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.
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