off of. On average we need about 7 cords of wood to heat this home for the entire winter. Between gas for the chainsaw, maintenance etc. we only spend about $400 a year. However, if we were paying Joe for his time, let’s just say I don’t think we would be able to afford it 😉 Collecting, cutting, splitting and moving the wood we use to heat our home is a very big job. The old adage says, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” That is a tremendous understatement, by the time it reaches our house most of the wood we burn we’ve moved AT LEAST four different times. (First cut it down and into chunks and then haul it to the trailer and drive it back home and then get it off the trailer, cut it and split and stack it and then bring it into the house to burn it. It is a TON of work!) – Because we’re talking about cost I have to mention that your house insurance will also go up too.

#2 Oh my gosh its so dirty.
Really though, we are constantly sweeping and never keeping up. With the little wood stove we were literally living in a house totally covered in black horrible ash. Nowadays the filth is not near so bad as this stove burns much more efficiently however there will always be wood chips, ash etc. all over our floors all winter long. It is a losing battle that we have learned to just accept. On top of that we have white ceilings and (no matter what) a little bit of smoke is always going to go up when you’re starting or feeding a fire – I refuse to take a picture of it… its so bleak and there isn’t any point in repainting. Because of the small wood stove we started with the entire first floor of our home needs to be repainted.

#3 Kinda scary.
Every morning, every day, all winter long we regularly fill our big stove with wood (right smack dab in the middle of our kitchen) get that sucker burning upwards of 500 degrees, shut the door and then leave the house! Seriously, we just leave lol. I am not at all paranoid when it comes to fire but on more then one occasion I’ve been driving home wondering if the house is still going to be there. For the feint of heart, this is not the way to heat your home.

Heating your home with wood all of the tips and information you need to decide whether or not you want to heat your house with a wood stove

#4 Kinda awesome.
Unlike a lot of people in the winter if the electricity were to go out our household would continue running almost without a hitch. Not only is our heat run on nothing but fire but we literally have a wood stove in our kitchen – a big flat surface that I could use to cook on with no problem at all. We are literally only one step away (a hand pump for our well) to being able to continue our day to day operations completely without the need for electricity… though I totally wouldn’t want to.

#5 It is amazingly warm heat.
I’ve been sitting in homes looking directly at a thermostat knowing full well that it is, in fact, 74 degrees right where I’m sitting but I’m COLD. Wood heat is completely different then any other kind of heat – it is unbelievably WARM. How can different kinds of heat feel differently? I don’t know but it is just plain true. I can always tell when I walk into a home heated with fire as opposed to electricity – they’re just warmer and cozier. And where will you find Joe and me in our house on any winter night? Sitting or standing by the wood stove of course. Having a source of heat in the middle of our home to walk to when we come in from the cold outside is so great, I gladly become a rotisserie.

#6 You’re always coming home to a cold house.
Keeping the house warm is a full time job and no matter where we are or what we’re doing, if we’re away from the house for any amount of time, one of us will inevitably look at the other one and say, “We gotta get home and start a fire.” We’ve settled into two big fires a day – one in the morning and one when we get home at night and it is plenty – on really cold nights we’ll feed the fire until we go to bed otherwise it is usually nearly out before we head upstairs. Joe’s big surprise for my birthday (last February weekend) was to take me over night to another city. We were gone for 25 hours and when we got home our living room was 43 degrees. (All of our plumbing is pex so we don’t worry about pipes freezing but if you have galvanized or copper water pipes in your home the constant worry of them freezing and breaking would be crazy and I would never recommend this lifestyle unless you knew someone would ALWAYS be there to keep the fire going.)

Heating your home with wood all of the tips and information you need to decide whether or not you want to heat your house with a wood stove

#7 One hot spot in the whole house.
So it will be 95 degrees fahrenheit in the middle of the kitchen right by the stove and only 65 degrees in the farthest corner away in our living room. Our master bedroom (on the second floor) keeps the best and never gets much below 60 ever because heat rises. Out in our converted screened in porch (where my office and our extra bedroom is) we just keep the door closed and it never gets much warmer then 45 out there all winter long. This is not great but we’re used to it and just make do. If anyone comes and stays with us we just open the door and let the other part of the house warm up but we don’t see any reason to waste heat on it otherwise.

