Heating and Cooking Off-The-Grid With A Wood Stove
by Dan W
This topic has been frequently discussed around our table as one of the prime problems we needed to resolve. I thought that you all might be interested in our solution.
We live about as far north as you can go and still be in the continental U.S. It is about 60 miles to the Canadian border by road and 35 miles or so as the crow flies. Winter is the dominant season here! If it’s winter we’re coping with it and if it’s warm outside we’re thinking about the next winter.
Even so, we manage to stay quite comfortable though the temps often go below zero and stay there for extended periods ……… That is, as long as the grid is up and the propane tanks are full. Our log home is a rather large 2.5 story that is extremely well insulated. We heat, cook, and heat water with propane.
Our two 500 gallon propane tanks get refilled as long as the roads are passable.
Electrical service is fairly reliable but, without juice from the grid (or firing up our generator), we would have no furnace or hot water. Although we can still use our propane range top to cook, our oven is inoperative without electricity.
We do have a gas fireplace that will work without any electricity (no blower) but it is very hungry and uses a lot of propane. Located on the main floor it will not provide much heat for the lower level.
We have a 12.5 KW gas generator and 175 gallons of gasoline in storage plus a lot of 20# and 1# propane cylinders. We’ve bought several Mr. Buddy propane space heaters and have multiple Coleman stoves plus a camp style small oven, but these are supplies intended for short-term use.
We’ve done about all we can as far as storing away extra fuels. The long-term answer is not man-made fuels. Even the largest supply of non-biofuels will eventually run out no matter how well you manage to ration their use.
All in all, we feel like we’ve planned well and have put in place those things that will dramatically extend our survival time ……….. but, we were still dependent on electricity, gasoline, and propane.
If we could become better prepared so that our supplies of diesel and gasoline were reserved for things other than heating and cooking (Generator, Tractor, ATV, Truck) we’d be in a much better position for a much longer period of time.
Our 30-acre property is all timber and offers nearly a lifetime supply of wood. The obvious solution is to be able to utilize this firewood supply as a means to eliminate our dependency on non-biofuels. A wood cook stove would satisfy the heating needs for the main floor and loft as well as cooking issues.
Due to the design of our home, we would also need a heat source for the lower level. At one time we had a wood furnace located in the lowest level of our home and its masonry chimney is still functional. So, we decided to take advantage of it.
A small wood stove in the lower level would give us the heat to ensure the pipes didn’t freeze and make it livable during winter. A wood-fired cook stove on the main level would give us the ability to cook and provide heating for the rest of the house. It looked to be a workable plan.
The search was on for a wood-fired cook stove that could be moved into place within the home and be safely put to use if/when the SHTF. I did not want to cut a hole in the roof for chimney pipe to pass through …….. a chimney thimble (just in case) mounted in our T&G roof decking was not acceptable to us. It would also mean that we’d have to get on our steep metal roof to initially install the chimney pipe and remove it when it needed cleaning.
Not good! We did, however, have a large window in a location where we thought a wood stove could be installed. The window slides so that one half is open to a screen fitted in an outside channel. The screen channel could easily be replaced with a custom-made solid piece of tin designed to fit exactly as the screen did.
This would be the exit point for the chimney pipe! I had the tin piece sized to duplicate the dimensions of the screen made at a local shop. I added a 6” insulated thimble to it. It turned out to be a good fit and can be installed without tools.
The stove pipe would exit through the thimble, turn at a 30-degree angle and then head towards the 4’ roof overhang. The pipe would be supported at the edge of the overhang by plumbers tape before it once again made another 30-degree upturn.
A short section of straight pipe was then added and finished off with a spark arrestor cap. Our roof is metal which helps to reduce the potential for a spark causing problems. I know, it’s not the perfect arrangement for a chimney ……….. but since the entire length will be only about 14’, the stove should still draw well.
This entire set up is adequate to safely exhaust the flue gases from a small wood fire like that contained within our cook stove.
The key to all of this working was the right stove. The one I was looking for needed to be relatively light in weight so it could be carried into the house when it was time to set it up. It needed to have an oven, be mostly cast iron, and be efficient. I did not want the typical Amish type wood cook stove as those were too large, too heavy, and way too expensive.
Although I found a few of those type stoves for sale locally, with more on the internet, they didn’t fit my criteria. After much searching, I finally found a stove that fit the bill ………. It’s the SOPKA! Manufactured by the SOPKA Stove Company and imported from Serbia (yeah, that’s right, Serbia), these stoves are an excellent example of a small dual fuel cook stove.
