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If it ain’t broke

January 5, 2009

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I don’t always believe that the wheel needs re-inventing.

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We heat with wood, and during the cool parts of the year, when we have a regular fire, we cook and heat our household water  with wood also.  Our woodburning appliances and water heating system are not new, or of new design.  Sometimes things just don’t need to be improved upon.  Our cookstove as you know is old, but has been refurbished to last for it’s second 70 years.  Our furnace is an old behemoth, so common in the basements of an earlier era.  Made to be fueled with wood or coal, it works great for a wood furnace, and we definitely have the wood supply to go with it.  We are happy with the furnace and it’s capabilities, we need to do our part and do more insulating of our old house.

Our furnace utilizes cold air returns, and heat registers to deliver the heat.  What is nice about the furnace is some of it’s old features that modern furnaces lack.  One is a humidity reservoir, that supplies moist heat.  Even though we live in a very high humidity locale, during the cold weather, moist heat is welcome.  Keeps me looking young 😉   Well, at least on paper anyway… .

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Humidity reservoir.  The lid is removed for filling, this cast iron reservoir holds about 1 gallon of water.  Use cold water for filling before starting the fire, and hot water after the fire is going to replenish the supply.  This avoids cracking the cast iron.
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This is the other feature we love.  The hot water heating coils.  Steel pipe plumbed in the firebox, heats our household water.  This is inside the firebox.

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Same view, with flash, so you can see the the pipes and not the flames.

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The 180 degree close return elbows are the secret.  Our system utilizes 3 of these and 4 sections of pipe.  Cold water goes in, and hot water comes out.  Our luxury is that we have this system plumbed into an electric hot water heater.  If there is a fire in the furnace the water is preheated, so the electric hot water heater does not come on.  So in the winter, we have 100 gallons of heated water, and in the summer, just 50.  We can conserve on wood this way, and also our time and energy.  We realize that this is not the ultimate in energy conservation, since we are using electricity but we also don’t want to be wasting firewood and all the time involved in procuring that either.  Could we live without electricity?  Certainly.  Are we?  No.  Obviously not, or I wouldn’t have a blog.  I have no desire to leave the farm to use the computer at the library which is 16 miles away.

Originally, we had coils in our cook stove too, but took those out.  A family can only use so much hot water.

Below is the diagram HD drew up for me, knowing he could help simplify this for you, much better than I could.  This our thermosiphon hot water system.


The heat source has to be at the lowest point of the system.  As the water is heated it rises, draining cold water in behind it that will then be heated.  As the water is heated, it rises to the water heater going in the top.  Cooler water from the bottom of the heater is drawn back to the coils to be heated again, getting hotter and hotter.Down stream is the electric hot water heater.  When there is no fire the electric heater functions as it normally would.  (This is during the summer for us.)  When there is a fire, the water going into the electric hot water heater is pre-heated, when in a regular application it would be cold.  The fire heated water is usually hotter than the thermostat is set for, so the electric hot water heater does not use any electricity while the fire is going.  So the electric hot water heater acts as as an insulated tank of hot water.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. cheesychick permalink
    January 6, 2009 6:00 am

    I will never cease to be amazed as to “what, when, who, where and why” you write about. Who would have thunk? I’m always intrigued by your topics. Where do all the different ideas come from? I’m thinking this is one to keep the male gender readers coming back.
    I personally love the rants…my favorite part!

    And last, I have not had a chance to ask before but what is a milk scale? I am a youngin’ compared to you so I don’t have knowledge of all the antiques like you do. Ha he he! I kill me. I have been wanting to ask since Christmas and keep forgetting. (Okay, who is old now?) Maybe an idea for a post? Or not. Just wondering if you could tell me? I know, I know you probably would have told me before I started dissing you about your age! Ha he he.

  2. January 6, 2009 7:49 am

    We heat our water year round with the wood stove. Huge savings.

  3. January 6, 2009 8:47 am

    Good post! You should write for Backwoods Home magazine. See if they will accept your aticles….you write really well.


  4. January 6, 2009 11:09 am

    I’d recognize that Oregon sky anywhere! Very interesting post today. The house I grew up in was heated by a converted coal furnace. It was mammoth sized! The house had huge heating grates flush on the floor, and I used to race downstairs and huddle over one to warm up on those cold winter mornings. Your hubby’s diagram was not only great, but also easy to understand. You know what I thought when I looked at it … ALGEBRA! Ha! I couldn’t resist. Okay, please don’t reach through the screen and slap me. I thought about you yesterday. Be glad you aren’t my neighbor because I would have come racing across your field disturbing Della to announce that, oh my gosh, guess what I harvested yesterday? Yep, harvested. My very first winter carrots. I can’t believe they survived being unprotected and directly buried under 14 + inches of snow. Plus, and this was pure luck … my parsley survived and is looking fabulous. See what you taught this city girl? I took a chance and tried just a couple things to grow over the winter. If I can do it, anybody can. Thanks, Nita. You made a difference. (Gee, sorry again for the novel length reply. Believe it or not, in person I’m actually fairly quiet!)

  5. January 6, 2009 3:41 pm

    Off topic, but couldn’t help but ask: Is that sweet puppy an Australian Shepherd?

  6. January 6, 2009 9:55 pm

    Hi MoH – I just found your blog and it’s fantastic! I look forward to reading more of your writing.

  7. Adrienne permalink
    May 17, 2009 5:28 pm

    I’ve been enjoying your blog (although silently) for several months now. We live in Michigan and are shortly moving onto a small farm: your blog has been very helpful as I sort through all the _stuff_ I need to know as I’m getting started.
    This article in particular has been helpful: we have a woodstove with water coils (from Esse), and this is one of the few resources that we have available showing a plumbing schematic. It didn’t even come with instructions! Thanks for providing the diagram!


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