Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

I’m Cold.

Posted on | January 30, 2015 | 3 Comments

Winter arrived and it got cold.  Because that’s how that works.  I realize many of you live in areas of the country with much colder winter temperatures than we have here.  But I’ve heard that living in the South makes our blood thinner, so that we are more susceptible to cold.  I’ve also heard that we are just a bunch of weenies.  Hard to say for sure, but since this winter the schools decided to open 2 hours late due to temperatures in the 20’s it might be the latter.  In our defense, there was a wind chill.  Wind chill means it feels colder than it actually is because we are too inexperienced to cover the exposed surfaces of our skin.  I think.  Probably.  Maybe.

Luckily, we replaced our old leaky, broken, wood stove in November so we were prepared for the 20 degree nights.  Sort of.

The old wood stove was made of cast iron, which heated the house through radiant heat.  I mean, I didn’t know it was called radiant heat.  That was something I probably knew in fourth grade but forgot because I had to make room in my brain for the difference between igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rock.  Which I forgot in order to learn the roles of apical bud, petiole, and node.  Which I forgot in order to understand the life cycle of a frog.  Which I still remember because the kids raise tadpoles on the deck almost very summer.  Sometimes the tadpoles grow up and hop out and sometimes the birds notice the aquarium and help themselves to a froglet buffet.


The old wood stove also had a catalytic combustor.  It took me a couple of years to learn how to work the catalytic combustor properly and a couple of years to understand exactly what the heck the catalytic combustor was actually doing in there.  In case you’re wondering, it enabled the wood stove to burn the smoke created inside the wood stove instead of just the wood, creating more heat, more efficiently.  I had no idea how it did that, but I did know if you forgot to open the combustor before opening the wood stove door to put in more logs, you would set off the smoke detectors in your house and every house within a 5 mile radius, plus anyone who walked though the door in the next 8 hours would ask, “Jeez, what did you burn for dinner?”

In a few more years I was able to start a fresh fire in the wood stove when the stove pipe was cold without all the smoke backing up into the house.  As long as I had on the ceiling fan, the back door open, and my fingers crossed.  The trick was lots of newspapers and just a little bit of dry kindling.  In case things went wrong, a rolled magazine and a lot of cussing worked to chase any tiny wafts of smoke escaping from cracks back into the stove and up the pipe.  But I was also an expert at avoiding the whole cold start up process by carefully combing the inside of the stove for coals amongst the ashes and piling them up for an easy restart.  If you haven’t scooped coals out of the ash drawer and put them back in the fire box, then you’ve never owned a wood stove.

Of course, by the time I could easily start and maintain a fire in the wood stove, it was beginning to break down.  Because that’s the way life works.  Figure out one piece of the game of life and, suddenly, the rules change.  It’s like the spinning arena in the 75th Hunger Games.  Except there’s no blood rain.  Or corrosive fog.  Or mutant monkeys.  OK, maybe a broken wood stove wasn’t as bad as the Hunger Games.  But it was annoying.  First the door handles fell off and got lost.  By “got lost” I mean every time we used a handle we set it down in a different place until we couldn’t find them anymore.  So there was only 1 handle left and it had to be shared between turning off the combustor, opening the loading door, and emptying the ash drawer.

Then the gaskets went bad so I had to keep cementing them in place.  When that finally failed, I just settled for closing the door and then sticking the gasket in place by using a fork to shove it in the crack.  Which was just as redneck as it sounds.  Plus, if you left the fork on top of the wood stove so it wouldn’t get lost, it looked completely normal but was actually hot enough to burn your fingers when you picked it up again.  Yep.  That radiant heat thing again.

Then a chunk of the grate broke off so that I was forced to place the broken piece on top of the remaining grate in a perpendicular fashion and try not to knock it off every time I put in a new log.  If I did knock it off, then I had to fish it out of the ash drawer, switching doors handles 5 times along the way.  The broken grate was also hot to the touch, people.  Just so you know.  You might not use a lot of stuff from fourth grade.  But that radiant heat concept is a killer.