#8 It requires a lot of dry storage space.
Tragically our big old barn is in too bad a shape to store anything in (that we don’t want to get soaked) so we’re very fortunate to have my grandpa’s old machine shed to store our wood in. If you don’t have considerable space for wood storage you will need to calculate the cost of a building into your estimates if you want to heat with wood. Of course you could always stack it on the ground and throw a tarp over it but, I don’t know about you, but my experience doing that has always been spotty at best.

In the end, I am happy with our choice to heat with wood – it is totally the most inexpensive option for where we live. In northern Minnesota we have a fire going nearly 6 months out of the year and this last winter we saw wind chills hitting -50 degrees fahrenheit and actual temperatures dipping down in the -30s. When we renovated this house we opted for spray foam insulation which is basically the best you can get. All in spending only $400 on heat all winter is absolutely incredible but, like I already said, that’s not including Joe’s labor. (I do help Joe from time to time but he’s taken total responsibility of our wood situation.)

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

Do we plan on sticking with this? Yes and no. We plan on heating with wood indefinitely but right now we’re looking into an outdoor wood boiler. To do this we would be putting the wood boiler outside and then running pex water lines under the ground into our house to radiators. This would accomplish a bunch of great things for us: It would remove the fire from the middle of our house and move it outside. It would provide us with a home that is actually the same temperature throughout. We would get to paint and actually keep our white ceilings and trim white and we would no longer be hauling wood in here and covering the house with wood chips and bark etc. The other great thing about an outdoor wood boiler is that they reach much hotter temperatures then traditional wood stoves meaning: Your wood doesn’t have to be perfectly dry etc. Right now Joe and I are always very careful and vigilant on what we burn (dry very clean wood of several types) for fear of ending up with a chimney fire caused by creosote and built up grime/ashes – its the biggest worry when heating with wood as we do now. Would we take out our wood stove from the kitchen? Probably not because, as I pointed out earlier, we have a great cooking surface and heat without the need for electricity right now and outdoor wood boilers do require electricity.

On top of that we also plan on insulating and finishing out the inside of our garage and if we installed an outdoor wood boiler we would go ahead and run a line to the garage too and put a radiator out there as well. It would never be very warm out there but I would guess it would stay above freezing and oh-my-gosh how great that would be for our vehicles in the winter! Our biggest hurdle right now is cost, outdoor wood boilers are really expensive! When I priced it out my estimates fell to nearly $10,000 all together! So, it is our plan SOMEDAY (hopefully soon) and we are keeping our eyes open for a used one.

If you are considering heating with wood I hope this post gave you some insight on what its like to live with it. If you’re renovating or looking to buy or build I would urge you to go the outside wood furnace or boiler route right away if you want to heat with wood. They do require MORE wood to heat your home but, as far as I can tell, the benefits make it entirely worth it. (Our best estimates suspect that we’ll go from burning 7 cords a winter to burning upwards of 10.) And you certainly don’t NEED to do all of the hauling, cutting etc. but you will save the most money doing it all yourself. Where we live we can buy wood pretty inexpensively from sawmills and we would still be paying less then half the cost of electric heat.

Heating your home with wood all of the tips and information you need to decide whether or not you want to heat your house with a wood stove

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  1. March 20, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    We put an outdoor wood stove at our last house, it ran to the house and also to our huge garage/workshop which had heated floors. It was fabulous to have a heated workshop in Northern Ontario. If you want any advise, or have any questions please just email me, I’d be glad to help. We did move from there and now have no fireplace of any kind and I do miss the wood burning!

    • March 20, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Julie, thank you so much for coming by! I’ll definitely keep you in mind when we get closer to installation/purchasing, right now we’re trying to figure out how to make it all affordable etc.

  2. March 20, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Insulation would really help with your house a lot. That’s the first thing we did the first winter in our house that we bought. The furnace was clicking on and off every half hour in the cold. So we insulated the Attic. Problem solved! I’d love to go solar, prices are coming down, no mess!

    • March 20, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Hey Nancy, when we gutted/renovated this home we went with the highest grade insulation that money can buy (closed cell spray foam) we also replaced all of our windows and doors. Every inch of this home was filled with at least 5 inches of spray foam including between all of our studs, in all of our crawl spaces and in our attic so no, there is no more insulation that could be added here to help at all lol Someday we would like to go solar as well, thanks for commenting!

