Wood Stoves and Humidity

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Wood burning stoves are a godsend. Not only do they warm up your home really quickly, but they are also energy-efficient and perfect for the off-grid homesteader.

However, there are several challenges associated with wood stoves, too. Not only do they zap humidity from the air, but they can cause all kinds of secondary effects like bloody noses, cracked lips, dry skin, and dry sinuses.

I’ve learned the importance of adding humidity to the air when you’re burning a wood stove all day long. When we don’t put water on the stove, the houseplants dry out, my skin and hair dry out, and stuffy noses and sore throats soon follow.

Why Do Wood Stoves Decrease Humidity?

Wood stoves, like all other forms of heat, can seriously dry out the air in your house. While oil and gas heat both remove air from the house, woodstoves have a reputation for causing dryness in old houses in particular.

It’s a misconception that wood stoves are more drying than other types of heat, though. This is because the process of combustion – which is what happens when you burn wood – actually produces moisture.

However, since a wood stove is positioned in one corner of a home, it can drastically reduce the humidity in a specific room, instead of spreading out that drying effect over multiple areas of the home.

Use a Kettle of Water

One way to add humidity back into the air when burning a wood stove is to put a kettle of water on the stove to steam throughout the day. We had a Cast Iron Kettle Humidifier on our stove for a long time, but it was easy to forget about and it dried up quickly.

I’ve started putting a large pot of water on the stove, so that I can watch the level of the water throughout the day. I also like to add stovetop potpourri to the pot of water to make the house smell nice.

I throw in whatever I have on hand- cranberries, used cinnamon sticks, a splash of vanilla, a handful of whole cloves (or clove essential oil), snippings of pine needles, orange or lemon essential oil, lavender, eucalyptus, etc. It lifts the spirits on cold days.

Before we had a wood stove I never knew you were supposed to put a kettle on it. I’d seen my grandparents do it, but it never really occurred to me to ask what it was for. I’ve realized that things dry out really quickly when you forget to put a full kettle on.

Just remember – don’t leave a kettle unattended when you leave the house. If left on the burner, it could rise to a boil and start a fire.

Add Some Houseplants

Dry air getting you down? Add some plants! Having multiple houseplants not only increases the humidity in the air but improves the indoor air quality, too. Houseplants can remove toxins and improve your mood during the dreariest months of winter.

How exactly do houseplants help improve the humidity content of the air? It’s simple. Through the process of transpiration, by which moisture evaporates from the stems and leaves and plants, they add necessary humidity to the air in your home. Just make sure you keep your plants well-watered!

Put Vases in Sunny Spots

Wherever you find a sunny corner of your home, set a water-filled vase. The sunshine will cause the water to evaporate which will then release moisture into your home.

Turn Down the Heat

This sounds obvious, but if you notice that it’s too dry in your home when you are using your woodstove, perhaps don’t add quite as much wood! If you’re chilly, put on an extra sweater instead. This will keep you warm without sacrificing all the moisture in the air.

Air Dry Your Clothes

An easy way to save electricity and reduce the amount of humidity that is lost because of your wood stove is to quit using your dryer. Instead, hang your clothes on drying racks inside your house.

Not only will this add humidity back to the air, but it will save on your power bill. Try to air dry your clothing in rooms that are already dry – and not in closed-off areas like basements. This can lead to a musty odor on your clothes.

If your home is as dry as you think it is, don’t worry! Your clothes will likely be ready for folding in just a few hours.

Rethink Your Bathroom Habits

Not like…those habits. But there are several easy ways to prevent the air from becoming too dry in your home.

For starters, shorten your showers. While a hot shower can produce steam that adds humidity back to the air, a shower that is too long and too hot has the opposite effect, actually drying out your skin. Consider turning the temperature down and shortening your showers to 15 minutes or less. You can also moisturize afterwards to improve the hydration of your skin.

While you’re at it, turn off the bathroom fan. This pulls the humid air out of the house and replaces it with cold, dry air from the outside.