Eventually the combustor inset broke off, slid down the side of the firebox, and just leaned pathetically against the back wall so we had to put logs in every couple hours or the fire, hence the heat, went out.

For a couple nights last winter, we all huddled downstairs with blankets covering the doorways so the little heat emitted from the crippled wood stove was contained in the family room.  Which was just as redneck as it sounds.  Except that we used our stash of Mexican blankets because they were thick enough to hold in the heat but were still light weight enough to be held in place with tacks.  So we were multicultural rednecks.

As cold as it got, we sure as hell were not going to buy a new wood stove in the middle of winter.  We figured wood stove dealers could charge whatever they wanted when it was cold weather season.  As the kids fought over the remaining blankets out of the linen closet we imagined what a great deal we would get on a new stove in July when those suckers were desperate.

Of course, in July it was 90 degrees and we were hot.  So we kind of forgot about getting a wood stove on sale.

Damn it.

But there were a few cold nights in October.  Which reminded us that if we didn’t hurry up, we were going to pay prime prices for a wood stove.  I put The Other Half in charge of finding a new wood stove because it seemed like a complicated and expensive decision.  Why would I want the blame responsibility for that?


The new wood stove was made of steel.  Steel is different from cast iron because it has different levels of carbon and other elements as well as different properties such as malleability.  Which I didn’t know in fourth grade or any other grade.  I just Googled it.  The new stove also had lots of fancy features.  Like the “AirWash” design that created a high-pressure zone in the center of the stove and forced air to flow from above and across the glass of the loading door so it never collects soot.  Hah!  I knew that glass window would be soot-covered in a month because soot happens in the wood stove, people.  It had a “floating” fire box, but I looked in there and there was nothing floating around.  Nothing.  It also had a “high-tech multi-port combustion air injection system.”  Which I figured was the long vent on the top of the stove.  It had “non-catalytic technology using a high capacity baffle system”.  Which was baffling.  Overall, it was a very pretty wood stove.  Which made me nervous.  I have nothing against things that look pretty.  My Pretty is is smart, strong, and reliable.  But sometimes pretty is just that—pretty.  And nothing more.

So for the next few weeks, The Other Half learned to use the wood stove and every day that he left for work or went to bed for the night and wasn’t constantly messing with the stove, it stopped working.  “I’m cold,” I said as soon as he walked in the door from work.  “I’m cold,” I complained in the middle of the night as I pulled all the covers to my side of the bed.  “I’m cold,” I complained when he called to check in during the afternoon.  “The children are cold,” I complained each night when I put them to bed and the wood floors in their rooms were icy under our feet.  “The children are cold, ” I complained when they got up and dressed in front of the wood stove, almost touching the pretty metal body in order to feel any warmth.  This is the kind of joy that it is to live with me.

Every day I jammed the “floating” firebox full of wood.  I waited until it was burning fiercely before I turned down the simple “single lever air control.”  I emptied the ashes in the fancy “self-sealing ash dump” to improve air flow.  I took the pots I used to humidify the air or hold hot water to melt ice in the barn water trough off the surface of the stove so the “high-tech multi-port combustion air injection system” wasn’t blocked.

I was cold.  I wanted the old wood stove that made the downstairs so hot we had to open the windows to get a fresh breeze and could listen to sweet birdsong as we padded around in shorts.  I wanted to wake up and put my feet down on toasty wood floors because the wood stove below our room was cranking along happily.  I wanted the kids to wake up and carry their clothes downstairs so they could get dressed while basking in the heat of the wood stove and their only worry was getting burned by the overheated snaps and zippers on their clothes.  I wanted to come in from doing the barn chores and say, “Whew!  It’s hot in here!”

The Other Half told me that the new stove didn’t use radiant heat and convection heat just didn’t feel the way I was used to.  He asked if I checked the thermostat because it probably wasn’t as cold as I thought it was.  He left me wheelbarrows full of the best, dry wood from the woodshed and told me to make sure I used it.  He explained that wood stove was just having trouble moving heat upstairs.  He told me that he asked the children and they told him they weren’t really that cold.