  3. March 21, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Tarah I have a fireplace in my home. And use it from November till March because here in Greece it doesn’t get that cold. But I agree with you on some things. It does take time to cut the wood and bring it home etc. And the fire is like no other. So warm and cozy. An added benefit is sitting by the fireplace and staring at the flames. It is good company. Good luck, it seems as if you’ve come up with a good solution although it is time consuming.

  4. March 23, 2017 at 1:04 am

    I had no idea it took so much work! But you’re right, it’s much more economical compared to electric heating.

  5. March 23, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I love wood heat.
    We have a wood furnace in the basement that uses the duct work to heat the house. We do have a back up LP furnace as well. It is a lot of work, but a big savings.

    • March 23, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      Yup for us it is definitely worth it! Thanks for coming by Sandra!

  6. March 23, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    I can so identify with this- we have the weirdest heating plan ever but it works for us- we have an oil furnace that we use in the spring and the fall, a pellet stove we use throughout the winter, in an add-on room we have gas logs in our fireplace, set to maintain a constant temperature, a tiny pot bellied stove in our kitchen for really cold days and an electric baseboard heater in the kitchen addition just to keep the chill off. When we renovated our upstairs we built a second wall inside the outside wall and insulated both so on the second floor we have no heat. It is always as warm or warmer than the downstairs. I almost forgot- our bedroom is in the attic so we do have a small electric wall heater up there for super cold nights. Having all these options is wonderful. The power went out last winter on the coldest night of the year and my hubby kept the house at 60 degrees with just the pot bellied stove!!

    • March 23, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Melony, wow you do have an amazing heating plan in your house! With so many options available these days heating plans end up becoming so personal to the home owners! We’re happy wood heating for now but thirty years down the road I know Joe and I might not be physically able to do this and then, something might have to change for us!

  7. March 23, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Great post, I would have loved to read this when we were researching heating with wood. We finally invested in replacing our old rusted out wood stove last fall, and I really love it, despite all the negatives you mention. Fortunately, my husband really enjoys cutting wood. And of course, our winters here in Virginia are pretty mild. Definitely pinning this!

    • March 23, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks for commenting Michelle! There are so many options out there these days that heat choice ends up being a personal decision! Of course, some day when Joe and I are getting along in years, we may end up choosing a different heat type that doesn’t take so much work. But, right now this is working great for us 🙂

  8. March 24, 2017 at 12:36 am

    This was really informative and helpful! Right now we don’t heat with wood–we use propane. But we do have a wood stove, and I’d love to get it hooked up to a chimney and going someday! Our house is super small, and we are just super cold here—not INSANELY cold like where you are! 🙂 So heat isn’t as big an issue as it is for you. Thanks again! I’ll be saving this and sharing!

    • March 24, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Hi Heidi, it sounds like if you hooked that wood stove up and started using it you might be able to really save some money on propane, thanks for coming by!

  9. Christina in FL
    March 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Tarahlynn! Love the details you shared. How often do you have your chimney cleaned? I ask only because my brother in law used his freestanding fireplace and recently had a chimney flare up. The chimney now has to be replaced inside and out. The fireplace is fine.
    I can now imagine heating a home on only wood heat. A LOT of work is an understatement. Thanks again for all the details.

    • March 27, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Hey Christina, Joe and I are always vigilant with our chimney, right now he climbs up on the roof every fall before we start burning and cleans the whole thing out completely!

  10. Sue
    March 27, 2017 at 4:12 am

    I love the description you gave of the difference in wood heat warmth and electric (or gas) heat warmth, it DOES feel different! And I love that difference. It doesn’t get terribly cold here, (south Alabama)compared to where you live. But it seems cold to us, because our summers are so hot (90s, 100s)so when you are used to that for 3-4 months then it goes to the 30s or 20s in January and February it is a shock to us. Those are the times we hover over the fireplace and run it Wide Open. It is wonderful, the feel of the heat, the smell of the wood smoke, it is so comforting. Thanks for this post, it reminds me of the warm and cozy fires we have had in our fireplace on cold (to us) days and nights and feeling toasty and safe in our living room. STAY WARM up there, Hunny~~~

    • March 27, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Hey Sue, I owned a house in Oklahoma for several years and spent a good amount of time in the winter there and I can honestly say I preferred winters in Minnesota lol 30 degrees in OK feels A LOT colder then 30 degrees in MN! So I totally get it! (I wonder if it has something to do with humidity etc?)

