Fireplace, wood stove or pellet burner

Discussion in 'Back to Basics' started by oil pan 4, Jan 3, 2018.

  1. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    I built then expanded the fire place heat exchanger here, Fire place heat exchanger | Survival Monkey Forums
    It works great but I'm still burning a ton of wood to heat 1 room, to keep it comfortable. I'm burning off up to 10lb of wood per hour.
    Burning that much wood, say in a wood stove could heat the entire house, not just one room.
    So something has go to to give, the fire place is nice but it's too inefficient.

    I think little wood stove with a blower and a rear exit stove pipe would be best. So I can set the stove back in the fire place and run the pipe up the flue, pack something like Rockwool around the stove pipe to flue gap. Being a wood stove it will work fine when the power goes out even if I don't power up the blower.
    Main problem is I can't find one I like.
    I would much prefer the wood stove.

    A pellet burner would be nice since it can go all night and actually regulate fuel burn rate and has a much longer fuel burn time.
    Plenty of small ones out there that are nice and would work but they are expensive and require electricity to run.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  2. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    You're never going to improve the efficiency of a fireplace all that much.

    Heck, I built a water circulating grate that the fireplace heated the water and stored it in a 500gal tank in the basement. A 2nd pump drew that hot water and circulated it to baseboard radiators around the house (In floor PEX tubing wasn't really available in 1984, or I'd certainly have gone that route) when called for from a simple wall thermostat. I actually wrote my master's thesis on this design and results. Bottom line...fireplaces are wonderful for the view and backing up to to warm your posterior...but they ARE a wood hog....and worse...without a source of exterior air specifically for combustion, all that air rushing up the flue has to be replace with air seeping in around doors/windows/etc.....meaning most likely you're in the negative of efficiency.

    The advantage of a wood stove over a pellet stove is the source of fuel. If you have wood on your place or a source of wood (national forest, neighbors, etc), then your fuel is under your control and fairly cheap (minus cutting costs and your time). With a pellet stove, you're pretty much at the mercy of a pellet supplier...why not simply go to propane or fuel oil if that is the is no more (and likely less) complicated, buying fuel is buying fuel, no ash to remove, no hopper to fill, etc.

    As I said....the reason most folks burn wood is because they have wood. In my case, I own 75 acres, and 65 of it is timbered in mostly good hardwood. You can cut a cord/year off an acre in my area (40-45" rain/yr) forever and actually improve the final timber yield. With that kind of resource, it would be foolish NOT to burn wood unless my time was worth a whole lot more than it is doing something like so much of what we do, I simply like providing for ourselves. I have 4 of these '4 cord' sheds set up around the farm, and try to keep them full all the time, plus what is in the basement. We will burn 4-6 cords/yr, so that means having 2-3 years wood cut ahead at any given time.

    We move a shed's worth in the basement, then work on refilling that shed.

    NOW you got to look at stove design. Ole Ben Franklin came up with the first real improvement to fireplace technology with his cast iron stove. I was basically an open fireplace in a metal you got a lot of radiant heat off the metal, and it had a set of doors you could close off at night to keep it from sucking what air you'd managed to heat back up the chimney as the fire died in the wee hours of the night.

    "Potbelly" stoves came next if I recall....more efficient, but not air tight by any means.

    Next came the sheet steel stoves of the 70' 'sheet steel', I mean 1/4" or so thick stuff, that were designed to be fairly air tight.....aka..."Fisher" (a brand) type stoves. Little welding/stove building shops sprang up all over the place around the Appalachian region in response the oil crisis of the 70's. It was a grand time to be in the wood business ! I used to go to college classes in the morning, after lunch, take my old 63 Chevy flatbed up to the national forest to clean up timber cut laps, take a load to town and sell it every day. People everywhere were buying wood. Only took me a week to pay off my new Sthil 041 that replaced my old Homelite XL12.

