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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

Wondering about a great new energy-saving device
you found on the Internet? Then CLICK HERE!

Sorry. Jeff no longer answers questions online.
This will remain as a searchable
resource for all BHM website visitors.

Archive for the ‘Wood stove’ Category


Vendors for fireplace hydronic water jackets?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009


“There are hot water coils designed to fit inside traditional free-standing woodstoves, and hydronic water jackets designed to fit inside a conventional masonry fireplace”

This is exciting to me.

The references at the bottom seem to be selling complete outdoor furnaces, not the simple heat exchanger in the photo on the article Web page. Do you have the name(s) of a vendor or two that make these water jackets for conventional masonry fireplaces?

With Appreciation,



I have answered this question before.

Stricter Federal government regulations and easy lawsuits against manufacturers have driven all the manufacturers of this type equipment out of the US market.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s there were many manufacturers of wood-fired hot water heaters, hydronic fireplaces, and hot water coil inserts for wood stoves.  Some moved to Mexico and are selling lots of these products in Mexico and others just went out of business.

There may be one or two left, but about the only water heating wood stoves made now are the outdoor wood-fired boilers you see advertised in this magazine that pipe the hot water into the house.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Woodstove/fireplace with a water jacket for hydronic floor

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


I am looking at replacing a traditional fireplace with a wood stove insert that can be used in a hydronic floor system.

I looked over your article on the fireplace you installed in your home and have spoke to and web searched for wood stoves that circulate water for heated floors and find only the “long burners” for outside or commercial “furnaces”, nothing that would be appropriate for a great room/ranch application.  Can you point me toward manufacturers that have this type of product?

Thank you.

Mark J. Bechtel


As I mentioned in answers to similar questions to this web site, most of these manufacturers have gone out of business due to not being able to meet new regulations and codes related to wood-fired boilers. There are several web sites that describe how to build your own, but installers are switching to the outdoor models for safety.

I feel our hydronic fireplace system is very safe, but I have included both a temperature and a separate pressure relief valve, and a way to keep the pump working if there is a power outage.  Many of these early systems were well made but the piping systems were poorly designed and installed.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Recharging batteries using a wood stove

Friday, February 20th, 2009


We live in a small cabin and rely on deep cycle batteries to power our lights. The wood stove is going pretty much 24/7.Is there any way to make a battery charger to sit on the wood stove and make enough energy to charge one battery at a time?




I have an electric fan device that sits on top of our wood stove and the unit generates electricity from the heat to run the small fan.  Unfortunately, you get only a very tiny amount of electricity from this solid state thermal energy conversion process, and all the electrical equipment must be able to withstand the high temperatures.   Yes, you could get enough electricity from wood stove to do this, but the cost and size of the equipment to do it would be un-realistic.   Your best bet is to spend your money on solar modules.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Woodstove question

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

I purchased my home about 3 years ago, during the inspection, I was told that it was built around 1850.

It is a small house, originally a log cabin, that has experienced many renovations. The house came with a wood-stove.  I am using it for the first time as my primary heat source.  The house is no longer set up very well for this, but it is tolerable.  The air does not circulate as well as it could, so some rooms are quite cold, but we manage well enough. My concern is that I am still trying to learn to use my woodstove.

My son was a boyscout and I was involved in leadership, attended campouts and such, so I consider myself to be somewhat skilled with dealing with fire.  It is a different matter, though, when dealing with a fire in your front room in an enclosed box.  :)

I have not been able to figure out the manufacture of my stove, it seems to be fairly large, about 2 foot square by 3 foot long.  There is a front door that does not have a window, only a very heavy grate.  The side door opens for loading and carries a warning that it should be kept closed during burning, it has 3 vents that screw open and closed.

I keep an enameled teapot full of water on top of the stove for humidity.  I also have a flue thermometer and got a thermometer designed for measuring the temperature of outdoor grills that I keep on top of the stove.  I got these more for my own curiosity than anything since I don’t really know much about what I should be looking for.

Can you give some very basic, general information about using a woodstove efficiently?

I got well seasoned hardwood to burn, I know enough to be careful about that, but I know I am not using the dampers correctly, and how to get the stove up to heat quickly.  It often takes me hours to get the stove warmed up, and I worry about how to keep the burn hot to help prevent excessive creosote buildup.

I got a brush and can remove the stovepipe between the stove and the ceiling (it becomes a double walled pipe at that point) to help cut down on some of the creosote between professional sweeps. Any other instructions for a newbie?




