Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Keeping those home fires burning

The problem with living on our small city homestead is sometimes it's size. There isn't always enough room to stockpile the things you need. Like enough firewood to make it through a cold winter. I actually gave away a face cord and a half of partially seasoned sugar maple last fall. Just didn't have room to store it without stepping on the toes of nieghbors or worse the code enforcement guy. Last week we had a snap of sub zero temps. The wise decision was to fire the furnace rather than rely on the wood stove. Mainly because the woodstove isn't in the cellar where the soon to be frozen water lines are. Well, those four days of furnace running saved a little bit of wood. Which is good because we are down to just a hair over three face cords. Enough to get us to the end of february. But, the end of february isn't good enough. I've seen more than one easter weekend snow storm. So, how do we solve the problem without paying $85.00 for a face cord of firewood.

Working in a home center has a few advantages. Very few. However a few days ago a possible solution to our problem presented itself. Wood pellets, yup wood pellets. Everyone said you can't burn them in a regular wood stove. The reasons everyone gave. They won't burn right without a fan forcing air on them. They burn too fast. They won't burn without a special grate. etc. etc. etc.  Well all I have to say to all the experts were wrong, really wrong. A guy came into work and bought two skids of wood pellets. The skids are stacked together. The top four bags in the bottom skid are usually torn open. we usually replace them for the customer then mark down the torn bags to $1.00 each. So, I bought a bag to experiment with. If it didn't work I would have 40 lbs of cheap garden mulch.

You can see above my solution to the supposed problems of burning pellets in a conventional wood stove. The pellets burn just fine without a fan forcing air on them. They only burn up too fast if you throw them in the stove like you are feeding the chickens. Put them in a pile and they will burn just like regular wood. With a box stove like ours there is no special grate needed unless your stove has a grate above an ash compartment. In that case the pellets would just fall through into the ash pan. What I do is make an envelope out of news paper. A single sheet of newspaper folded and stapled then filled with pellets works great. By putting them in an envelope it's easy to get them in a compact pile quickly. The paper takes about half a minute to ignite.Then dumps the burning pellets into a pile. An envelope of pellets burns about 30 minutes. I figure 20-25 envelopes for a 40lb bag.  A days heat for a buck can't be beat in my book.
Hunter seems to approve. So, I must be doing something right.



Gorges Smythe said...

Guess it pays to be a bit skeptical sometimes! Way to go!

Pumice said...

I keep hearing this can't be done. It never made sense to me. I don't worry about freezing in Southern California but my kids are back east.


Diane-Sage Whiteowl said...

Great idea and worth looking into. I have a wood stove, the only source of heat. Had a fire go thru here in 2008 and have plenty of free wood but it is mostly scrub oak and pine and it burns fast and the heat does not hold well in this place. I usually just layer my clothing wear a hat and go with the flow.

J said...

Like Pumice mentioned in his comment, I kept hearing this cannot be done without a special grate that you put in the woodstove. I used to have a pellet stove and have taken the unpopular view that they are just a gimmicky troublesome thing, and not worth the money. However, the idea of being able to burn a bag of pellets occasionally to save on firewood is a great idea. I am going to try a bag in our woodstove with the envelope idea you suggested.
My experience with a pellet stove tells me that in order for them to burn properly they just need some air flow. In a woodstove that has a good draft, I can see it working. Which you have proven.