“I’m cold,”  I said.  “The children are cold,” I said.  This is the kind of joy that it is to live with me.

If you live long enough, you learn that complaining is not as effective as doing something to fix the problem.  So I looked up the model of the new wood stove online and tried to decipher all the fancy terminology.  I googled the difference between radiant and convection heat and catalytic and non-catalytic wood stoves.  Apparently, convection heats warms the air faster than it warms the surfaces in your home.  So I studied techniques to make hot air from a wood stove flow effectively through a house.  Then I got to work.

First, I brought in the thermometers from the greenhouse.  Oh, look, it’s 65 degrees in the children’s room during the middle of the day, with the wood stove running full on.  I didn’t just feel cold.  I was cold.

I hung crepe paper strips all though the house—-at the bottom of the stairs, in the hallways, in door frames—-to determine whether the hot air was flowing freely to the upstairs.  Then I experimented with the ceiling fans.  I turned the speed high or low and changed the directions of the blades while watching the crepe paper to see if the hot air was moving more effectively.  The downfall of this discovery process was that once I turned off the fans I found they were filthy and I had to wash them.  Never turn off your ceiling fans, people.  You don’t want to know how dirty they are.  Really.

After a while I got the downstairs fan and upstairs fans coordinated to get a decent flow of hot air up the staircase.  I knew because the streamer at the bottom of the stairs had a nice sideways flutter to it.

But upstairs was a whole lot harder.  The streamer in the hallway to the kids’ bedrooms was limp and I couldn’t get any flow at all in that direction.  I even tried cracking the kids bedroom window, hoping the cold draft would create a nice convection air flow causing the hot air to head down the hall towards the cooler air.  Unfortunately, I discovered there was already an air leak in Little’s bedroom window because this condensation and mold was lurking behind the curtains:

So I had to clean that up, too.

Just kidding. I just closed the window and put the curtain back.  I already cleaned all the ceiling fans.  And I was still cold.  Cleaning windows on top of all that???  I don’t think so.

The Other Half and I crawled around upstairs, adjusting fans in the kids’ rooms and watching the crepe paper hung in hallways and door frames for reaction.  We had to crawl because if we stood up and walked around, our movement was enough to disturb the air flow and confuse the issue.  The Other Half crawled commando style.  Because he’s a show-off man.  I crawled around on my hands and knees.  Because I’m a woman and I have breasts.  Commando style with breasts would be like trying to crawl over a never-ending speed bump.

Eventually we had some air flow down the hall to the bedrooms.  Some.

But a few days later and I was still cold.  And it was still cold upstairs.  And when I woke up in the morning it was cold.  And I could stand 10 feet from the wood stove and be cold.  The only thing that the new stove did better than old stove was to hold coals overnight.  Or even longer.  During a warm spell we let the wood stove go out and 2 days later there were still enough coals to restart the fire easily.  And once a fire was started, I didn’t have to wait for it to be hot enough to turn on the catalytic combustor before leaving it alone for a while.  The new wood stove didn’t have a combustor.  So as soon as the new wood caught up, the air lever could be turned down and the stove kept those logs burning. It just didn’t crank out the heat.

I went to lunch with a friend and complained about the wood stove.

“I’m cold,”  I complained.

“That’s awful,” she said.

“The children are cold,”  I complained.

She gasped.

When I told her it was a new, steel, non-catalytic stove she asked me how it worked.

“I don’t know,”  I complained.  ” I don’t understand it, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work.”

“Get rid of it,” she said.

I explained that I couldn’t just get rid of it.  I told her The Other Half spent a lot of time researching and choosing the stove.  Plus, he spent a lot of time installing it.  I explained they hand delivered the stove from over an hour away.  I told her that I couldn’t very well argue with the wood stove dealer about the performance of the stove because the dealer was sure to start going on about all the “science” of the stove that I didn’t understand.  I told her the dealer would claim I was using the stove wrong and that was why it wasn’t heating properly.  I shook my head sadly because it seemed impossible to return a wood stove.