    Of course, the oil 'crisis' came and went......wood fell out of favor, and people got tired of the work and mess of wood, so from the mid-80's until now even, only 'po' folks and idiot homesteaders used it. Also, resort places around the country (out west mostly) were lot's of wood got burned by tourists sparked (heh heh) the next generation of stoves....high efficiency models that cut pollution, because I guess it was getting kinda thick around Vail and such places. That actually was a good thing as it turns out, because the old air tight stoves were creosote generating machines. When you crank the air down on a stove, you 'simmer' the wood, and I don't care how much you season wood, it still has a 15-20% moisture content....and that turns to creosote as the exhaust gas hit a cooler flue. And by the way, oak will produce just as much creosote as pine...that was proved in a Un of Wisconsin study in the 70's. Creosote is a produced by moisture content and amount of air in combustion....not pine pitch.

    So Gen1 high efficiency stoves used a catalytic converter on the outlet....trapped burnable particles on it, reburned them.....improving what you got out of the wood, and resulting in a cleaner emission. Downside to them, expensive (platinum based catalyst) and tended to crack over time requiring replacement.

    Gen2 stoves now use a 'gassifier' reburning system. The stove is designed to run the exhaust gas back thru a set of stainless steel (for long life) tubes and re-burn the combustion products that were driven off by the initial burn. Big improvement over the cost factor of catalytic stoves, so most manufacturers have gone to that. THAT is the type stove I have, in the form of a wood stove that sits back, partially, in the fireplace opening. I has a glass door, and you can often see the tubes in the top burning the exhaust gas almost like you had propane or natural gas fed into them....well, you do sorta.....wood gas is a combination of carbon monoxide and methane, and burns well.....kinda silly to send it on up the flue rather that use it to heat with, huh?

    Insert stoves generally sit ALL the way back in the fireplace opening. The problem with that is they are mostly dependent on a fan to draw in room air to give you heat...not much radiant heat like you get off a free standing stove out in the room. Fortunately, when I gave up my open fireplace, I happened to run across Regency stoves....and I bought their 'hearth heater' model. It does have the fan of course, but it also sticks out far enough in the room so you get a lot of radiant heat. You can even use the top to cook on.


    H2100 Wood Insert - Wood Fireplace Inserts - Regency Fireplace Products

    Stove is great....cut our wood use by 1/2 -2/3rds. Downside is you need a fairly deep hearth for it, and the firebox is too small for me. I didn't understand this new gassifer technology when I bought it in terms of stove size . The old rule of thumb was "don't buy too big"....because in order to burn efficiently and NOT produce a ton of creosote, you need to keep enough air going in the stove to keep a hot fire, meaning a big stove in a small area would over heat the area. SO I went with the smaller of the two they made at the time (now they only make the one model) only has a 1.6cuft firebox, and it's hard to cram enough wood in it to get an all night burn. With the gassifier stoves, buy the BIGGEST dadgum one that will fit your space. I'm thinking about upgrading to their I3100 insert because it has nearly twice the firebox size. It doesn't stick out as far as my current model, but supposed to still be able to set a cooking pot on it's top, so I think that should be enough.

    And that is about my thoughts on wood burning.

  3. azrancher

    azrancher Monkey +++

    Ah yes the problems of heating with a fireplace... Your's uses so much wood because you are using inside combustion air to fuel the fire, it's pretty hard to convert to outside combustion air if you didn't design your house that way. A fire place feels warmer if you don't have doors closing off the firebox, but actually most of your heat, and the heat in the room get sucked up the chimney.