  11. March 30, 2017 at 3:41 am

    We have heated our home for the last 15 years with wood and wouldn’t change it for the world.

    • March 30, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Candy, that’s great to hear! Do you have an inside wood stove like we do or an outside one?

  12. March 30, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    Spending only $400 a year sounds like a dream! Thank you for sharing with us this week at Celebrate Your Story, have a great weekend.

  13. March 31, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    We had electric heat in a 2500 sq ft home, talk about expensive. We did the same thing as you and switched to a wood burner. It’s a commitment to heat with wood, but so much cheaper than electric. Thank you for sharing at the Creative Muster party. PINNED
    Robin | Fluster Buster

    • March 31, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Thanks Robin, yeah we were expecting electric heat to be “expensive” but it was WAY beyond that! So glad we switched to wood it is a lot of work but the cost savings is just incredible. Thanks so much for coming by!

  14. April 4, 2017 at 12:40 am

    We have an outdoor wood stove and love it! 🙂 You will be glad if you get one! It does take a lot of work to get the wood before winter hits…and we have to go outside to tend the fire…but it saves us *so* much money every year. It is SO worth it! 🙂

    • April 4, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Hey Katy, yup I am SO hoping we’ll be able to get an outdoor wood stove by this fall! Thanks for commenting!

  15. April 4, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    We heat exclusively with two stoves, and also use about 7 cords of wood each year. It definitely has it’s challenges but I wouldn’t go back to propane! I saw another commenter say they have an outdoor wood stove which is something we’d love to do, but they are quite pricey where we are. Maybe one day!

    http://www.ourwoodhome.com (visiting from Strangers and Pilgrims link up)

    • April 4, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      Hey Christina, we’re in the same boat! Eventually we want to install and outdoor wood stove too but they are very expensive! Hopefully someday! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  16. Cynthia
    April 5, 2017 at 2:42 am

    This was really interesting to read. I grew up in a farmhouse that only had a woodstove in the kitchen and I was curious as to what you were going to say. I agree with most of your points, but my mom’s kitchen ceiling never got black or dirty. maybe it has to do with the type of stove you have? during the winter everyone definitely congregates in the kitchen around the stove because it’s so nice and warm. the thing I liked the least about it is that you do come home to a cold house.

    • April 5, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Hey Cynthia, it was definitely the original little stove we purchased and have since replaced that caused all of that nasty soot on our ceilings! It was a terrible choice and admittedly at the time I just didn’t know any better! We have a great stove now though 🙂 Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  17. April 5, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Ahhhhh, I’m so jealous with the old farmhouse. I’ve wondered about these stoves – thanks for the details!

    The How-to Guru

  18. April 6, 2017 at 3:29 am

    A wood stove makes everything so cosy and warm. Thanks for sharing with us at #OvertheMoon I’ve pinned and shared.

  19. April 9, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    This post brings back so many memories. We had a wood stove when I was a kid, and I loved to sit right next to it. That said, my brother did burn some holes in the carpet with the ashes once (doh!) I also had an uncle with a wood boiler, and his house was always nice and cozy. Thanks so much for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

    • April 10, 2017 at 1:18 am

      Thank you for coming by! So far so good for us, I love cozying up to it on a cold day!

  20. April 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Yes, yes, yes! I especially love #3, because I have the SAME feeling many times…that I’ll turn into my driveway and see the smoldering remains of what was my house! 😉 But oh, the warm heat! And yes, oh the mess. When we first looked at our 100-year-old farmhouse, it had precious little to recommend it, BUT it did have a basement perfect for a woodstove and a woodbox, and it was equipped with an attached woodroom with an outdoor access window. So the mess is contained, and I am warm and happy and grateful. Thanks for sharing this very relatable post…stopping by from #ThisIsHowWeRoll!

    • April 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks for coming by Elizabeth! Its so good to hear about other people’s experiences too! Looking forward to being able to afford and outdoor wood broiler some day!