She looked at me.

“You’re cold.  Your children are cold.  You’re not happy with it.  It goes back.”

“Are you sure I can do that?” I asked.

She leaned over the table.

“That wood stove will last 30 years.  So you’re never going to buy another wood stove in your lifetime.  If you don’t return it, then you’re stuck with it.  For life.  You should be happy with the wood stove that you are going to have for life.  And you’re not happy.  You’re cold.”

Then she dropped the bomb.

“Assuming Pretty is the kid that keeps farm, it will be her wood stove next.  Do you want your only daughter to be cold, too”

I have high-quality friends.  The kind of friends that lay it on the table.  Friends that break down the BS.  Friends that believe my reasons are valid.  And add even stronger rationale to support my opinion.

That wood stove was going to work.  It was going to heat that house.  Or it was going back.

The Other Half handed over the purchasing paperwork with the dealer’s contact information.  I think he was hopeful that an end to the complaining was in sight.  No matter how we had to get to that end.  Also, he was glad not to be the dealer.

I made the call and started by telling the dealer that I had a brand new wood stove from his company, had it for a couple months, had been running it regularly, and I was cold.  He asked me the brand name and model and sounded surprised when I told him.

“Well, that’s the best wood stove we have.  If someone had complaints about the performance of their wood stove that’s the wood stove I would recommend to replace it.”  Here we go.

“Well,”  I said, “Maybe it’s the wrong wood stove for us.  Because I’m cold.

“Well, cold can be a subjective thing, sometimes people think they’re cold but…”

“No,”  I interrupted.  “It is cold.  I brought in thermometers from the greenhouse and put them around the house.  It’s 65 degrees upstairs during the daytime with the wood stove on.”  Take that.

“Besides,”  I continued.   “It never feels hot at all.  Even right next to the stove.”

“Oh,”  he said.  “That’s because you’re used to a cast iron wood stove that uses radiant heat to warm the room.  This uses convection heat.  Very different thing.”  Oh sweet Jesus, why is convection heat not HOT????

“Your old stove had a combustor,”  he continued.  “The convection stove is much more efficient because blah, blah, blah, blah, insert-incomprehensible-wood-stove-technology-facts-here.”

I waited until he was finished.

“I’m cold,”  I said.  “My children are cold.”

“Well,” he replied. “It’s important to use properly dried wood for this type of wood stove because blah, blah, blah, blah, insert-incomprehensible-wood-stove-technology-facts-here.  Are you using good quality wood?”  How did I know this would come up?

“Yep,”  I said.  “My husband separates the wood pile properly and leaves out the driest wood for me.”  Purposeful use of the term “my husband” because, let’s face it, this man realizes I don’t know anything about wood stoves, therefore, wood quality is probably beyond me, too.  But is he going to call out “my husband” on that knowledge?  I think not.

“What about the air flow to the bedrooms?  Any there any obstructions….” he tried.

“Already looked into it,” I interrupted and explained the fans and the crepe paper.  “I recognize the rooms furthest away are going to have trouble and it will be warmer downstairs than upstairs, but there is air flow and it is not warm even close to the wood stove.”

“It does sound like you’ve checked everything out, ” he conceded.  “I’m just confused because it is the best wood stove on the market with the best user satisfaction.  It’s from a Canadian-based company.  It keep homes warm in Canada.”  OK.  I get it.  I know we’re weenies.  But weenies with fancy wood stoves should not feel cold!

I took a deep breath and threw down the gauntlet.

“Look,”  I said.  “I’m cold.  My children are cold.  This wood stove will probably last 30 years and be the last wood stove I ever buy.  I want to be happy with it and right now I hate it.  This wood stove will be left for my children and I want them to be warm, not cold.  If I have to tear it out, sell it at a loss, and buy a wood stove that keeps my family warm then that’s what I’ll do.”  Let’s keep that last statement between us, friends.  The Other Half doesn’t need to hear stressful stuff like that.

