The other day I was sweeping up all of the wood chips and debris that have fallen on the living room floor near the wood stove that sits in our fireplace, and I thought to myself all of the reasons why an outdoor water stove would be so much nicer for heating our home. We used to have one several years ago, something we’d picked up off Craigslist, but we couldn’t afford to have it installed so we ended up selling it.
There are definitely things that I love about having a wood stove in the house that I would surely miss if we had an outdoor water stove. Like the smell of wood burning. And cooking over the hot cast iron stove. But it would definitely be much cleaner to keep the wood burning mess out of the house.
If you’re considering how you’d like to invest in heating your on- or off-grid home, here’s a list of pros and cons (off the top of my head) to think about before making your decision…
Wood Stove Pros
- Wood stoves can be purchased fairly inexpensively, especially if you buy one used.
- Easy to install yourself if you’re at all handy.
- Nothing beats the smell of wood burning in your home on a cold winter day.
- Wet laundry (or wet shoes) dries quickly on a floor rack when placed near a warm fire.
- It always feels good to warm your hands by the fire when you come inside from being out in the freezing cold.
- You can feed the fire conveniently at any time of the day or night.
- No electricity is needed to heat your home.
- The top of a wood stove can be used for cooking or boiling water.
Wood Stove Cons
- The stove gets hot to touch, which is dangerous with little ones around.
- Soot settles on the fireplace mantle, the ceiling (especially popcorn ceiling!), and anything else within range. This makes it difficult to keep things clean during wood burning season.
- Wood chips get tracked in the house with every load. Lots of sweeping up dirt and bark.
- Bugs and spiders come in the house with the wood. We’ve had a problem with big black ants (carpenter ants?) hiding inside unsplit logs and coming out once they’re in the house.
- Need somewhere to stack the wood in the house, to keep it convenient to the fireplace.
- Greater chance of a house fire.
- You might need several box fans to help circulate the warm air from the stove into other rooms, depending on the layout of your house.
- Wood stoves pull humidity out of the air in your home and cause everything to get very dry. House plants need constant watering, and even skin and hair gets dried out if you aren’t careful to drink extra water throughout the day.
- It’s not as easy to use the stove to heat water for your hot water tank as a water stove is.
Water Stove Pros
- Hot air is circulated through air ducts into every room of the house, heating it evenly.
- Water stoves heat the air in your home, but also heat the water that fills your hot water tank, which is convenient and saves money over heating with electricity.
- Smoke, soot, wood chips and hitch-hiking bugs are kept outdoors.
- The air in the house doesn’t get as dry as it would with a wood stove.
- No need to make a place to stack wood in the house.
- The fire is outside so there’s less chance of the home catching on fire (like a chimney fire).
Water Stove Cons
- They’re definitely more expensive to get installed than a wood stove.
- You might have to hire professionals to help you get it installed.
- You have to go outside in all weather to feed them. Unless you have one installed in an attached building.
- Some sort of electricity is required to run the pumps. This can be solar power or grid electricity.
If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d strongly consider installing an outdoor water stove as our primary heat source over the wood stove in the fireplace. The way our house is laid out (long ranch style) isn’t conducive to wood stove heating. However, if I had an opportunity to build a home from scratch, especially if it was to be 100% off grid, I’d likely stick with a wood stove. I’d position the stove in the center of the home where it could heat the entire space, and the bedrooms would be open lofts above the living area making the best use of that rising heat. This would be the cheapest option, after all.
For now, I’ll be content with the free heat we get from our well-used wood stove. If you come to visit me this fall and winter, kindly overlook the fine layer of black dust on the white mantel and the trail of wood chips across the floor. Perhaps the aroma of warm spices simmering in a pot of water on the stove will ease you back into a cozy chair and you’ll forget all about the mess.
I’m sure I’ll think of more pros and cons as the wood burning season progresses. Can you think of anything you’d add to this list? Which do you think you’d prefer?