Monday, June 2, 2014

The Switch from central electric heat to a Wood-burning Stove

This "wall" in the center of our living and kitchen area just had to come down from the very beginning.

You can read about that remodel here.

We had to get rid of the big, loud, energy vampire of a furnace and fireplace.

We decided on this stove vs a new heat pump unit because of the following
 - we have an abundance of wood and access to wood
 - the house is tiny and the new stoves are so efficient that the wood use should be under 2 cords a year in our "mild" climate.
 - the new stove burns with super low emissions.
 - our summers rarely have temps above 90 so the use of a ac unit part of the heat pump is almost useless
 - when we are without electricity we can still have warmth and cooking
 - when in use, it can be used as a cook-top, reducing the need for the electric range in the winter.
 -  should save us about $400 in electric heating costs per year.

Now for the review of the stove in the 1st season


House: Split-level "kit" house with a walk-out basement. 1980 built. Crawl attic. The windows and attic insulation have been updated sometime since the 80's.
Stove is on the top floor where the living/kitchen area and bedrooms are located (appx 1000 sf).

Stove: Pacific Energy, Alderlea cook-top model T4 with, Excel chimney system.

I chose this model because of the high quality of the company. The model features steel box with "floating" iron for heat retention. Built in shield for reduced clearance from combustibles. Hinged removable iron grate flat top for a variety of cooking needs. Big glass door for ambiance. Features air wash flow for the ceramic glass. Size to fit where I needed to put it and for the area of space to heat. Price. ..although it is a top quality stove, they're are way more pricey ones out there.
When I get to old or tired of the work of split wood, I can buy and use pressed logs or convert it to pellets or gass. 

Every time the inspectors come, they comment on the quality and say "This is a really nice stove".

Climate: Mild Pacific northwest USA. 10 months rainy season September-June. 7 months cold starts in October with daytime temps 60 F and under with nites in 40s. Winter cold is usually daytime of 40s and nites dipping down into the upper to mid 30's.
It rarely freezes here. We also have power outages typically in the cooler months due to downed trees from landslides, wet ground and high winds.

History:  We have been acclimating to the cooler weather here. I notice that we like it in the mid-60's in the house at night.
I use a tiny space heater (milkroom heater) under my work table on  "mild" days to get the chill off and it works great in the tiny upstairs. It allows me to heat up the hands and feet but not get too hot while working around the house. It has 1300 and 1500 watt settings.

Review disclaimer: I have not been paid for this review or received free products for it. The review is based on my experience and reflect my own opinions. Performance will not be the same for everyone due to type of wood, moisture of wood, climate, building size & energy efficiency and personal comfort preference.

Season Diary:

This is the boring part!!! I documented some boring details to help me keep record. The first few months are long and it tapers down. Scroll down for a Summary at the end.

September 2013

Early rainy season (fall/winter).
I fired it up on a nice 60degree, sunny day to let the paint cure and open up the windows.


We fired it up again on a mildly cool day to knock the chill out and learn how it burns and cooks so we are not having a learning curve on really cold days or in a power outage.
It  was 62 high 51 low F, rainy and cloudy with sun peeks in the evening.
The place got pretty warm (mid - upper 70's). So warm in fact, it was too hot to sleep comfortably.

October 2013

Fall-like weather

Woke up to 60 in the house with overnite temps of mid-low 40's, current temps of 45 with forecast of 100% rain (of course) and a high of 55 dropping back to mid-low 40s at night.
Decided to use the stove to heat us up this morning and get the house warm for overnite.
Started burn at about 7:30am. By 10am it was 70 in the house. I opened the bedroom doors to let the heat in. Let the fire go out on its own around 3pm.  9pm still 70 in house and 50 outside. Kept the stove "cold" for the nite to see how we do in the 40's this nite.

Oct 2nd...
Woke up to 65 this morning in the house and about 45 out - nice retention house!