    I will vote for a pellet stove/furnace any day of the week until the power goes off, I installed one in 2010 next to my fireplace, using outside air as combustion, and a separate flue pipe up the chimney. It will go thru about 700 pounds of pellets a year to heat a 1,800 sqft living area (other parts are heated by solar). I buy pellets by the ton so for a ton of pellets at $250.00/ton, I get almost 3 years of heat, almost ash free also, clean the combustion box every few days, and remove the ash tray every 2 weeks. It is thermostatically controlled, so I have a cheap Honeywell 7 day electronic thermostat on the wall behind it, and it works flawlessly, I say cheap because a few years back when the US decided to change when DST started and stopped it made a whole bunch of thermostats obsolete, of course being on AZ time all year long I cashed in on a bunch of cheap thermostats on Ebay. A pellet stove is not for the fire and forget it type of homeowner, it needs maintenance, mine has a 3 bag pellet bin (120 lbs), you need to check it because of the vortex effect of sucking pellets, it needs to be smoothed and checked everyday. The bad news, It is electronic, my controller went out, no electrical storm, the tech said it needed to be plugged into a surge suppressor, I said.... hmmm nothing else went out must be a bad design, price... I forget in the low 1-2 hundred $, I use a surge suppressor now. This one will run thru an igniter every year, again bad design, the igniter stays on until the firebox goes into it's cool down cycle, it should only stay on either until a temp probe says the fire has started, or a set/adjustable time period, it takes about 5 minutes to ignite the pellets. Also the igniter is 300 watts so again wasted electricity. Igniter is $20-25 now, and takes 20 minutes to change out, but on mine in order to get to the back I must pull it out and disconnect the outside air and chimney to do so, still only 20 minutes, I plan on putting a 6 minute timer relay on the igniter to get longer life, I will report back in 2 years to let you know how that goes.

    The brand name I have is "Englander" it is a 25 PAH, meaning on a good day it will heat a 2,500 sqft house P-ellet A-rea H-eater.
    Would I buy one from them again... I would shop around, but I also have a Englander pellet smoker that works great, the igniter turns on and off on demand, so I would check for that feature.

    Would a pellet stove be a good SHTF, I believe they make ones that don't require electricity, seem to remember BT mentioned one a while back, it could be powered off of solar & battery inverter, I would disconnect the igniter for a manual fire start, the electronics should be easy to bypass, just wire the combustion fan and the heat circulation fan to stay on all the time, or by switches, but in a SHTF... where are you going to get pellets?

    Motomom34 and Bandit99 like this.
  4. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    I don' want to buy the pellet stove but with the lack of wood and coal in the region I'm thinking I have to.

    I still have a coal furnace to feed.

    The gravity and convection feed pellet burner is big, it's like 5 feet tall.
  5. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    We are on our first year with a KUMA woodstove and so far no regrets. Like TnAndy said, 'If you have wood on your place or a source of wood" which I do, but it is not the best sort. I have what is called Lodge Pole pines also called Jack Pines but their mine, I have a lot of them and they got to be removed anyway to make room for the prettier trees. They are sort of a weed in that they grow really fast, very tall but have a lousy root structure so they then fall over hurting other trees or your neighbors fence. Anyway, not the best firewood but they burn so...

    My woodstove has a blower but no outside air inlet so it takes air from the room/house. It was just too damn hard to put one in. It has been the only heat I have used in my 1650 sqft home this winter and I have no complaints. I started it in October and it has been running everyday since. I run the blower on low plus turn on the ceiling fan which helps to move the air around the house. The house has stayed warm but wish I could find a better way to move more of the heat into the back rooms. It is not cold in those rooms but could use a few degrees more. I am considering having a new heating system installed with a heat pump/electric furnace and more importantly a fan and ducting to move heat around but not sure I can justify the expensive because the home is nice and toasty. My home was built in 2009 and is well insulated to include good windows and the woodstove is probably the best you can purchase in this part of America. They are excellent and I will probably purchase a second one (but smaller) for the new garage that is going up this spring.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  6. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    I personally prefer the free standing wood stove, and if you want to burn pellets in it add a micro blower to the air input and you can .
    Any burning device that pipes the exhaust strait up and out is loosing a great deal of the heat .
    Every installation of my wood stoves is accompanied with a horizontal portion of the stove pipe . When your poor you get every bit of value you've invested in . So the stove pipe needs cleaning that's part of the package & spring cleaning .
  7. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Are you saying I can burn wood pellets in my woodstove? I never thought of trying it but since I am going to run out of wood this winter (got enough to get through January) this might be an option for me. I tried this energy logs things but didn't care too much for them even though Idaho has a factory here that makes them larger and cheaper than the national brands. They are just too damn hard to light but good if you already got a bed of coals. I never considered pellets and perhaps need to look into them. Why is a blower needed on the air intake/input to use pellets? The damper on my stove has excellent draft and I would think it would be enough, no? And, how do you use them with a normal woodstove just take a scoop of them and pour them onto the bed?
    Motomom34 likes this.
  8. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    My coal furnace should be able to burn some wood pellets.
    That's why I got a coal furnace, they burn wood, coal, tires, wood pellet, pretty much anything that will fit through the door.