Sounds like you have things well in hand.  I have designed a few wood stoves over the years and like to have a nice fire most winter evenings in our solar home.  We also have a wood cook stove that is actually new, but was designed to look and operate like the old 1890’s cast iron cook stoves.

You did not say the age of your wood stove but it sounds like a fairly new model that are sold to heat small houses just like yours.  My cook stove has the air vents you mentioned, and we open these up wide open to get the fire started, then completely close 1 of the 3, and partly close the other two after the fire is nice and hot.  We have a gravity type damper on the flue, so it opens and closes as needed by the induced draft.

I still build fires the old fashion way using small dry kindling on the bottom, which is usually left over scrap dry 2 X 4’s from some past project.  I then place at a 90 degree angle to these a layer of larger split hardwood, usually oak.  Finally I place one or two larger pieces of split oak as the top layer, also laying 90 degrees rotated from the layer below, and light some scrap newspaper we save to get it going.  This gives space for the flames and air to move around the stack from the bottom up.  After it gets going good, I just toss on top larger split logs as needed and let the stack collapse into a nice hot pile of red coals.

I have read several articles from others who claim this is wrong as I am “cooking” the larger logs on top of the pile which gives off more gases that condense in the flue pipe and build up.  They recommend reversing the stack with the largest on the bottom and smallest layer on top, which should reduce the gassing problem.  I am too lazy to change my ways, but you might try this for yourself.

As far as your other rooms, this is typical for a log home as they have no wall insulation.  I would see if it is possible to increase the insulation under the floor and in the attic.   You did not indicate if you are still on the grid, but if so, they make a fan mounted in a housing that is shaped like a triangle.  These are mounted in the upper corner of a doorway between interior rooms, and helps move heated air from the room with the wood stove to other rooms.  The odd shape allows you to walk through the doorway without bumping into it.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Alternative heat

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


In our 2 story – plus basement home the heat, hot water (showers), stove and dryer are all run off of propane. There is also a gas fireplace on the main level. We are considering replacing our gas fireplace with an alternative heat source that would be serve as a primary source of heat.

In our area the wood stoves, pellet stoves, and wood burning fireplace inserts are readily available at a reasonable cost.

Do you have an opinion on which would more efficient in the long run?




For a house this large it will be hard to heat the entire house from a fireplace. Pellet stoves are the easiest to use, but I never like having to buy and store all those bags of pellets and you will go through a lot of bags if you try to have this as the main heat source. For me, a wood stove is a wood stove and I like to toss in several large split logs then leave it alone for a few hours at a time. If you can find a large insert that will fit and still include one or more fans to circulate the heat that may improve the heat distribution.

If you are really serious about having this the main heat source, then I would go for one of those outside wood boilers that look like a small metal out-building. You fire these up with wood and the heated water is piped to the existing heating system in your home for distribution. Many options and models available, and no wood chips tracked across the carpet!

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Hydronic woodstove

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I have a fireplace in my basement and wood like to augment my propane/hydronic heating system with a wood stove fireplace insert similar to your setup. My question is about the water jacket that you use. Is it off the shelf product? Custom? Can you provide insight into the set-up that you did not detail. Your expertise would be appreciated!

Thom Pecoraro
Stephentown, NY


This is another great example of class action lawsuits forcing great products off the market.

Throughout the 1970’s energy crisis there were several nationally sold fireplace inserts and fireplace grates that heated water. This made it easy to pipe all the wood heat to hydronic baseboard heaters in other parts of the house, or to a hot water coil in the ductwork and heat the return air being ducted to the other rooms without operating the electric strip heaters or gas burners. I purchased several of these “Hydro-Heaters” for other projects, including the one I now have in our solar home. I had it the new unit boxed up and put in storage for almost 15 years, then installed it in 1992, and it has worked perfectly for the past 16 years.

There also was a firm in northern California I visited in the late 1990’s that was making a great wood-fired hot water heater for remote home-sites. It looked like a standard gas hot water heater, but the bottom half was a fire-box and the flue went up the center. You built a small wood fire and waited about 30 minutes, then you had enough hot water for several showers and dish-washing. They made a “tank-less” version that was just a fire-box surrounded by a water jacket, and you pumped the heated water to a larger storage tank or hot tub. I also purchased one of each and am still keeping them for future since this firm is now out of business and to my knowledge was the last company still making these in the US.