Oct 9th
I woke up to 36 degrees and it was a nice 65 in home. With just a maple log on low put in at 8pm - perfect.
It was a bit warm for me going to bed but the waking up temp was wonderful.
Supposed to get to 60 today and mostly sunny so, I just got a small fire going to knock off the chill as the house temps are dropping slowly.

October seemed a bit crazy with using a stove. It is that time of year where most of the time it isn't needed.
Starting up from cold (without coals) has its challenges.

Energy Usage Comparison for October
2012 - 1109.90 kwh   Temp - 49avg, 68H, 32L
2013 -   990.87 kwh   Temp - 47avg, 75H, 28L
 = 119.03 less usage (about $15- savings)

November 2013

Nov 7th
Now it is starting to get "winter" around here in the Pacific Northwest. The 1st snow fell in the passes and we are pretty much a constant below 50F with cloudy skies. The stove is being used more often than not but is still on the low burn side most of the time.
Kudos to the house as I have been able to keep it between 60-70 all the time.
I am able to cook on it more often. But, I don't know how much it will help with the electric consumption as I realized I bake more in the cooler months. The oven is another electricity eater.

Nov 30th
It has been a strange fall in the western cascade foothills this year - clear and cool and very "Fall-like".
We have had cold snaps (below freezing at night) of about 3 days followed by about 5 days of typical weather (cool, wet and above freezing).  This month I probably used about an 8'x3' row of wood.

Energy Usage Comparison for November
2012 - 1565.36 kwh   Temp - 45avg, 66H, 23L
2013 -  1086.67 kwh   Temp - 43avg, 60H, 19L

          = 478.69 less usage (about $45-52 savings)
               ($ 80.32 actual compared to previous year November bill)


December 1st
We start of the month with 2 full cords left.

December 4th
Unusually frigid week. This is not the norm here luckily.
Woke up to 57 in the house this morning - boo. Got a learning curve here with below freezing.
Daytime is no problem. I have been going through more fuel and keeping it on medium to high for the day.
We had about 3 weeks of the coldest temps in a few years here. We got down to 8 one night.
I experimented with pressed logs (100% wood) and it went well. They heat well, evenly and leave a nice coal piece for overnite.

Energy Usage Comparison for December
2012 - 2282.625 kwh   Temp - 36avg, 46H, 26L
2013 -  1466.58 kwh   Temp - 36avg, 53H, 8L

          = 816.045 less usage (about $80-90 savings)


This has been a strange winter here in the PACNW. Not a lot of "warm" rainy days and quite a bit of sun and cold. Really really cold!

Energy Usage Comparison for January
2013 - 2432.37 kwh   Temp - 36avg, 55H, 17L
2014 -  1424.6  kwh   Temp - 40avg, 57H, 19L

      1007.77kwh less usage = (about $110 savings)
                                              ($156.78 actual compared to previous year bill)

February 2014

The first week was another bitterly frigid week with lows in the low teens.
On the 7th the stove started smoking more than it should when we opened the door to reload.
The 8th, I cleaned out the ash. The CO alarm sounded shortly after I cleaned and started a new fire. We aired the house and I let the fire die. The alarm did not sound again but to be safe, we did not use the stove again and instead let the small electric space heater keep the temperature stable.

The 9th, I opened the window in case it was a pressure issue, and lit a paper fire to heat up the chimney and see how the smoke goes up the chimney. I noticed smoke coming out from the stove collar. So, a call to the certified chimney folks is in order for the morning.

Lesson: always have a backup or two.

All cleaned and chimney and stove all in good order. The spark screen was clogged. Good news is they said the chimney looked good for this time in the season and just recommended to have it cleaned again at the end of next season and to go up on the roof about 2 times in the season to clean off the screen and take a look at the chimney.