I spoke with the nearest dealer and was pleased to find out that the price was reasonable and delivery to our home was not a problem. I asked if they had sold many and were the buyers satisfied? The dealer’s response was very positive and they said that owners were very happy with the stoves operation, construction and performance.
They also said they were glad they had decided to become a dealer for SOPKA as the company was very good to deal with and stood behind their products. We live about 250 miles from the dealer’s showroom and, as luck would have it, they had the model we wanted in stock.
We purchased a black SOPKA Magnum complete with nickel trim. Check out the stoves at the SOPKA website: www.sopkainc.com .
What I especially liked about this stove is the size; it is actually a bit smaller than 3’ x 3’ x 2’. The smaller firebox uses small pieces of firewood and it is, therefore, easier to manage the cooking temps. As I said earlier, it’s also a dual fuel design that will burn coal as well as wood.
The top cooking surface is more than adequate for our needs while the oven is large enough to bake four loaves of bread at the same time.
Both the firebox and oven have glass windows and there is a temp gauge mounted in the oven glass. There is also a full-width storage drawer below the oven. It’s a small unit that offers virtually everything found on the larger old styled stoves. The outlet on this stove is 4” but it comes with a 4” to 6” adapter.
I plan to have a water container made for it that will sit on the top surface in front of the stove pipe. When we placed the initial order for the stove we also ordered a large insulated floor pad (5’x5’) to protect our hardwood floors. The SOPKA stove, floor pad, and the stove pipe now reside in our garage waiting for the day when they will be put into service.
Once we had the stove and floor pad in hand, I designed the window insert that would serve as the pass-through for the stovepipe. Made of a medium gauge tin it is designed to fit perfectly into the half section of the window slider where the screen had previously fit.
A standard insulated 6” DW pipe thimble is installed. A 2’ straight piece of double wall 6” diameter pipe is inserted into the thimble.
Black single wall pipe from the stove is connected on the inside and double wall pipe runs up to the roof overhang on the outside. Since the interior walls of our home are cedar I designed a simple 4’ x 8’ wall heat protector using the same gauge tin as the window insert.
This not only protects the wall surface but will reflect heat into the room. It attaches to the wall behind the stove using screws and spacers to create an insulating airspace. I painted the wall heat protector with heat resistant black paint. The drawing will give you an idea of how we plan to set things up.
We’ve verified that we’ve got enough lengths of chimney pipe to connect everything when the time comes. The stove weighs in at 441# but we will remove the doors and inserts to reduce that weight before it gets moved into the house.
My little tractor can lift it and set it down on a furniture dolly on our front porch. From there it’s an easy matter to roll it to its home position in front of the window. By using a 6’ ladder on the outside deck all of the chimney pipe connections can be made without having to climb on the roof.
This is important as the chimney pipe will need to be cleaned a bit more often due to the angles and expected heavy usage (once it’s put into service). I don’t even want to think about getting on the roof during winter!
For heating the lower level I found a nice little Windsor wood stove manufactured by the Majestic Company: http://majesticproducts.com/family/Stoves/Non-Catalytic/Windsor/ This is their smallest non-catalytic model.
Weighing in at only 180 pounds, it’s rated at 23,000 BTU and takes up to 18” logs. Perfect for our application and priced right. The floor where this stove will be installed is concrete so no protective pad is needed.
Believe it or not, I was able to find this stove at a dealership in Iowa (we live in Montana) and have it shipped to us for a considerably cheaper price than I could buy it locally! It pays to shop around and buy off-season when you can.
To help move the heat around we purchased two Caframo Airmax Eco Fans (one for each stove). These fans sit on the stove top and generate their own power using the heat of the stove. Not the cheapest accessory but they do move a surprisingly large amount of air.
If the SHTF during a winter cycle we still have more than enough non-biofuels stockpiled to last until the warmer weather permits us to set up the stoves. All told we’ve invested about $4400 for the SOPKA and the Windsor wood stoves including the stovepipes and fittings.
Yes, it’s a big chunk of change ……….. But, these two stoves are pivotal items in our preps. Since our home is a BOL for several other families the expense has been shared. Now, we no longer fear that we will run out of man-made fuels and not be able to live in a heated environment or cook our food.
Obviously, our solution to the issues of cooking and heating if the grid goes down is not feasible for everyone.
The expense is a big factor (when isn’t it?) as is the availability of firewood (or coal). We figured that if we end up never using this investment our heirs can always sell it!
If, on the other hand, our worst fears do come to fruition ………….. we won’t be forced to cook outside over an open fire and freeze inside when winter arrives!