Some things are too difficult to build yourself. You are stuck with buying them. Once you decide to buy rather than build you enter what I call a purchased product life cycle. The life cycle for a product you buy includes selecting the product, using it, and then discarding it as waste if no other use can be found. This life cycle is from the consumer’s point of view rather than the viewpoint of the people who made the product where product life cycle has a different meaning.
The life cycle for owning a product breaks into the following steps:
- Deciding to get a product
- Actually getting it
- Getting it ready to use
- Owning it (the following items happen concurrently):
- Using it
- Storing it
- Maintaining it
- Monitoring the correctness of your decision
- Evaluating your decision when the product is waste (or you decide to get rid of it)
In case you may not be familiar with masonry stoves, a masonry stove is like a fireplace designed to work efficiently. The gases from burning wood pass through chambers where the gases burn instead of going up the chimney. The result is more energy per pound of wood and less pollution.
Deciding to get a product
At this stage you need to identify why you want to buy something. The criteria you can identify here help you decide later whether you made a good choice even though there are always surprises both good and bad ahead.
Masonry stoves are one of the most energy effecient wood burners available – and they’re very attractive too!.
At this stage in our stove purchase we were aware of several factors we needed to keep in mind as we decided what to buy. One factor was a desire to avoid being dependent on electric power for heat during a power outage like happens with a forced air furnace. We had lost our power for several days after an ice storm one winter in the city and had heated the first floor of our house with a wood stove.
Another factor was having a house fire 15 miles from a fire department. As part of planning our move to the country we read the two local papers near where we hoped to move. Every winter they had articles about house fires caused by wood stoves so we were looking for an alternative.
We also had hoped we could burn some of the wood from the 30 acres we owned. Finally, we wanted to heat the house while we went back to the city dealing with aging parents’ needs which contradicts the idea of a woodburner you have to tend.
Actually getting it
While living in the city we learned of someone with a Tulikivi stove in northern Wisconsin and visited her. Initially, we were not impressed with the gray color though the owner of the stove was happy with her stove. We liked the brick appearance you can get with a Temp-Cast stove better. With Temp-Cast you need to find someone to put the brick face on the stove. This meant a masonry contractor. While in the midst of the turmoil of finding a general contractor for our house we decided we were better off having the same person handle the entire stove and chimney. This was the main reason we chose Tulikivi masonry stove instead of Temp-Cast. This is an example of a factor in your buying decision you discover along the way. Other than appearance both masonry stove brands were impressive.
Once we decided on the brand we had to work with the dealer to define the details of the stove. Like most products Tulikivis come in various shapes and have options that add to the cost. We had 1200 feet on the main floor to heat so that limited what models we could choose from. There were also several options you can add like windows to allow viewing the fire from the side of the stove or a bake oven for baking bread or pizzas. Also, you can add a bench to the stove itself so people can sit on it and warm up. We finally decided to get a stove meant to fit into a corner but then decided to move the stove away from the corner so we also had extra pipe to cover. We handled that by adding a small heated bench covered with soapstone. Each of the options increased the price.
Getting it ready to use
Before you can use a masonry stove there are several items you need to plan for. While not a part of the buying decision, if you are going to cut or split your own wood you need to allow time for the wood to dry out. In our case the stove was manufactured in Finland so we needed to allow for delivery time for the ship to reach the U.S. And finally before the dealer could install the stove we needed proper supports built into our house for the stove to rest on and a properly installed chimney.
On the day the actual masonry stove assembly began the dealer backed his truck up to the house and started unloading. The stove came as a giant jigsaw puzzle. Most of the pieces were small enough for one person to handle but when assembled the stove weighed about 5,300 pounds.
Once the stove was assembled we had to wait several days for the mortar to dry before we could start breaking it in. Break-in consisted of a series of fires starting with just kindling and working up to a normal fire.
Normally the stove gets fed twice per day. You can also double fire the stove where once the first fire has burned down you put wood in for the second fire, otherwise you wait about 8-12 hours before the next fire.
