Country Living Series

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Heating people, not places

Here's an article I came across awhile ago, the title of which riveted me: Heating People, Not Places.

The article says, "These days, we provide thermal comfort in winter by heating the entire volume of air in a room or building. In earlier times, our forebear's concept of heating was more localized: heating people, not places."


This, in a nutshell, summarizes what I've always loved about our woodstove: it's a point source for heat. When winter comes and the house is chilly, we stand by the woodstove until we're warm and then can go about our tasks.

Because of the advent of central heating, it became popular to heat rooms, not people. People spent more and more money attempting to keep an entire house to a single comfortable temperature. If you were chilly despite all that warm air, you had no option but to raise the thermometer or don extra clothes... and often then, you were still chilly.

I remember during my childhood, my parent's house had central heating. Most modern homes did (and still do). During the oil embargo of the 1970s, heating bills hit my parents hard. In an attempt to save money, they began using the fireplace more often. Everyone knows how inefficient fireplaces are, but it did provide one benefit: if someone was cold, they could sit on the hearth or prop up their feet or hold out their hands... and they got warmer.

In other words, it was a point-source for heat. It was heating people, not places.

Nowadays, without central heating, there are parts of our house that get or stay chilly during the winter. Yet we can't complain we're cold, because whenever we want, we can go stand by the stove and warm up. Even in the summer or other time the stove isn't lit, we will sometimes unthinkingly stand in front of it while conversing with someone, just out of habit.


One time I was explaining the benefits of a woodstove to a friend who has central heating. I said the stove didn't heat the entire house uniformly, but instead acted as a point source for heat. She looked at me, entirely puzzled. "But that would mean you'd have to go stand next to it to get warm," she observed.

"Yes. And then when you're warm, you go about your business until you need to get warm again."

I thought it was an advantage, but she didn't see it that way, and we each concluded the heating system of the other person was inefficient.

I believe I stay warmer during the winter now, with our humble woodstove, than I did when I was a kid, with central heating. Or maybe it's my imagination.


Either way, I prefer to heat people, not places. As we get our wood cookstove installed (which will be far more centrally located than our current woodstove), we may even be able to heat places a little bit too.

29 comments:

  1. I have actually kicked around the idea of giving up my wood furnace and going back to my smaller wood stove for the reason you mention. Seems I never complain about it being cold when it's time to sleep or being hot when I am awake and my wood stove used to keep the living areas warm but the bedroom was much cooler than the wood furnace that pushes heat through the entire house via the duct work.

    Honestly though in a grid down situation or one where massive amounts of fossil fuel and chainsaw parts were plentiful I wouldn't be running the wood furnace lie I do now that's for sure.

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  2. Are you aware that the EPA is cracking down on wood stoves? 80% of the wood stoves will be obsolete. We want to put one in but don't want to have to remove it in a year. I love wood heat.

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    1. That only applies to new stoves. The EPA is not going come take Your stove. Of course who knows what the nuts in California will do...

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    2. Why in heck do we put up with the EPA? Anyone?

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    3. I asked no ones permission to put in my woodstove. An old model from the 1970's second hand refurbished and in excellent condition. When the EPA starts inspecting homes for woodstoves, then i may worry. But there are ways around that too.

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  3. Here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Calif. we have many homes with "wood heat". The air in the low lying areas can make life miserable day and night. Everyone and everything suffers.

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  4. My parents furnace in the basement when I was a kid did a bang up job heating the main floor, but my room was on the 2nd floor and on a really cold morning the water glass next to the bed would have ice on it! We lived with a lot of quilts!
    EPA regulations won't force anyone to upgrade the stove they currently have, but the new ones will have extra junk on them and be more expensive I'm sure. We don't have a furnace and we checked to see if it would affect our wood stove.

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  5. The new EPA rules are only for new stoves, not ones already installed. http://www2.epa.gov/residential-wood-heaters/regulatory-actions-residential-wood-heaters

    We prefer to use our wood stove unless it's spring and we only need to bump up the house temp one or two degrees in the morning.

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  6. There is nothing like the heat of a wood stove. Different kind of warmth than any central heating furnace. That being said, living in a town where everyone is burning wood can make for some really bad air quality. Glad I live in the country with no neighbors.

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    1. I don't think that's really true.At least nowadays. Maybe at start up you'd get a little smoke. But once good fire going, and with catalytic converters , I never notice smoke. Me and 2 of my close neighbors all have stoves going all winter.Of course that isn't a whole town...

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    2. I live in a small rural subdivision where every house has a woodstove. We never smell smoke in our area or even outside.

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  7. We installed a very small wood heater this past December, not to heat the whole house either, because I also want to heat water on it for as many months of the year as we can, without it becoming unbearable in here. To avoid creosote buildup in the chimney, it was recommended that we avoid a smoky fire. So we give it air, let 'er burn, and if it gets too hot, we open the doors to other areas of the house. Works just fine, saved $90 in the first month of use, too.

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  8. We have a wood stove and it saved our marriage;) no more fighting over the thermostat. I have my chair next to the stove and stay nice and cozy all winter long. My husband and son have their chairs across the room and stay comfortably cool all winter.

