Having never heard of something so imposing and impressive, a few readers asked me about our outdoor wood furnace and because I can’t think of anything better to write about today, here goes:
The outdoor wood furnace is a giant thing-y that heats the house by some such.
No, seriously, it resembles a deluxe outhouse with a chimney and because OWF’s require a steady supply of wood, they’re typically found in the backyards of country people, i.e., in the vicinity of turkey fryers on porches or near municipalities featuring restaurants like Shoneys, Cracker Barrel and Country Cookin.’
How it works: You build a fire in the giant wood stove, and shut the door. A fan kicks on which stokes the flames to heat water to a pre-set temperature (I prefer a toasty temperature so I can dress like it’s August). The water circulates through radiators in the house, providing blissful, welcome, precious warmth via steam. Once the water hits the desired temperature, the fan shuts off, stifling the flames. When the temperature dips, the fan starts up again and the fire roars, and on and on it goes until April.
The best thing about an OWF is that you can heat the house as hot as you want — 75, 80, 90 degrees — and it doesn’t cost anything beyond what you pay for wood. But since Jake routinely clears property for construction jobs, we always have free wood.
But what we save in monthly heating bills, we more than make up for in sweat equity. The trees must be hauled home then unloaded where they dry out for six months or more. Once dry, Jake and I spend a weekend processing the wood — it’s first cut into segments with a chain saw, then split with a gas-powered log splitter. The wood is then loaded into a dump trailer, hauled over to the wood shed, unloaded, then stacked in tall Jenga-esque structures. By this point, it’s Sunday evening and I’ve lost all feeling in my arms.
The fire must also be consistently fed. The fan apparatus ensures a slow, steady burn, but we still have to load the furnace with wood every morning and evening. Vacationing in the winter can be an issue because if someone is not there to feed the fire, you come home to an ice box. This is why it’s necessary to have an alternate heat source to ensure your pipes don’t freeze while you’re away (we have a propane stove in the kitchen), or be lucky enough to live across the road from an incredible family who feed the fire for you.
It’s also not cheap. Our outdoor wood furnace cost $20,000, so it will be a few more years before we can legitimately say “it’s free” (in dollar terms) to heat our home. But we did save a bundle in installation costs since Jake did it all himself.
What else? Oh yeah, just because you own one doesn’t mean you’re turning into a redneck (that’s what I repeat to myself in the mirror, anyway)…. even though your hair permanently reeks of wood smoke.