Invest in a Humidifier

If you are truly off-grid, this might not be the best option for you. However, if you have access to a dehumidifier, use it! Adding a kettle of water to the back of the stove is the “old-fashioned” way of doing this, but a humidifier is essentially a machine that will take care of some of the work for you, operating automatically as you go about your day.

There are several different styles of humidifiers you can invest in – I like the ones that use ultrasonic vibrations to create mist, but there are some that spread mist with rotating disks and others that utilize evaporation, blowing air through a damp filter.

The majority of humidifiers are actually steam vaporizers. These use electricity to heat water and then cool down the steam before it reaches your nostrils.

One caveat to using humidifiers hist hat you need to be vigilant about keeping them clean. Otherwise, you can spread harmful pathogens like bacteria and mold.

Run a Shower or Bath

Running a hot shower or bath isn’t a great longterm solution to dry air caused by a woodstove, but if you’re feeling the effects, it can serve as a quick solution.

A bath will be more effective than a shower – the reason being that when you run the shower, the hot water quickly runs down the drain before it can turn into steam. If you’re suffering from dry sinuses or a bloody nose from your too-dry woodstove air, consider taking a nice hot bath to make yourself feel better.

Weatherize Your House

By weatherizing your home, you can prevent humid air from leaving your house and have a more efficient home altogether – perhaps reducing the amount that you need to run your woodstove in the first place.

Each year, take the time to seal cracks in your foundation with expanding foam insulation and to caulk around door trim and windows. If you don’t have the time or resources to do this, at least roll up towels to block drafts in front of exterior doors.

Don’t neglect other areas of the home, too, like drafty vents or plumbing. Any cracked windows should be replaced with new, energy-efficient ones, and you may also need to weatherproof your chimney or rafters. Leave no stone unturned!

Stack Green Wood

Place an armload of green wood a distance away from the wood stove. It has a higher water content than dry wood, so putting green wood in the same room as – but especially close to – the woodstove can help replenish some moisture to the air. Wait about a week after stacking, then burn the green wood in your pile before replacing it with more green wood.

One word of caution, though – don’t place this wood too close to your wood stove. The two should not be touching. This can cause a fire hazard.

Use a Hygrometer to Track Moisture

Is the air in your house really dry, or are you imagining it? Invest in a good hygrometer to find out. You should shoot for a relative humidity level of 45 to 50 percent at all times throughout the year. You can easily pick up one of these handy devices at hardware stores in most places.

Stay Hydrated

I’m still struggling with really dry hair and skin. I think drinking lots of water is super important when you have the wood stove blazing- something I haven’t been paying close enough attention to. I’ve gotta be better about staying hydrated.

Do you have a special trick to keeping humidity up while the stove burns?

updated 01/15/2020 by Rebekah White


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17 thoughts on “Wood Stoves and Humidity”

  1. Up until a year ago I struggled with a lack of humidity. I would run a humidifier all year long. Of course, I was living in Utah and they don’t have a word for “humid”. I recently have had the opposite problem. I moved to the Oregon coast. Complete switch. Now I have so much humidity I have condensation on my windows and moldy sills. We have a propane furnace and it doesn’t do anything about the soggy state of my house. My brother in law, however, has a wood stove and doesn’t have any issues with hyper-humidity. I didn’t realize that was why until now.

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    • Exactly! High humididty in Upper Penn of MI.
      This small ranch I have been in for a year seemed perfect. All on one floor, full basement. The original builder/owners had a metal coal/wood stove with a built-in water tank for hot water. After 2010 the inheritors put in a gas furnace and a elec hot water heater which immediately became apparent was a bad idea. I discovered the basement humidity was always over 70%. There is hydrostatic pressure against the poured concrete walls but no actual water. So the house went from comfortable as the wood/coal used up the humidity to feeling damp and chilly even at 70 temp because the gas furnace does nothing to reduce the humidity. Rather than pay the exorbitant elec to run a dehumidifier I would choose to return to wood heat.
      Pity they did not put in a radiant gas boiler system using one of the newer hyper efficient gas water heaters capable of running the radiant floor heat system and the hot water both. But the forced air duct work was in place so why not use it?