When you first begin using the stove it helps to have a bathroom scale to weigh the wood. A Tulikivi masonry stove is different in concept than a metal stove. You feed them based on the weight of the wood. As long as it is dry (15-20% moisture) any wood with a maximum diameter of 3-4″ will do. To calculate the weight of the wood you should burn you have to know how much your stove weighs. Since our stove is 5,300 pounds you divide 5,300 by 100 and get 53 pounds and then multiple that by 1.5 to get the maximum amount of wood per day. Ideally the company says you should burn 1-1.2 pounds per 100 pounds of stove per day. For two firings this comes out to about 27 -31 pounds of wood at a time.
Like any wood stove you open the air controls and dampers before you start the wood but unlike a metal stove you never slow the fire down. You want to burn the stove wide open and then when the fire is out close the dampers to keep heat from going up the chimney.
The bake oven in our stove will warm food from a fire burned in the main chamber but if you want to bake in the oven you build the fire in the oven itself. When you burn in the oven the same rule about the weight of the wood applies plus you should only burn in one of the chambers at a time.
Like any woodburner you need a knowledgeable person to inspect the chimney each year. Masonry stoves also create ashes in the lower chambers which need to be vacuumed out so they don’t interfere with the flow of air in the stove. In the summer you open all of the air controls or dampers to allow air to flow through the stove so the inside of the stove does not get damp.
Monitoring the correctness of your decision
Based on heating for two winters in northwest Wisconsin (USDA zone 3) we have found the following:
We found no creosote and only ash in the chimney. A chimney sweep vacuumed out the stove as part of the price of the inspection/cleaning but only cleaned soot from the chimney once.
We used about 260 gallons of propane in a year with a gas range and electric water heater for a house with 1,200 square feet on the first floor and a walkout basement with lots of south windows.
The thermostat is on the first floor so the basement was not heated when the masonry stove kept the main floor above 68 degrees. The basement was around 60 degrees on the coldest days in the winter. Some of the city people who came to visit got too cold sleeping in the basement so we put a propane space heater in the basement to use when we have guests so our propane costs will rise though we will only have the basement heated when we expect guests or plan to spend time in it.
Since the forced air furnace runs less it created an unexpected problem. The furnace has a humidifier which did not run when the furnace was not running.
We planted trees as a windbreak in the late 1980s on the north side of the lot long before we built the house. When we moved to our land we were surprised to get east and south winds on cloudy days in the winter. On cloudy days with a south wind the masonry stove alone could not keep the house at 68 degrees on the first floor for more than a few hours ,especially on the really cold days in dead of winter.
On some of the milder days in winter the furnace was not needed at all.
Based on buying wood at $53 per logger’s cord (4′ x 8′ x 100″) and cutting it ourselves instead of using propane in a forced air furnace, the stove has hardly paid for itself in the first two years.
The stove is slow to heat so when we come back from being out of town the stove had marginal value for warming us up like a metal stove can. The stove works best when we stay home for days at a time so we can fire the stove twice per day.
Insurance companies still counted the masonry stove as a wood stove so we had to pay a higher rate of insurance than for forced air.
Finally, there are always important factors in a decision you never quite say out loud only to discover them once you make a purchase. We liked the glow of a fire and failed to realize unlike a wood stove you periodically feed with wood, a masonry stove burns and then goes out and the glow from fire is gone. The continuous glow from a fire is something we miss from our city wood stove but that has been our only true disappointment so far.
Evaluating your decision when the product is waste
The one main unanswered question is if we will ever save enough money by using wood instead of propane to pay for the initial cost of the stove. Oil costs will probably be much higher by the time we are gone from this world. Perhaps we will be able to look back before we go and say we actually saved enough money to pay for the initial cost of the stove. These stoves last so long we will have to let our nieces and nephews answer this question since they will inherit our house. But then again the stove itself may outlive them as well.
For more information try: