** NOTICE **
At least one aspect of the following post differs from that which we implemented
in the end-design and/or the actual construction of our Tiny House.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information please refer to our eBook.
I have a neat story to tell about the tiny wood stove we purchased to go in our tiny house and the system we have been devising to heat our living space and make hot water at the same time. It’s a tale that relies on characters from four countries and three separate continents, the internet, and the generosity of someone we’ve never met. It is rooted in innovation and DIY ingenuity, and it just might produce all of the heat and hot water that we’ll need for free.
This is part 1 of 2 posts focusing on Wood Heat & Hot Water.
The house I grew up in is heated by wood, the raw material of which – apart from the gasoline and oil used to power a chainsaw, tractor and splitter and their associated wear and tear (and deferred carbon cost) – is essentially free, coming as it does from old family land. Since moving out on my own, however, I’ve never once had the chance to heat with wood; which is too bad, since it makes for wonderful heat. In an age of natural gas mined using dangerous and toxic fracking, Gulf Oil spills displaying the dangers of open water drilling, the overarching threat of peak oil and the daunting Hubbert’s Peak staring us in the face, wood is primed to make a come back (albeit for largely less principled reasons). Problem is that wood as a fuel source has a serious drawback. One only need peer back in time before the advent of oil, or examine most any part of the world where presently wood is the primary fuel used for cooking, to identify what it is. Of course, I elude here to places like the British Isles or the Middle East, where, relatively speaking, there’s hardly a branch left following the inhabitants’ voracious pre-oil-age appetite. In many communities in various countries in Africa or other parts of the majority world, women have to walk miles every day just to find the twiggy tailings of drastically shrinking forests. Deforestation is a real threat in a post-oil world unless, perhaps, we apply a little restraint and a smidgen of technology.
This leads to our solution; or at least the solution we’ve come up with to solve our own dilemma of how to stay warm and make hot water without turning to petroleum or petroleum by-products. Here’s our six step plan:
Step One: live in a 200 square foot house (if you count the loft); after all, that’s not a lot of space to heat.
Step Two: insulate and seal our tiny house as much as possible, within the limitations of windows, the 2X4 walls and, in our case, dimensional 2X6 everything else.
Step Four: rely almost exclusively on a pressure cooker to cook with since it uses a lot less water then a regular pot. We use a Kuhn Rikon model, which is amazing.
Step Five: install a wood stove so small it can be fired with twigs, driftwood or storm-drops, discarded untreated/unfinished fencing, siding and decking or even detritus from a carpentry project, construction site or tree trimming operation (again untreated/unfinished/dry).
Step Six: put together a custom, wood-fired, hot-water system comprised of a flue mounted hot-water heater, a small twenty gallon elevated rectangular storage tank with a small standby electrical element, and a second plastic tank near the floor, or mounted under the trailer, to moderate the entire gravity fed operation. (More about this step in Part 2 of Heat & Hot Water.)
Finding the Needle in the Haystack
Like many, we’ve been enamored with the tiny marine stoves produced by Navigator Stove Works. Enamored, yes, but not so pleased with the hefty associated price tag ($1385 starting price). Resorting to the internet, I searched for a used or unwanted model. And searched. And searched. Weeks went by. Then, one day, I came upon a Kijiji listing advertising an old Little Cod wood stove. The best part was the price: $150 CAD! There was a nice picture but something didn’t look quite right. So, I did a little more research and discovered that back in the day there were a host of foundries usually located in ports and/or fishing communities that produced copy-cat marine wood stoves as well as their own regional varieties. I came to understand that the Little Cod in the ad was originally made in New Brunswick, Canada. I next got in touch with the seller, a very sweet senior living in western Nova Scotia. During our telephone conversation he balked when I stated that we were planning to usethe stove he was selling. His response reminded me why it’s not always a good idea to buy an old, used cast-iron wood stove. In disbelief, he said, “You can’t actually use this stove! It’s just for show. People put these old things in their parlors just to look at, as a reminder of the bygone fishing boat days.” In translation: ‘the cast iron is old and brittle, probably cracked in fourteen places, and I wouldn’t trust it in my own house, let alone yours.’ But then, he let slip a nugget worth its weight in gold. “You know, the foundry up in Sackville, New Brunswick [the Enterprise Fawcett Manufacturing Company, an earlier iteration of which was cast into the front of the stove he had for sale] still makes these Little Cod wood stoves.” What?!?! As soon as we hung up I checked the internet to find the telephone number to the foundry. I dialed it, the phone rang and a very nice woman answered the other end.
“Rumor has it you still produce the Little Cod wood stove,” I blurted.
She replied, “Yes we do.”
I was almost too afraid to press on. After all, who would still manufacture something, yet oddly make no mention of it for sale on their website? And how had I broken this story? To this day there is nothing on the internet that points in this direction, despite many tiny house and boat owners forums discussing wood heating options to exhaustion. What could they possibly charge for something no one even knows they make?
“How much does it sell for?”
She paused and looked something up, papers rustling. “Our price for that stove is $400, not including shipping.”
I gulped. That’s around $380 USD. Amazing.
The rest of this story is rather bland, comprised as it is of finding a local dealer (Enterprise Fawcett will ask you to work with a dealer to buy the stove), ordering the stove, then picking it up when it arrived. Oh, except for the fact that I am still amazed it showed up in one piece, given that it made the trip “nestled” amongst several issues of shredded newspapers in a torn and ripped and reused, single-walled cardboard toilet paper box. The package honestly looked like it had fallen off the back of the truck repeatedly, and then, somewhere in northern Quebec, the driver, too weak to pick it up and re-stow it for the twelfth time, instead wrapped a rope around it, and dragged it the rest of the way across the border. Amazingly, there was no damage. I guess the warning message displayed by the plethora of “Fragile” stickers covering the outside of the box was actually heeded.
Now, for those readers keeping score, Navigator sells their raw cast iron Lunenburg Foundry (Nova Scotia) licensed version for $1385 USD, not including packaging and shipping. We ended up paying a total of $580 USD, albeit for a somewhat rougher-cast New Brunswick version sprayed in a thick black layer of high temperature paint. The only differences I can determine (aside from the rougher casting and high-temp paint) is regular steel instead of stainless steel through-bolts (Navigator sells a replacement stainless steel set for $25), regular steel instead of stainless steel hinge pins (which could be cobbled together via the bulk bins at your local hardware store), no fiddle rail (also available as a replacement part from Navigator, $65 - or, for those adventurous with a drill and some machine oil, you could make your own fiddle rail), the use of a single rectangular cover plate instead of the two round cover plates found on the Navigator version, and finally, bolted-on legs instead of Navigator’s dovetail slide-together legs. This last one is a factor of the rough casting; although the dovetails are there, they are too rough to work. So the quick and dirty solution at the factory is to drill six holes, three in the body and one in each foot, and supply the new owner with three sets of nuts and bolts.
For us, stainless steel bits and a fiddle rail are unnecessary, and who cares if the casting is a little rough? Although we would have loved a red or green porcelain enameled Little Cod, we can put up with our high-temp paint, bolted-together version in exchange for paying around a third of what Navigator charges. I think its kind of cool that the contemporary Enterprise Fawcett company still even bothers to make these stoves and that they clearly use the original hundred year-old (or older) molds to do it. The customer saves big by not having to fund new R&D or having to indirectly cover the cost of royalties paid to the foundry for the rights to use the patterns. Our stove has definite character and we’re going to use the dollars we’ve saved to offset the cost of our unique method for producing hot water, which we’ll talk about in our next post - Wood Heat & Hot Water : Discovering the flue-mounted water heater.