      Reply
    • If your house has a basement, it’s a good idea to put a wood stove down there. Even a small on earth would help out with your gas bill and help with that humidity. That’s where we have ours.

      Reply
  2. My tip for dry skin during the winter months? I go to the local thrift stores and purchase a few of the older crock pots. I put one in the living area, one in my bedroom, and one in the kitchen area. I fill them with water and put them on the lowest setting. And yes, they run all day and all night. If it wasn’t for our hard water, I would be able to keep them longer than the one winter season.

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  3. I have been hanging my wet laundry on one of those wooden holders and it adds quite a bit of moisture to the room. We had a insert installed in our home so there isn’t room to put a pot on top (my husband wouldn’t allow that anyway since the woodstove is his baby that he wants to keep “nice” looking). I would u of love a stove I could cook on if needed.

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    • I do this too. And also had my husband put up clothes line in the basement (where our wood stove is) to hang towels to dry. It helps tremendously with the dry air.

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  4. This is my goal for prob 2 years from now— a wood stove in the living room. We always had one when I was growing up, and it would warm our two-story farmhouse to the point of having to open a window sometimes. There are too many other things that need doing around my property til then, but having a heat source that I can also slow roast food on all day is a big priority for me. And you can’t beat free firewood that you cut yourself. 🙂

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  5. I bought a house this summer that has a nice fireplace that we’ve already had to use for about a week when temps were really cold a few weeks ago and I hate how much heat is lost. What I wouldn’t give to have a wood stove like yours! I figured you could attach the pipe to the existing fireplace pipe but wasn’t sure how to make it level when it would be sitting partially inside the FP. We had one when my kids were small and not only did I keep a pot of water on it, I’d also put on a pot of beans or soup and let it slow simmer all day! Loved it!

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  6. I have a fireplace exactly like yours and am very interested in the woodstove insert you have installed. Did you have a professional do it for you or did you just buy a woodstove and pipe and do it yourself. Do you remove the stove in the summer to keep your cool air from going up the chimney.

    I think your set-up would provide more heat using less wood; is that what you’ve found to be the case?

    Reply
    • Sandra,

      I’ll tell you what we did, though I can’t say whether or not it’s an “approved” method. We did not have a professional look at it.

      All we did was buy a wood stove, remove the back legs, and slide it into the fireplace. We propped the back end up with firebrick to make it sit level. We made sure the pipe from the back of the stove fit up into the chimney pipe (which took a little effort to maneuver.) We don’t remove the stove during the summer, and haven’t noticed any problems with drafts.

      Yes, we definitely get more heat with the wood stove. The fireplace was just not efficient at all. It was pretty to look at, but all of the heat went straight up the chimney. The wood stove heats our home and uses much less wood than an open fireplace. Plus, the heat radiates off of it for a while even after the fire has died out. If you can put a wood stove in, I would highly recommend it. 🙂

      Reply
      • Hi Kendra! We just started using a wood stove in our basement this year and it’s wonderful! We run it through the evening, and Val puts wood in again in the morning for one load. So far that’s been sufficient to keep our house at about 70 degrees throughout the day. What seems to happen is that the basement warms up (walls, floor etc) and the heat radiates upwards throughout the day, even long after the stove has gone out. Using this method we recently only had a 3-degree drop from morning till evening. Indoor temp was 72 in the morning and held very steady to 69 in the late evening. The temp outside was about 35 degrees, so it wasn’t brutally cold, but in the past we’ve spent most of our winter days shivering! If you can put the stove in a basement it takes longer to warm the house up, but I think it retains the heat better. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

        Reply
  7. When you bathe or shower, leave the bathroom door open for the moisture to circulate in the house. Or if you need privacy, keep the drain plug in place while you shower and then open the door afterwards and let the moisture circulate.

    If it’s not too much of a electrical drain, there’s always running a diffuser too. 🙂

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