The date atop the crumpled newspaper read 1953. The same year the structure of DNA was discovered, Khrushchev was selected First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot” premiered. It was also the last time a fire burned in our chimney.
So said Ken, the chimney expert with an archaeologist’s eye, as he installed a cast-iron wood stove in our den earlier this month. He loves discovering the newspaper and magazine pages stuffed in closed-off, disused chimneys, like snapshots in a time capsule.
So many aspects of restoring this hundred-year-old home have taken us back in time — refinishing the interior clapboard siding that marks where the back porch was closed in for an indoor bathroom, studying antique rim locks and skeleton keys, or unearthing the 1950s-era RC cola sign in the crawlspace.
Sitting in front of the warm stove, mesmerized by dancing flames, I’m taken back to a simpler time when families gathered around the fireplace at night instead of dispersing throughout a centrally heated house.
Our shallow hearth once burned coal, not the healthiest or most environmentally responsible form of fuel, so when returning to a natural source of heat, we opted for a small wood stove.
I could kick myself for not doing this sooner, but unfounded speculation about the size and sufficiency of our chimney held me back. Yet another example of how assumptions, well, you know.
We consulted with a Certified Woodburning and Gas Specialist who, after two days of inspection and research, determined a Jøtul F 602 CB would safely fit without any structural changes to the chimney or den. Two weeks later, we were breaking in the cast-iron with a series of low-temperature fires, preparing it for the higher temps we’ll enjoy this winter.
There’s even a burner on top for a kettle of tea or a skillet, upon which to whip up a little red flannel hash during the next Snowpocalypse.
With an efficiency rating higher than 75 percent, it only takes three 14-inch pieces of wood to warm the den all evening. And particle emissions are 3.76 grams per hour (less than the EPA max of 4.5), so no worries about potential respiratory problems associated with smoke inhalation.
A neighborhood farmer’s market sells firewood obtained from treecutting services, and we’ve found plenty of trimmed, dead wood in public parks that was marked for a trip to the landfill. Converting yard waste to heat is an economical lesson from the past, and I’m looking forward to comparing this year’s power usage to last year’s, to calculate how many years until the stove pays for itself. I’ll share those numbers in the spring.
Until then, I’ve got work to do, setting up a writing nook and hot chocolate dispenser by the fireplace.