Energy Usage Comparison for February
2013 - 1835.31 kwh   Temp  - 41avg, 53H, 24L
2014 -  1578.495  kwh  Temp - 38avg, 55H, 10L

   256.815   kwh less usage = (about $25- $31 savings)

March 2014

At the start of March, we have gone through a full cord so far this season. There is a months worth in the log hold on the deck. I think it will last us thru the rest of the season. The weather is actually starting to show a warming trend. I have been lightning it up mainly in the evening around 3-5pm when it starts to cool in the house. March has used almost all the wood on the deck. I light up the stove usually about once a day to every-other day or just in the evening or in the morning.

Energy Usage Comparison for March
2013 - 1718.43 kwh   Temp - 45avg, 71H, 24L
2014 -  1404.03  kwh   Temp -46avg, 68H, 26L
             314.4 kwh less for march

  534    kwh less usage = (about $ 30 savings)
                  $373.37 march2013              ($ 77.86 actual compared to previous year bill)
                  $295.51 march 2014

April 2014

April starts with some nice spring weather. We also have about 2-3 days of wood "left over" from last month.
We had to use it 2-3 times in April but for the most part I use the small space heater most nites set to 65 degrees to make sure it doesn't get too chilly. Hubby turns the thing on full blast in the morning and I turn it back down after he leaves.

Energy Usage Comparison for April
2013 - 1270.82 kwh   Temps - 48avg, 71H, 32L
2014 -   1161.71 kwh Temps - 49avg, 80H, 32L

    109.11 kwh less usage = (about $15 savings)

May 2014

Typical spring weather for here. Cool days and nights with occasional warm days and unpredictable rain.
The start of the month, I used it once or twice on cool, very cloudy days where the high was in the low 50's.

Energy Usage Comparison for May
2013 - 948.96 kwh   Temps - 55avg, 84H, 30L
2014 -   873.24 kwh Temps - 56avg, 86H, 39L

      kwh less usage = 75.72 (about $10-13 savings)
                  $238.95 may 2013              ($23.60 actual compared to previous year bill)
                  $215.35 may 2014

so far for season - $338.56


Savings & Expenses

$338.56 for the 2013-2014 burn season as compared to 2012-2013 electric furnace use.

This is not as much as I had hoped for.
The only difference from last years' energy usage is that... The previous year with the electric furnace, I kept it pretty cool in the house during the day and bundled and used the space heater right next to me while working. There is also a heater in the well house that kicks on whenever it gets under 60F (I've got to fix that). I think the man-cave usage may have been the same. He likes it pretty toasty down there in the winter. This year... I kept it very cozy in the upstairs and if I were using the furnace as opposed to the wood-stove, it would have been a much higher bill. I can't go back past one year in my bill history. I do remember having 2 mid-winter bills in 2011-2012 that were between $500-$600. That is why I was so conservative the following winter. Comparing that to the 2 largest in the conservative year at $375-450, the savings would be a whole lot greater and... I do not have to bundle up so much and sit in front of the space heater.

"Hidden" expenses of woodststove life...

The annual cleaning and inspection which runs about $140 around here.

If you have to purchase wood, you can expect to pay $200-$300 per split cord in this area.

We did purchase a cord the first year as a just-in case. We used the cord and a little of our older stuff.

We do not have to purchase wood for the next 2 years (so far) as we have almost a full cord from 2 years ago, about a cord and a half from a downed maple from last year, and about a large cord from a dead fir we just felled and a dead maple and alder that will be felled next weekend. Looking at all the trees on our acreage that are on the way out (there was a maple disease a few years ago and the fir beatle that are killing quite a few trees around here), we should be set for at least few years after that. Hopefully with only a cord - to one and a half cords per season... our acreage will be self-sustaining.

Start up costs. ..
Chimney system
Floor protection 
Insurance will increase
Fuel storage 
Cleaning maintenance 



Yes, there is fire and carbon monoxide hazards. But... you could also have a fire start from the electrical wiring in your home, space heaters, ovens, toasters, fixtures and even the electric furnace. If you are a smoker, or light candles (or tend to burn food - guilty) etc... CO2 is a huge concern if you have gas lines of any use.
When a quality stove and components are properly installed and maintained and used, the risk is no more than any other appliance in your home.
We did have the CO alarm sound one day. Our spark screen had build up and was not allowing the stove to vent properly. A quick and easy maintenance that we could have done ourselves and prevented if we had checked it. After a cleaning and inspection from a certified sweep team, we were on our way. This was toward the end of our burn season anyway. Next year, we will check and clean the screen in December and check it every month.

