I’ve received a few questions recently in regards to our Shelter Outdoor Furnace, which we installed approximately two years ago – namely, would we do it again. As I read through my prior posts, I noticed we are due for a update. So here you go…
Buzzwords of last winter: polar vortex and snow
Last year was the extreme test due to below normal temps, excessive snow fall and not being prepared. In addition to these adverse conditions, I was sick most of the winter fighting Crohn’s flare-ups and chronically, low blood counts. Getting out to fill the furnace was a challenge for me during the day…the temps were so cold that it would need to be filled at least once before my husband arrived home but there were times that I just couldn’t get it done. This would result in the fire going out and getting it restarted was a challenge. Our wood was in the elements and we lacked sufficient fire starters. If that wasn’t enough, not anticipating the extreme cold temps, we ran out of wood. It was a very trying few months for my husband.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t completely relieved when last year was over.
Last summer we set out to be prepared for this winter.
Adjusting to Alaska weather in Illinois…
- We added a small shed (7’x7′) next to the furnace (we found a used one for free if we moved it) where the
wood is protected from the snow, rain and ice.
- Fire starters – As we harvested our corn, we gathered corn cobs and corn leaves to be used for starting fires. We also created a bulk amount of old papers, newspapers, cereal boxes, etc… We have since found that due to our humidity levels, the papers tend to be too moist to burn. The corn husks, cobs and corn all work well.
- Understanding wood types – We’ve (I’ve) learned which kinds of wood are good for starting fires, which are good for burning hot fires and which are good for long range burning for several hours.
- Wood supply – We negotiated a deal with a local tree trimmer who was paying to dispose of his wood at the landfill. By providing some ground to store the wood rather than dispose of it at the landfill, we are provided free wood. This has taken a huge amount of pressure off and cut out a step when preparing the wood.
- Wood splitter – The tree trimmer has allowed us to use their wood splitter making that step less labor intensive and saves time when preparing the wood.
- Transportation of wood – the wood is split on one side of our property and then moved to the furnace. Our oldest son is now at an age that he can assist by driving the tractor to transport the wood across the property, which has also increase our overall efficiency.
- Window plastic – Traditionally, we’ve always covered our kitchen windows with plastic to reduce heat loss. Eventually, we need to replace all of the windows in the house to increase insulation. The windows were installed in 1999-2000. At the time, the owner was cutting corners to get the property sold. Their choices were based on cost, not quality and it shows.
We’ve filled the shed 80% full, three times. In addition to the wood in the shed, we have burned through about three large piles outside the shed. We try to reserve the wood in the shed for when its been raining or snowing, only using the outside pile when conditions allow. We are running low on corn cobs which we will note for reference this spring when we
begin planting next fall’s crop.
While last year was trying, with the adjustments we’ve made and the decreased harshness of winter conditions, we’ve been able to improve our situation. A day like today, where the temperature might reach above zero and wind chills are -15 to -20, can be tricky. On my own, I’ve been able to maintain at 65 degrees (F) indoors on our main floor. With only one upstairs vent, it says a bit cooler but not bad at all.
Our average indoor temp is 74 degrees (F), which is fantastic for a poorly insulated, 120 year-old home, such as ours. If the outdoor temp is over 40, you’ll need to have shorts and a t-shirt ready at the bottom of your dresser. Indoor temps can range from 78-81 (F).
There she blows!
A recent question received was in regards to the blower(s). A reader asked how often the blower element of the furnace runs. There are actually two blowers – one which provides oxygen to the fire box and a second which moves the air to the house. The amount each runs, is variable. Much like your gas or electric furnaces, the answer is dependent upon the temperature outside. For example, with today’s temperature of 3 degrees (F), as long as I keep the hopper full of wood, both blowers will likely run all day. This is a consideration you’ll
need to add to your decision. With that said, while we are still relying on electricity to power the blower, our electric bill has not increased in comparison to the LP gas fueled furnace. We have eliminated our LP bill entirely and no longer have a tank on our property which has been extremely liberating.
Build a furnace AND a positive relationship to your gas company
If you choose to change to a wood burning source to heat your home, sheds, greenhouses, etc… and completely stop using LP, it will help to have a positive dialogue and relationship with your LP company prior to eliminating their services. Our previous company was very angry with our choice to go to wood and not only disconnected the pipe where it was connected to the tank. They also went to the foundation of the house and cut the line. If we do go back to LP at some point, we’ll incur the cost of running a new line. I’m planning on writing an entire post because there were also additional transportation and ‘use’ charges which were incurred due to our change to wood.
Please feel free to comment or message us on our Facebook page, TheMagicFarmHouse, if you have additional questions.
I must add: A huge bonus to having the outdoor furnace is catching the breathtaking stars at night or a full moon reflecting on newly fallen snow.
‘Til we chat again! ~Jenny