An experiment with heating

Like most people, I have become used to the comfort and convenience associated with centrally-heated homes. As long as you have the system serviced, and do the routine checks, it is generally so reliable, you hardly remember that it is there. Hot water all year-round, and heat when you need it on cold days.

This wasn’t always the case for me. As a family, we didn’t have central heating until the late 1960s. Before that, it was one coal fire in the living room, hot water bottles before bedtime, and the occasional luxury of a paraffin heater, or electric fire. When I first married in 1977, it was back to basics; one gas fire in the flat, and a single-bar heater over the bathroom door. But since the early 1980s, I have always had some form of central heating, and I am fairly certain that I would not want to return to life without it.

After moving here to Norfolk, we thought that it might be nice to have a wood-burning stove installed. It wasn’t a simple task, as we had no chimney in this modern bungalow, so had to make additional arrangements and alterations to accommodate our wish. Anyone who has read my numerous posts about the problems with this device, will know that there have been times when I thought it would never work properly, or be resistant to intrusion from the elements. I grew to hate the thing, and seriously considered having it removed.

However, since the recent work done to secure the chimney, and rearranging waterproofing and tiles on the roof, it seems to be working as it should. We have enjoyed some relaxing fires over the past couple of weeks, and they have been most welcome, since the weather turned much colder. We have still had the central heating on as well though, a sort of ‘belt and braces’ approach. Yesterday, I decided to discover if the fire could really heat the house, from its spot near the west wall of our living room. Starting early, I lit the fire before 9am, and got in enough wood to make sure it didn’t go out. Within two hours, it was giving out a really good heat, and I kept adding logs as required.

After returning from my walk with Ollie in the late afternoon, I was pleased to see that it was still glowing nicely. I added some coal to the embers, as it is slower-burning, and keeps its heat. Admittedly, it was only cheap coal, and it smoked quite a bit, so obscured the normally crystal clear glass door. This took away the main pleasure of having the fire, that of watching it through the glass, enjoying the look of it, as much as the heat. When that had burned down, I went back to logs, and by the time Julie arrived home, the warmth could be felt in all the rooms, and the living room was almost too hot. I carried on during the evening, adding logs occasionally. We both remarked that the whole house was now warm, and no extra input from the central heating was required. Even after Julie had gone to bed, the coal was still glowing; and this morning, we felt no need to switch on the heating.

So it seems that one small (5kw) fire, burning for twelve hours, using about twenty split pieces of wood, with a few (optional) scoops of coal, can still be enough to heat a modern well-insulated home. It felt like a step back in time, but in a good way. It doesn’t do the hot water of course, but you can’t have everything.


13 thoughts on “An experiment with heating

  1. Pete, many years ago, my grandparents had a potbelly stove that sat out away from the living room wall. It was, of course, equipped with a stovepipe that pierced the ceiling. My parents have been using a wood burning stove in their last two homes for decades. I did not grow up in these homes. However, I spent my teenage and young college years in a home that had a traditional brick fireplace and, in the basement, a gas fireplace.

    My home in Las Vegas does not have a fireplace, but has what is called a “fireplace niche” that can be converted into one, as there is a functional flue hidden above the niche ceiling. On the outside of the house, there is indeed a chimney. A fireplace in Las Vegas isn’t all that practical due to the mild winters here and the abundance of sunshine on cool days. Nevertheless, many Las Vegas homes feature a fireplace because people have moved here from colder parts of the country, and feel that a home must have a hearth. Still, fireplaces here are mostly ornamental.

    Years ago, when I was living in the Midwest with my first wife, we designed and lived in a house that featured a “see-through” fireplace that serviced both the living room and adjoining family room. We didn’t use it very often, but it performed beautifully.

    I’m glad you’ve finally solved the problems associated with your wood burning stove, and although I had no doubt it would heat your home, it was enjoyable to read about your “experiment.”


    1. I love those ‘see through’ fires that serve two rooms David, but Chez Beetleypete doesn’t have that sort of configuration. I cannot really imagine why Nevada residents would ever need an open fire, but as you say, it is perhaps a psychological yearning for flame. ‘Hearth and Home’ indeed.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Free heat, what could be better? Of course you have to have some trees of your own πŸ™‚ The cleaning out is a chore, but only five minutes when you think about it and I don’t mind waiting another five minutes for your next post and I’m sure Ollie will wait a little longer for his walk πŸ™‚ Yes good for the garden, although it depends on your soil and as long as you stick to non treated wood and avoid throwing in your rubbish……
    Good to hear the chimneys working πŸ™‚


    1. ‘Free’ heat Eddy. I don’t live in a forest (or Poland) mate. I have to buy the split logs from a local couple (garage industry-hard workers). A trailer load is around Β£100, but that has lasted me, and I still have 80% of it left. (I have to add almost four grand for the cost of the fire, flue, chimney etc, and installation. So it’s a while before it’s even cheap, let alone free.)
      The cleaning is fine normally, just messier when I use coal. I don’t use treated wood, and never add rubbish!
      Cheers old bean. Pete.


  3. I’ve never had to rely on anything but central heating. I’ve often thought that having a wood burning stove but have never researched it. I think it would be wonderful to have the option, though. And I agree with Gretchen above about still having heat even if there is a power outage and I would add that you would also have some light in that circumstance. A plus, if you ask me!


    1. If you have an existing chimney Corina, then it is much easier to have installed. There are very cheap iron stoves available, but for the long term, it is best to get steel. The suppliers will tell you how to choose the size, based on the area of the room where it is situated. It is an investment, but does bring a nice focal point to a room.
      Thanks for your comment as always, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think another benefit of your wood burning heating system is that you will have heat if there’s a power outage. And how great that your heating system is working so well!

    The temp here mid-morning is 12 degrees. Reading your post made me wish I had a wood stove for the extra warmth they add.

    I just learned that we have 40 days, 7 and a half hours until Spring. It can’t come soon enough. Stay warm!


    1. That’s very true Gretchen. We can even heat pans on top of the wood-burner, if the electricity fails. It’s a bright day here, with a cold wind. Hope that you are feeling a bit better.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.


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