Woodstove heating system

This woodstove heating system has been a huge improvement in comparison to our old-fashioned fireplace with an open hearth.

Although we loved our old Jetmaster, we found we were hardly using it. Despite cold winter nights and poor home insulation, the schlep of emptying the heavy grate daily and cleaning out the ash was becoming too much.

A beautiful wood stove.

Why you may well ask? It takes a strong back to lift that heavy grate, carry it outside and empty the ash; not done properly, it stank and made the whole living-area smell.

So it had to be really cold before we would use it.

In South Africa the days in the main are warm in winter, often around twenty-degrees, but the nights can be very cold and frosty; and it would be nice to have the heat in the early morning too.

If you live in Chicago where I did my training you would want to have the warmth throughout the day; but for us it is only in the evening, at night and in the early-morning.

Nights can be very cold, and I remember how many years previously we actually had seven blankets on our bed. But that was long before my stint in Chicago; then we discovered what real winter was about. Fortunately heat was laid on to the apartments for the poor students and their families.

Central heating is certainly more user-friendly than a woodstove system but a real fire in the home takes a lot of beating.

This page was last updated on 7th February, 2023.

Woodstove heating system

This woodstove heating system has been a wonderful new discovery for us; it has so many pluses.

First and foremost is that the temperature in the hearth is far more intense; the ash is reburned until little remains. I do not need to carry the heavy-grate outside, and it needs to be cleaned out only once or twice a month. That residue incidentally is quite alkaline, and perfect for the garden.

There are no unpleasant odours at all from your stove but do close the windows whilst lighting the kindling. If the flue is kept nearly closed with inadequate oxygen to completely combust the wood it means a lot of smoke that may drift into the house; and affect your neighbour.

Secondly you too might want to get hot water from your woodstove; that kettle boils in a very short time once it is fired up.

Another joy of these modern designs is that you really do not need a woodstove blower; it draws extremely well and it is rare that I need a second match. A little cardboard makes a big difference when getting it started; then it never goes out.

That is particularly true of our woodstove heating system because the flue is twice as long in a double-story home; in fact I have to be careful that it does not get too hot if the vent is left wide open.

The cowl needs to be higher than the pitch of the roof to draw properly; it also keeps the smoke away from the gutters should you be harvesting rainwater.

Notice the solar hot-water heater; these new vacuum-tubes are extremely efficient and, provided the geyser is on the roof, the siphoning works very well without a pump. The liquid in that tank literally boils on a hot day.

The cowl on chimney pipe of a woodstove, and arrowed the solar water geyser.

A bedside light like the old one below is a recipe for neck pain and visits to the DC.

This next photo was taken before the electrical wiring was complete; I still had that horrid bedside lamp. Now the LED bulbs are on the wall above our heads, directing light onto our books and magazines at night.

Find out more by typing "bedside lights" into Site Search in the main menu.

The stainless steel chimney pipe above the woodstove.

Thirdly what is wonderful for us is that the woodstove pipe runs through our bedroom above, and keeps us snug all night; a light blanket is all we need in winter. I wear the same shorty-pyjamas that I use in the summer; the thick woolly ones have been given away to some of our more needy brethren. 

And fourthly one really can cook on your woodstove, though we usually do not; electricity is more controllable.

But it is very nice for garbanzo beans in the pressure-cooker, once it has a head of steam; I make hummus twice a week.

There was one unexpected minus, or perhaps it is a plus. We have plenty of timber from the garden but getting it to a manageable-size presented problems. A powerful chainsaw, a commercial splitter and a very important piece of firewood processing equipment that I welded up, were obviously necessary; it saved my back from too much bending when cutting logs and protected the teeth from the earth.

Using chainsaws to shape logs lying on the ground is not only dangerous but hard on both you and the equipment.

All that started to take several hours every month or two but you can purchase your timber if you have neither the time nor the inclination.

Having free firewood will pay for the equipment in a couple years but, an extra few hours' labour in the autumn getting the logs ready has to be brought into the equation. It is good exercise, out of doors where you will get plenty of vitamin-D.

We are pretty serious environmentalists, and do not even have an electric heater in our home, though I do in the clinic. Burning wood does produce greenhouse gases, but then there is less demand from the large coal-fired power stations. And that timber has to be got rid of in one way or another.

There just is not room in the garden for all those logs when a tree needs to be felled, or a heavy branch comes down in a storm. Sawing it up and carting it to the dump also would use fossil fuels.


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Instant heat

Instant heat is one of the joys of your woodstove heating system; most of the warmth in fact comes from the flue, and that starts literally to glow within minutes. Weighing everything up, I am so glad we made the change; oh, and it is far safer too. There are no flying embers making holes in the carpet and threatening to burn your home down.

Decorating the woodstove with flowers in the summer.

Here is our woodstove in the summer; even then it is used occasionally. It can get cold living at 4000 feet above sea-level, even in late spring. But it is around the solar winter solstice that it really comes into its own.

Notice the stainless steel woodstove pipe. Nothing else is acceptable[1].

More about lighting woodstoves.

I mentioned  that the ash from your woodstove is perfect for making the contents of your worm farm more alkaline.

If you are crazy about an organic, green garden, then consider the wonder of worm farms. They are so easy to manage, and consume all the leftovers and waste from your kitchen.

In short building eco friendly homes makes good financial sense but careful planning is necessary.

It is highly recommended by scientists that you keep the flue open and burn the wood fairly quickly rather than a long slow-smouldering fire. That produces more fine particulate matter that is not good for the lungs.

Wood ash

Wood-ash from your heating system provides marvelous alkaline fertiliser for your garden. Sprinkle a handful around your roses and especially your green leafy vegetables.

There's a huge amount of contradictory misinformation on the net. Do legumes like an alkaline soil or not? I am unsure so this year I have sprinkled some wood ash where I have prepared holes for our broad beans, initially with well-rotted compost and a little worm farm residue. Let us see what the result is.

One other small benefit is that the hens have left the holes alone; they generally love to dig up my seeds.

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On a cold winter's night, with the woodstove heating system glowing, Bernard Preston is busy.

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Solar power energy

Free solar power energy is instant if you have PV panels on the roof and an inverter. Trees take longer to collect that energy from the sun and store it in the timber for your woodstove.

A woodstove heating system is dirty, of course, in comparison, adding to your carbon footprint but certainly less so than a coal-fired power station. And in any event you are burning timber where possible from your own garden; or trees that you see have fallen along the street and need to be removed.

Modern woodstoves are turbocharged, with the hot air being returned to the hearth so almost total combustion occurs with little smoke or ash; the latter is wonderful in an organic garden.

Your neighbour will love it if you offer to chop up his fallen tree and cart the trunk away. He may even pay you.

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56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa