Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I am So Happy Suzanne McMinn Can't Keep Her Stove Lit Either

Here's the link to her blog where you can read about her fire issues:

I mean this in the most constructive of ways!  I felt like an idiot last year when I struggled to keep the stove lit.  Remember that I was trying to housetrain Maggie too, so had her attached to me on a 6 foot leash ALL the time I was home, even sleeping.  I would come home from work, take the dogs out, light the fire, then start thinking about dinner.  But think about dinner is all I could do.  Because if I stepped away from the stove for even 5 minutes, the fire would go out.  Then I'd scream, cry or both and re-light the fire.  I had to re-light the fire a lot, because the dogs and I didn't have a schedule yet (I got them at the beginning of November last year).  And because Maggie wasn't housetrained - if she even looked a little funny, it was outside for all of us, like 10 times an evening.  I was attached to the stove (and Maggie) for hours, until the fire got warm enough to self-sustain.  Usually, that was around bed time.  And then the fire would go out overnight.

I never had the energy or time to go through that routine in the mornings, so mornings were just cold.  (Actually mornings weren't all that cold.  I kept the thermostat at 60 degrees, but still went through an entire tank of oil a month for three months.  Expensive! Then I lowered it to 50 degrees.)  I'd come home from work every evening, prepared to do battle with the stove and the dogs thinking, "it can't be this hard! This isn't the way normal people do it!"  But I didn't know how normal people DID do it, so I continued to struggle.

FINALLY, at the end of January a friend came over and showed me how to use all the levers on the woodstove, and helped me hang contractors plastic to close off 2/3 of the house.  It was like day vs night!  It got a little warmer inside (I could never get it warmer than 58), but I stopped using oil like it was rushing out the bottom of the tank.  From February through October, I only used 1/4 tank of oil, because now I could keep the fire lit 24 x 7, and I was only trying to heat part of the house.

Anyway - that's all a distant memory now.  I read Suzanne McMinn's blog about her struggles keeping the fire lit and constant re-lighting of her fire, and I can smile now.  I'm only a year ahead of her on that, but she does so many things well that I can't help but realize - what I was going through was exactly what normal people do!

Here's a shot I took last year shortly after I got the dogs, of them playing under trees that aren't there anymore.  With the exception of the apple tree at the far left, all those tall trees are gone now (meaning the winter sun can actually warm the house).  I started a fire on Thursday that's still going strong.  Cindy put it well in a comment this morning - I'm not playing defense any more!


  1. After the last puppy (border collie) I sort of decided that an older dog that knew when to go out, would have its advantages.. I have to do a fire several times...hubby can have it roaring and heating the family room in the time it takes me to boil water...so I let him whenever possible! I can build a fire, but I have to babysit it much more. :O)

  2. It's been very useful to me to hear your story, Jordan, when it comes to winter and heating a house.

    I am seriously considering selling my city house and winterizing my cabin in the country, just over the VT border. I love being in both places, but not maintaining them. (One house is more than enough, when it comes to maintenance!!)

    This week I am toying with the idea of selling the city house and renting a place there instead. When I run the numbers, it works. I am looking into renting from a neighbor, so I can stay in the area I like.

    So it means picking a heat source for VT. I am surrounded by woods, but there is also already a propane heater which would be easiest to replace. (It doesn't have modern safety features, which is why I'd replace it. Previous owners were hunters, and just used it for a few hours each winter.)

    Thanks for all the info you have on your blog.

  3. Karen Sue - I am very pro getting an older dog. Desmond was 8 or 10 when I got him, and he's been great to have.

    Kate - I'm glad you're reading and participating! There is a huge population of renters around here, and rents seem to be really reasonable, so it would seem to make sense what you're thinking of. Keep reading - I'm starting to think of having the siding taken off and good insulation and plastic put on. It probably won't pay for itself after what I've already done. Also thinking of window replacement. Do you have a propane tank, or just the small ones you get at the store? Such a great set of decisions. One factor to consider is that the house insurance company had a little heartburn with the woodstove and I had to fill out an extra form. You may want to look into whether your choice of heating options would change your insurance rates, on top of all the other factors. Fun stuff!

  4. I have a 100 gallon propane tank -- there when I bought the house.

    The house (670 sg. ft.) is set up for propane cook stove (which I will replace with another propane cook stove from Sears) and a propane stand alone fireplace, which vents into a big stove pipe into/through the roof.

    Would be easiest to switch out for another propane unit, but propane is getting very pricey. If I had space, I'd go with propane and have a wood stove, and leave the thermostat at 45 or 50, heating it with wood for extra heat when I want it.

    My insurance agent put it down as propane, since it's there.

    I have to replace three windows eventually -- they are single paned. The newest ones are double paned.

    Luckily, it's well insulated. The man who built it stopped by and we talked about my projects, and the projects of the owner in between. I mentioned insulation, and he gave me all the details about the insulation already there. Since it was so cold (unheated) in the winter, I didn't know!

  5. There's a book called Back to Basics that has been invaluable to me. It's got a table comparing different heat sources on a per BTu basis. This webpage has the same table about halfway down the page: http://www.staywarmnh.org/fuelprices.htm

    The message I got is that wood is the cheapest per BTu (off the chart to the left) and heating oil is the most expensive (off the chart to the right). I can't remember what propane is these days, but it's more than wood. That said, I'm attracted to how easy propane is, compared to wood!

  6. "That said, I'm attracted to how easy propane is, compared to wood!"

    Yes, I have that in mind. My parents have had a home in rural VT for twenty years, and I was always struck by all the effort wood takes.