He was silent for a minute.

“Don’t worry.  We’ll figure it out and we’ll fix it or replace it with another wood stove that makes you happy.  Tell me exactly how you run the stove during the day.”  Whew.

He listened while I explained that when it got cold, we started a fire in the wood stove.  When the logs caught up, we turned the air down and left it alone until it needed more wood.  The wood stove didn’t burn through a lot of wood and it was great at keeping coals overnight.  It just wasn’t keeping the house warm. I told him it took forever to warm the house up at all and the heat faded out pretty quickly, even when there were still coals in the stove.

“OK, the stove isn’t going to heat the house quickly because it’s heating the air.  You won’t feel a lot of heat coming off it like a cast iron stove with a combustor because blah, blah, blah, blah, repeat-incomprehensible-wood-stove-technology-facts-here.  Here’s what I want you to try:

First, start a fire and keep the fire running strong.  That means leaving the air lever open instead of shutting it down.  It’s not a catalytic converter lever.  Don’t close it all the way.  Close it to a little more than half-way so the air is still getting in.  In a cast iron stove that would burn through wood like crazy but in this stove the logs will last.  Just try it.

Next, every time you put in new logs, pull all the hot coals to the front of the stove.  That helps because blah, blah, blah, blah, insert-incomprehensible-wood-stove-technology-facts-here.  Never let the hot coals build up in the back of the stove.

Finally, keep a fire in the wood stove if the forecast is calling for cold temperatures.  If you let the fire burn out and the house cool down for a couple days, it will take a long time to heat the house back up on that first cold night.  Convection heat takes longer.  Start the fire ahead of time if temperatures are going to drop.  A non-catalytic stove won’t burn you out of the house if you keep it running with a log or two and that will allow it to maintain warmth in the house when the nighttime temperatures fall.  Again, it seems like you’ll be going through a lot of wood, but it really is more efficient and more effective to run it this way.”

Finally!  Less science lecture and more how-to tips.  The EZ start guide rather than the entire user manual.

“Try running it that way and I’ll check in with you next week to see if it’s running any better.”

He never called back to check in.  But he was smart and helpful and, best of all, he was right.

Leaving the air flow open dramatically changed the performance.  And it didn’t burn through any more wood than the old stove.  Running it almost continuously rather than sporadically also made a big difference.  And that didn’t use a lot of wood either.  The wood stove still doesn’t blast you with heat when you’re close to it.  But I don’t need to steal all the covers at night.  And the floors are warm in the kids’ rooms.  During 30 degree days and 20 degree nights we maintain a balmy 74 -78 degrees downstairs and 70-72 degrees upstairs. I might be a weenie.  But I’m the warmest weenie in town.

And guess what?  The magic glass stays clear of soot so that you can enjoy watching the flames.


Canadians.  Who knew they were so tricky?

My friend that supported me during the Cold Days was visiting and asked how the wood stove was working.  I told her it was all fixed.  She walked over and admired the wood stove.

“It is pretty, isn’t it?”

Yes, I thought.  Turns out it is pretty after all.


3 Responses to “I’m Cold.”

  1. Jill
    January 31st, 2015 @ 5:37 am

    Wonderful! You should advertise for this WS company!! Sounds like they have a good, albeit hard to operate, product, but they have humans who care that you love their product… Canadians are like that. Terrific job figuring all this out so your children aren’t cold, and apparently won’t be cold in 30 years… 🙂

  2. Charade
    January 31st, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    Loved the whole story! A piece of advice I’d add, from experience of course, is to always pre-heat your flue when the firebox is cold. Before putting in paper or kindling, and before stirring up any nearly dead coals, crumple a big piece or two of newspaper lengthwise, light one end and hold it torch-like just below the flue. That little trick will cut down on any smoke and get your fire going faster.

  3. Lisa Dumain
    January 31st, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    I think we are multi-cultural rednecks too 🙂

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