Accidental burns...
Our stove is steel box surrounded by floating iron plates and a heat shield on the back. During normal burning, I can touch the sides, top, and back without getting burned. It is HOT but not enough to burn unless I intentionally leave my hand on there. The glass and areas of the front door are hot enough to burn as is the cook top (has vented iron cover). I have been burned twice when I have carelessly loaded the box with my hands instead of using tongs or fire gloves (the box is small). If I had a young one I would install a fire gate around the hearth anyway.


Yup, it is messy. Wood sheds dirt, bark, moss and yes, bugs etc... in the house in the wood pile and when loading.
There is ash to clean. During the peak burn season I empty the ash about twice a month. It burns so efficiently that the ash is very minimal.
I vacuum, at least once a day around the hearth because I like it to look clean. I also wipe down the stove from ash and dust and clean the glass about once a week.
Compared to the central unit, there is no more dust in the home than before. And, I feel like there is less.
Glass Is easy to clean. Just a moist rag and a clean paper towel. Add a dab of white ash for tough areas. 


It only smelled of smoke when the chimney needed cleaning.
Outside smell - does not smoke except on a start-up and smells of a faint wood-burning scent.


Yes, especially if you split and collect your own cord wood.
That can be reduced if you purchase your wood and pay to have it stacked. Or use pressed logs. But, you still have to bring it in.


None unless when the electricity is out then, it is a HUGE convenience!
If you are gone most of the day it may not be useful except in power outages.
If if is cold in the house it does take 1-2 hours to get it warm depending on how cold it is in the first place.
We came back from Christmas break in Texas to about a 40 degree house at midnight and it was not fun staying up for the next hour to get the stove warm and going. That is when our bed heaters really were more than welcome!
On the super cold spells I would get up at 2am to re-load. I think i probably had to do that about 6 days out of the whole year.
I can be sure it is going well before i leave to go shopping, return 2 hours later and it is still good.
Sometimes it is really hard to start from cold. Part, I think was the quality of wood we purchased. I don't think it was fully seasoned. Next season we will be using our own wood and will know exactly how long it has been seasoned. I also have cut our own kindling - I like it much better.


In the bitter cold (below about 25 F day time temps) it kept the house comfortable at a full burn 24 hours a day. In most of the burn season (non-peak) it is great and I can easily keep it between 60-70 in the house. In the October and April-May months it will get the house really really warm and I prefer to only light up on the occasional evening or morning and use the small electric space heater to knock off the chill and wear my house sweater.

You would think heat is heat and I thought people were crazy when they raved about the "feel" of the heat from their woodstoves. I am joining them in their crazy... I love the heat it makes. It feels natural and beats the forced air furnace in the way it feels. There is a difference.
It may have also helped fight off the SAD this year. Really, it does lift the spirit on a cold, rainy and dark day to sit in front of the stove and watch the flames and feel the warmth.

So far, so good.

Starting of 2nd Season. ..

My own seasoned wood is so much easier to start! Really didn't get started burning till Nov this year and had 2 freezing snaps.  Emptied the ash 3 times and took a month to fill the ash bucket. I check the CO2 alarms almost daily. The numbers have been at zero except when I burn food.  Oops.

Are you considering a woodstove? 
There are so many options and situations. There is no one solution as a woodstove purchase and needs are custom. 
Know your climate
Know your home
How much work do you want to put in? 
Are you gone all day? 
Do you like convenience and consistent, instant comfort?
Do you want complete off grid functionality? 
Do you have a place for it to be safely installed?
Do you know of all the regulations in your area for use,  maintenance, installation etc? 
Are you aware of all the expenses? 
Have you done your research? 

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