    I only have 20 acres and not a lot of trees, nearly 0 up to almost 30 inches of rain per year.
  9. sdr

    sdr Monkey++

    I've been a chimney sweep for many years. Pretty much a side job as the season only lasts about 2 months. Not advertising anymore. Just doing maybe 3 - 4 a year for long time customers. The info regarding effeciency has already been discussed. It is a fact that your normal fireplace/woodstove wastes alot of energy. Some designs will cool your house down when in use. I would get a kick out of customers faces when I would ask them 'ever notice how your house cools down and your furnace turns on when your using your fireplace?'. Lol. Then I would go into the speel about how to increase the effeciency, proper burning technics ECT...

    I still haven't installed a woodstove at the bol yet. Not until I'm finished figuring out the best plan. I don't want to waste the space inside the cabin. Thinking the simplest idea is to build an enclosed porch. Then making a metal box around the stove to collect the heat before blowing it into the cabin. Leaving the door and window open would circulate the heat but I like the idea of forced air.

    The cabin is around 1000 SF. Has great insulation so it doesn't take much to heat. One of the issues I'm trying to figure out is thermal storage. I built the cabin on posts that extend over a hill so I have room underneath it.

    Which brings me to my point. The research I've seen on rocket mass heaters is very interesting. Seems to be the most effecient design for burning wood available. It would kill two birds with one stone. Effeciency plus thermal mass. Installing one under the cabin might be an option. With some duct work I'm sure I could figure out how to pump the heat up and in.

    Anyone here seen or used one?
    Motomom34 likes this.
  10. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    We have a few members that have built mass heaters using rocket stove "technology" A site search will kick up a few more references, but you can start here.
    Rocket Stove Install | Survival Monkey Forums
  11. SB21

    SB21 Monkey+++

    Here's a question. Along the lines of a rocket stove. Can you , or would you , do you think it's safe , to take a free standing wood stove , come straight up with the flue about 5 foot , + or minus , elbow back down 5 foot then elbow out the wall and back up to proper height ? To retain more heat from the flue pipes. And also, the stove uses 6 " flue pipe , is there any point at which the flue can be safely reduced to 4" ?
  12. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    If I understand the question, you are talking about putting a trap in the smoke pipe, DO NOT DO THAT, you'll kill the draft and maybe yourself. So far as reducing the diameter, I'd not, more than any other reason because the idea of choking the flow offends my mechanical mind. Now, if you are coming off the stove and increasing the diameter (putting a fat spot in the pipe), then reducing back to the original diameter, you should be OK. If the fat spot is on the horizontal put the Inlet on the bottom and the outlet on the top. If the fat spot is in the vertical, makes not a lot of difference how the pipe is configured. Now, we set back and wait for someone that knows something to sort us out.
    TnAndy likes this.
  13. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    The Shaker meeting house sometimes had a box type stove more towards the center of the structure and a long stove pipe run to the chimney and a lot of the heat would come from the exposed pipe. I imagine that they handled the creosote problem by cleaning the stove pipe often. I have also read of long exposed stove pipes used in very early greenhouses for heat. The classic Korean, etc, heated floors also used a long run for the smoke to transfer the heat to a surface as do the "rocket" stoves, the Russian fireplaces, etc. The modern "rocket" stove is in many ways very similar to some hundreds of year old northern European designs which were optimized to burn pine and other soft woods. In my opinion, the design of the chimney or other thermal mass, the control of the input to the fire box air, for any real efficiency it must come from outside the building, and re burning the smoke and getting up to about 80 % efficiency is totally necessary. There is no free lunch and I find it some what curious that preppers keep trying to save a buck on heating devices, needed to be comfortable and at times necessary to keep you alive, and go with stoves that are 25 to 50 % efficient, are difficult to burn for extended periods and it is hard to control the heat output, require frequent chimney and stove pipe cleaning, and yet a good basic modern re burning stove is available for about the same price as a good AR15 and 500 rounds of ammo.
    The stove must be somewhat sized to the area to be heated, although there is more latitude with the modern stoves, in my opinion it should allow for a "cigarette " burn with the logs placed length ways in the fire box so the fire travels from the front to the back as it burns, and never forget that a stove is a cubic device. A firebox that is 12 in by 12 in by 12 in will have 1 cubic foot capacity' a fire box that is 18 in by 18 in by 18 in will have 3.375 cubic feet capacity and the space lost to the fire brick and to the necessary clearance between the wood and the door will be the same for both sizes of fire boxes. While it is a major expense, a good high efficiency stove, wood, heating oil, propane or natural gas, geothermal, solar, etc, a good chimney and outside combustion air, will make your life much more comfortable and the savings in energy costs will soon pay for many of the more "expensive" stoves. Most of the "real" saving however come in the use of insulation, good windows and doors, control of drafts, etc, so that you can minimize the amount of heat needed in the first place.