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  9. We heat with wood as well. In early fall or when we go away for a weekend we turn on the gas furnace. Yuck! I have found I do not care for the house to be the same temp all throughout . I love the little cold pockets and chilly far reaches. If you are up and moving around doing housework and such and not parked in front of a screen you create your own heat. If you are cold put on a sweater.

    A thought on wood smoke in town...Driving about town I do not see anyone outside in their yards. Ever. Adult or child. (Summer or winter.) So who is breathing all this "toxic" air the EPA is complaining about?

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    1. It is all about Gov control. They could care less about our lungs.

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  10. We just re did our whole kitchen. I installed tin ceiling and am currently fixing up a really old wood cook stove. Actually it is in pretty good shape. We only paid 300 dollars for it. The grates are coal wood, and oven box only has one easily fixed crack. Mostly just removing paint. Someone was using as decoration in antique shop.Can't wait to install and use next season. Have been cramming knowledge about using, youtube good source if anyone interested. Also Amazon has some good books.

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  11. Fear the EPA? Fear not. As for those living in high density areas worried about smoke, you made your choice.

    Wood heat is awesome for all the reasons that Patrice described. Our morning coffee is enjoyed standing next to our wood stove. And our evenings are spent reading near it. Ah, radiant heat...

    Anyone contemplating building a new home, consider starting the design with a centrally located chimney and an 'open' floor plan. Convection heat from a wood stove does not travel through doors and dreaded hallways well. Center chimney homes served our Founders well, and may one day serve the next generation of 'Founders'.

    Montana Guy

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  12. I have never been comfortable living in a house without a source-point for heat. Thought it was just me!

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  13. There is something so cozy and comforting about a wood stove. I would much rather sit and watch it than any show on t.v. It allows me to be still and refocus my thoughts as I am watching those beautiful flames and be thankful for the simple things in this life.

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    1. I call our stove "caveman T.V."

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    2. Ha-ha! Funny! You made my day!

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  14. We will be building a new little house and are planning on using only our wood cook stove to heat it. We will put transom windows above each door inside(there won't be very many) to allow for circulation. I DO NOT like central heat/air. I miss the "good old days" of the fireplace and stove to stay warm by.

    Patrice, I can't wait to see your NEW stove put in.

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  15. although I do like our central heating I miss that good and warm down into the bones feeling of a wood fire...I just never feel good and warm no matter even if we turn the heat up.

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  16. I agree that heating with wood and sitting in front of the wood stove warms both body and soul.

    My son and his wife and daughter moved into a section of our home about a year ago, and they drive me crazy by turning up the oil burning stove in their part of the house rather than putting on more clothes. Rather than wearing sweaters and socks and slippers, etc., they walk around in their sleeveless t-shirts and bare feet!

    I didn't grow up in a family where people wasted electricity, oil, or anything else. We had to dress for winter and undress (modestly) for summer. Even if we can afford the heating oil and electricity and wood, I don't understand how people can be so wasteful.

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  17. There are drawbacks and advantages to both sources of heat; forced air, and wood stove. We have a wood stove and use it when the outside temps drop to around 35, as our heat pump does a woefully inadequate job of heating our extremely well-insulated home. The wood stove warms not only us, but the walls, the floors, the furniture. That said, the heat does not reach all rooms. Forget that romantic notion about those leaping flames... don't forget you have to go cut the firewood. Either you purchase it, or you have a chainsaw, fuel, a pick up truck and a strong back to load up the truck and unload and stack the wood. Then, bring the wood in the house, constantly sweep up the mess, and take out the ashes. The furnace is a lot easier, but the wood stove seems to be a lot warmer. I'd like to not have to use our wood stove for heat, but if the power goes out, we have a source of heat and a way to cook a few simple dishes. This is when you crack out those cast iron skillets and pans!

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  18. When my parents built their home, they put the wood stove downstairs, right next to the stairs. Sure, the bedrooms down the hall stay cool, but we all like a cool room for sleeping. Meanwhile, quite a bit of heat circulates up the stairs to the living spaces. They also have a gas forced-air furnace. My dad, a really smart guy :D, had them put the return air vent for the furnace right above the wood stove. That way, when they do want to circulate the warm air to more rooms, it comes into the furnace pre-heated by the stove, saving them money.

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  19. Very interesting and insightful blog entry, Patrice. I have gas heat in my old house (built in the 40's), which has 2 points of heat that are sufficient to warm to entire house. But I only use 1 heater, which I have used as a point of heat. I warm myself with it and then go about my chores. It works for me, and using only that one keeps my bills down.

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  20. The next time you are in a bookstore and/or online, take a look at a book called "The book of masonry stoves" by David Lyle. It is a very good read, when my husband and I build our new house we will incorporate two of these types of stoves and/or fire places.

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  21. We heat our house with a woodstove. The far away rooms will only make it to about 67 degrees on a very cold night but in front of the wood stove it is more like 80! Our stove is in our finished basement of a 1250 square ft house. So if you want to get warm after being outside, go to the basement living room and get toasted! Wouldn't have it any other way. Greg from Kansas.

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