My love affair with burning wood for heat goes back a lot of years. Our family of 8 at the time moved to our 12-acre homestead when I was a child of 12.  There we lived in a single-wide trailer to save money while my dad built our passive solar concrete home. The trailer was off grid for several months in the middle of the harshest winter I can ever remember (-40F with steers freezing to the ground at night). The rented porta potty was freezing cold but our living room was toasty warm because of our Pioneer Maid stove. We heated food, water and air with our big wood cook stove. Even later when we were on the grid again, the Pioneer Maid was much more reliable to keep us warm than the propane furnace that came with the trailer…those old trailers had walls that the wind would blow through but we were never anything but toasty in our beds.

Choosing a good ax

Later, when our passive solar concrete home was finished, the walls took a lot of heating in the winter. We were tied to the grid but also had solar panels for power, and propane for cooking and running our fridge. With six younger brothers and sisters in a now very large house, it was disappointing to find that the Pioneer Maid just couldn’t keep up with heating three floors even though the house was well insulated. We ended up having to bring in propane heaters in corners of the house while the kitchen where the wood stove was located would be toasty warm. I don’t know if this was due to the design of the house; that the concrete that sucked up the warmth; or that the size of the house was just too big for the stove to reach everything.

When Jon and I were married 12 years ago, we moved into a tiny little 600 square foot house in town and lived very frugally. The house was tiny but the floors were always cold and I would sew little slippers with rubber stickers on the bottom for Paige’s little cold feet when she was a toddler. Our power bills were low because we received power from our local hydro-power station but since I was in school and we were making less than $30,000 a year we were pinching pennies. We dreamed of having a wood stove that would allow us to put some sweat equity into harvesting our own free firewood and having that extra $125 a month to spend on something else. We never did take that step mostly because we felt like the ugly black smoke coming from our smoke stack would not make us friends in our tiny cramped neighborhood…and we were already the weird ones with chickens and goats in the backyard so we felt like we had to tread lightly.

If your interested in the ax that I am currently loving, you can see it here. {affiliate link}

Chopping wood for our tiny, off grid house in Idaho

The ‘big house’ in the country that we bought when Jon decided we had out ‘farmed’ our tiny in-town lot had the biggest selling point of a big beautiful wood burning stove with a lovely rock mantle along the back and a tall cinder block chimney that ran right up the center of the house. The first year we burnt more wood than I care to remember. We had to purchase the wood because we moved in during the coldest, wettest part of the year and we didn’t have the proper equipment to cut our own and have time to dry it before use. We paid $135 a cord for cut and delivery. I believe we went through a cord of wood a month or more. The stove was in the basement and the temperature of that room was at least 85 Fahrenheit if the stove was on. Upstairs the heat would be less extreme at right around 68-72 Fahrenheit. A fan placed at the bottom of the stairs forced the air up the split entry of the house. The other downside, besides the amount of wood we went through, was that any vegetables you tried to store downstairs would go bad and sprout. The freezer also had to work very hard in the basement when we used that stove.

After our first winter using that stove we knew we had to do something different. We had loved the house because of the stove and never considered using the electric baseboard heaters throughout the house. We had lived in my grandmother’s house for a little while so we could find a new property, and it had cost us $700 in heating bills for those 6 weeks. There was no way we could afford that. But what else could we do? We decided to look into buying a more efficient stove and install it upstairs in the kitchen… we wanted a wood cook stove.

My sweet Elmira Fireview

The stove that called to use was the Elmira Fireview, but the price tag was more than just about any other stove out there at $6500 for the model with the propane attachments. Over a few summer months we did a lot of research and visited all of our local stove stores but nothing sang to us. In August Jon found an Elmira dealer about 2 hours from us and called to see if they had a stove for us to look at. The owner floored him when he said he would sell him the exact model we wanted AND deliver it if we wanted it now. They were redesigning their showroom and this model had been there longer than they wanted. We bought the stove for $2500, which is the same price that a new standard wood stove wood cost here locally.

The Elmira was a revolution in kitchen and heating tools. We made cookies and learned that you have to turn the sheet in the oven half way through the baking time. It cooked pot roast while we were at church, kept baby chicks warm, warmed yogurt, and warmed up pig food. The upstairs and downstairs were heated using only the Fireview with the aid of two very small fans placed strategically to move the air around the house. Our root cellar worked again because the heat was upstairs and we used only three cord of firewood from September to May with many sub zero days in that time. Our pipes never froze in the basement even though the stove was upstairs…the stove paid for itself in one year.

My enamel dutch oven can be seen here. {affiliate link}



Stay Warm!


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