  21. May 6, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    We had a wood stove insert in our fireplace in our last house – also an old farmhouse! It was located near the center of the house, and we used it as our main source of heat. When we built our home in Michigan’s far northwestern U.P., we put in a propane furnace and ductwork in order to have central air. In addition to that, we installed an outdoor wood boiler (Earth Manufacturing, Mountain Grove, MO). We use the wood boiler during our long winters here in the U.P. to heat our 2600+ sq. ft. home AND our hot water. It is incredibly efficient AND so much warmer! My husband always says it’s the best investment we’ve ever made. Of course, we have over 11 acres in the middle of the woods, so we’ll never run out of wood. The logs are much larger than what we could use in an indoor wood stove. That equals less labor. He adds wood once in the a.m. and once in the p.m. during the coldest months. There’s a radiator attached to our propane furnace in the basement, and the water circulating through the lines in the basement also keeps the basement nice and toasty. No need to even open the vents on the ducts down there. Since our furnace also runs on propane, the biggest benefit is that we’re not tied to the house. If the indoor temp drops to a pre-set degree, the propane will automatically take over. Since we also have spray foam insulation, the house holds heat extremely well. I don’t miss the mess of an indoor wood stove at all! My Shop Vac got a lot of use in that old farmhouse! Go with an outdoor boiler. You’ll be glad you did!

    • May 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Oh my goodness Julie yup our shop vac is never far from hand during the winter time and, really, a shop vac is the only thing you can use for the kind of debris that comes with a wood stove indoors. I am totally over here drooling at the idea of getting the mess outside – we never considered having propane as back up, what a great idea! To not have to worry about always getting home to start the fire – its a constant headache and to be able to get out from under that would just be incredible. I’m sure we’ll be saying the same thing once we finally can afford to switch, it will be SO worth the investment! Thanks so much for your comment and for coming by!

  22. June 7, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    This was the best article that i have read on somebody’s blog 🙂 I grew up with wood heat and this is so true. You made me laugh through the entire story! We just built a new house last year before this we had an outdoor wood stove. Which was perfect, you are right they are expensive but it heated our house, a 4000 sq ft shop and our water! So no electricity no problem.

    • June 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Lindsay – thanks so much for commenting! It is a lot of work, a lot of mess, but I love how warm the heat is and its so cool how much money we save, definitely a give and a take! Yup we’re looking into the outdoor wood stove or broiler route, just the idea of getting the mess outside makes me just long for it!

  23. June 17, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Love this blog post. You said the good the bad and the ugly and you have not held back on the negatives of heating with wood. I have learned a lot from reading this, thank you for your candor and for some really great information. I just gave up my home and don’t have my fireplace anymore, hopefully my son will enjoy it. We used our wood stove many times in the year. Especially during black outs in winter. So nice to be able to make a great pot of soup on the wood stove while everyone around us is freezing. We have opened our home to neighbors when the temperatures were falling and no one had heat, hydro or much of anything else happening. I thin we were responsible for a lot of inquiries about adding a wood stove to people’s homes. I will miss it for sure.

    • June 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Hey Olivia, that’s so good to hear! I think even a small wood stove could really improve people’s lives and, like you said, what a wonderful resource to have in a power outage! That’s something that I think of often and know for sure that we’ll be keeping our big wood stove in the kitchen whether we get an outdoor wood broiler or not – it is just too great to have in an emergency! Have a great week!

  24. October 2, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    It is time like this I am grateful for gas central heating

  25. October 3, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    If you have access to wood its a wonderful warm heat, so much moister and cozier than gas. Our new home does not even have a wood fireplace and hubs and I are worried because if it is minus 30 and the hydro goes out, we have No heat source.

    Having access to wood heat is a great safety system.

    • October 3, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks Leanna, that’s something we’ve thought about many times as we live in a very cold climate too. If the power goes out etc. wood is a lot of work but we’ll always have heat!

  26. June 15, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    That’s amazing that your electric bill is less than $100 a month in the winter because you use a wood stove to heat up the house and don’t have to turn on the electric heat. My electric bills in the winter were pretty expensive so I wanted to look at what I could do to lower the cost next winter. I’ll have to look into wood heating since it costs less but still keeps your home warm.

    • June 18, 2018 at 10:01 am

      Hi Hazel, I am actually now moving away from wood simply because of all of the work and labor that goes into it. I’ll be posting about looking into pellet stoves soon as I believe that’s what I’m going to be doing! Thanks for coming by!

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