    Stove owners tend to become disciples for the solution that they are happy with and are usually willing to bore you to death with their perfect solution. Since your needs may be different than theirs, you may need a different solution, however it may well be worth your while to consider the solution others in your neighborhood have selected and then modify them to meet your needs. In southern New Hampshire at this time, natural gas is the cheapest and most convenient fuel available. Now I can't use it, no gas line in our rural area, it requires electricity in most cases, and it is dependent on a single source supplier. So my choice is a good wood stove, with fuel oil backup furnace dependent on electricity. Last 275 gallon tank of oil lasted 7 years or so, but if away for a period of time or 12 below 0, the pipes don't freeze. It also nice under "normal " conditions as I approach 80, to have the furnace kick on at 3:30 am when the wood fire has died down and the thermostat kicks in at 60 degrees, and I don't have to get up and load the stove. We have had 10 below earlier this week and they are forecasting 10 to 15 below later on in the week. No matter how good the wood stove, it either takes a lot of loading the wood stove or cold in the far bedrooms and basement. I could do it, but it is nice to have the options at my age.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2018
    Motomom34, arleigh and Ganado like this.
  14. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    I need a picture of your "Fireplace " Since many can't deceiver AIRTIGHT to a fireplace ..
    As with the posts , WOW , TN had me.
    I live this way since the 60's
  15. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    The fire place.
  16. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    The pellet stove only works because there is air forced in , the other factor is that pellets are being fed automatically trickled in so to speak ,not dumped in a pile an left . Several automatic controls are involved

    A very small blower is piped right close to the burn and the box isn't very big either , about half the size of a loaf of bread .
    The heat is absorbed in the rest of the box of the stove body and finally the exhaust is ported out . and not much heat on that port either . The problem My friend had was that he had to replace the auger motor (feeds the pellets for the hopper to the fire box) almost every year .
    The draw back to adding air , though it makes things burn hotter and more thoroughly , is that it will consume more fuel in the process .
    Unless you've got a good maze past the fire box before the exhaust , you could over whelm the stove pipe much like a forge and loose heat up the chimney.
    My wood cook stove is made with a maze the smoke must pass before the stove pipe .
    I have no aspirations of burning pellets , but I have some poplar that is very pithy and does not burn well on it's own ,adding a very small 12 volt blower however should help with that problem.
  17. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    I know how the pellet burners work.
    My mom and step dad finally got one in 2007 when fuel oil prices spiked.

    I have read else where that a wood or coal furnace like mine should be able to burn some wood pellets. Only a few scoops of pellets at a time during high fire operation.
  18. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    Pacific Energy :: Summit
    This with a outside air feed for combustible & air for the forced air heater to keep the Inner Cabin in Positive air pressure . .
    Now you will have a warm house . I would buy the largest size you can fit , Turning it down is ez over make it burn to hot.
  19. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Here's my free standing Jotul #8 cast iron stove installed about 17-18 years ago.

    20180103_182610. 20180103_182840. 20180103_182904.

  20. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    Yeah that's exactly what I would like.
    A short stove with rear exit, perfect.
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