What happened was most state and federal agencies viewed these products the same as a steam boiler since they can explode if not properly installed. For example, all of the models that were sold in the 1970’s always came with a temperature relief valve and a pressure relief valve. If you have a large fire going and the water pump stopped pumping when the power went out, without any water flow the water jacket would quickly turn all water still left in the heater to steam. I have witnessed several times when this happened and all the only thing you saw was some some steam safely venting to a floor drain or outside. However, if the relief valves were not properly installed, the pressure could reach a level that would rupture the steel jacket or under extreme cases even explode. There were not only cases of tank ruptures due to missing relief valves, but even a few cases where a relief valve was piped to the outside and a small drip through the valve due to a weak spring would run down the pipe and freeze during winter weather. After several days the relief valve’s discharge pipe would totally plug up with ice, then if the pressure increased due to a power outage stopping the pump there was no place for the pressure to vent.

I know that there are millions of these wood fired hot water heaters and hydronic fireplace grates being sold in third world countries every year, and I think the California manufacturer moved his operation to Mexico years ago, but I am not aware of anyone making a hydronic fireplace insert that is legal today. If any reader out there can provide this information we all would be grateful, but I think the cost to get these UL listed and the cost for liability insurance for any manufacturer makes this impossible today.

If you really want to heat your home with wood using a hydronic system, I suggest installing one of the many outdoor packaged units you see advertised in Backwoods Home, and in an article I provided on this subject. Since these outdoor units use a non-pressurized water jacket system to pipe hot water to heat the home, they are safe and easy to install.

Good Luck!

Jeff Yago


Help heating large home

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I recently stumbled onto your website. It is very helpful! You have great articles, and therefore, seemed like a person I could send my energy “situation” to for advice. Here it is:

My wife and I live in a large (4500 sq ft), 3-story house in northern Maryland. Our two energy sources are electricity and propane gas for heating. The main shape of the house is square. But from that body it has two “wings”. The first wing is a 2-car garage, with a room above it. The other wing is a large bathroom and walk-in closet.

In the summer the trees that surround the house aid in keeping the entire house relatively cool in the summer. I recently added ceiling fans to the first floor (study and living room), the second floor (3 bedrooms and a movie room) and the third level (the roof was designed with trusses, allowing an arts and craft room). The fans keep the air flowing –and the house cool enough–where air conditioning is not necessary except for days where it is 100š or higher.

The problem is heating the house in the colder months (primarily late November through early March). I have a 1000 gallon propane tank and can go through 250 -300 gallons of propane a month during this time. At roughly $2 a gallon, this amounts to $500 – $600 a month.

Beyond the wings of the house, which are very cold in the winter, the other challenge is that the central part of the house (the 20′ x 20′ living room) has 20′ cathedral ceilings. To cut our heating costs, my wife and I are considering a wood stove for this room, We are also considering buying a tankless instant propane hot water heater.

I’m looking into solar hot water system, but it doesn’t appear to be a viable option, especially given the cost to install it, and the low return on heated water in the winter when we would really need it.

Any further suggestions on cutting down on my heating bills?

Thank you in advance.


Phoenix, MD


You have a very large home and it costs more money heat and cool than a small home, no matter what you do. Your cooling costs are low because the high ceilings allow space for the hotter air to rise, and most likely lots of cracks around windows or open windows to provide good ventilation. I have visited many very high end large homes that the owners just could not afford to heat. Most put up barriers and sealed off all but the main rooms they lived in during the winter. They even had plastic sheeting at all doorways inside you had to push aside to go from one room to another. I could not live like this and feel very strongly that if you cannot afford to heat the home you have, maybe its time to move.

It sounds like you need to either get a wood stove for your large living room, or maybe one of those outside wood boilers that can heat your entire house, assuming you are able to keep it loaded with wood all winter. Just for the record, solar is out of the question for your situation due to the very high cost and high energy demand.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Plaster cracking behind wood burning stove

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

We have a Scan wood burning stove. The pipe goes from the rear of the stove into the chimney. The only problem is that the wall is plastered and the plaster keeps cracking, have you any suggestions.

Lesley Morris


Nice stove!

You did not provide any information on your home’s age or construction, but sounds like there is enough heat radiating out the back that is heating up the plaster wall. If this is the problem, there is a concrete type 1/2″ board that has a fiberglass mesh on each side that is fireproof and used as a backing board behind tile work. This is sometimes used as an insulator to reduce the heat reaching the wall behind a fireplace.

However, if the heat loss is around your flue pipe, this may indicate your fireplace construction is not built to accommodate this type application.

Try the backing board and if this does not help you may need to talk with a fireplace builder.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago



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