It has four straight legs that are square shaped with just a hint of softness at the edges. To my mathematically untrained eyes, its torso is a rectangular cuboid of satisfying dimensions, I’d say about a foot and a half long, a foot high, and half a foot deep. The black skin is smooth, almost velvety, and tempts you to stroke its cool sides, and there is a big glass window through which you can look into the empty belly digesting nothingness. We’ve kept screws, a lighter, and a carbon monoxide detector in the hole on top, and occasionally hung a sports bra or towel to dry over it, but I suspect it has silently wondered its real purpose. So have we, as we squeezed by it in the corridor for the past three months. It is gorgeous, but too large to justify to keep as a sculpture in a tiny house.
A dear friend of ours, John Lebowitz, (https://www.facebook.com/john.lebowitz) is a talented artist and metal magician who has built wood stoves (and tables, sculptures, and other metal art) for longer than we are old. As we commissioned him to custom design and build a wood stove for our tiny house, we knew that it would be a unique work of art as well as a heat source. We had our artisan carpenter friend, Forrest, create the gorgeous cedar and pine Dutch door, something we get more compliments for than any other specific part of the house. Given that John is easily excitable, one of the qualities that makes him so fun to be around, he got all fire and flames (a Swedish expression meaning “very excited” that I’ve decided to introduce to the English language) when we first mentioned the project. He had never built a “tiny” wood stove before, but quickly saw its creative joy and potentials, and before he had even finished ours, he decided that he wants to tap into the tiny house community and offer his art. Besides simply being “small,” tiny houses demand that everything is built to exact dimensions and locations, everything has its place, and no space is wasted. Tiny housers who have designed their own homes, tend to be quite finicky about getting everything just the way they want it, which is why custom design is the way to go.
Our wish list included a stove that is as narrow as possible for our yoga-mat sized living room, but long enough to fit a normal size log (roughly 16 inches) to minimize wood cutting, and we were adamant about a window for fire gazing, and tall legs to get it off the ground, both for a better view of the fire, and to have a place to store firewood beneath it. This was the right kind of challenge to get John’s creativity working, and within weeks of our initial conversation we received pictures of his progress. He kept the rustic-meets-modern look that he does best, but added some feminine curves in our honor (We don’t have any actual curves to show off, but could be said to be rather curvy on the inside.) and the end result is sleek and elegant with some playful touches without being in the least frilly or over the top. It is absolutely beautiful, fits perfectly with the rest of our home décor, and couldn’t have been better, in our opinion.
Now when we finally have it installed, we can also insure that its functionality is top notch—the draft is excellent, fire starting is easy, and we never get any smoke in the house. At first, the window turned completely black with gunky creosote and soot that we had to scrape off with a razor blade and rub with newspaper and ash to be able to see the fire, but that was most likely because we used pine, which doesn’t burn hot enough. As long as we use cured (dried for a year or more) hardwood and keep it in the right burn zone between 300-500 degrees Fahrenheit, the window stays clear. The heat is lovely, and keeps the moisture down in the house, something which otherwise has been one of the few concerns we had, tiny houses are notorious for having condensation issues. The size seems just about right, as well, it doesn’t get too hot, which we were a tad worried about, we only need to make a decent fire when we get home from work in the evening, and add an extra log around 9 pm to stay warm through the night. There is often a glowing coal or two left in the morning, enough to make it easy to start a fire before breakfast, something I had seriously doubted I would ever want to do, being the kind of person who would prefer to eat breakfast before I have to make breakfast.
“The wood stove is sooo great!” “How cozy!” “Have you noticed how dry the house stays?!” “It’s such a pleasant heat!” So goes our daily exclamations glorifying the wood stove. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that it feels like our house got a new heart—the roaring fire holds the space with help of jazz, blues, and grapefruit scented candles.
“It makes it feel like a little cabin in the woods!” I exclaimed with satisfaction oozing out my pores, which made my smarty-pants (she inherited them from her dorky mother) daughter snort:
“And what exactly did it feel like before?” After the obligatory eye rolling, (I enjoy the smarty-pants better when I wear them myself), I specified that the wood stove made our small house in the woods (yes, yes, that is what it is) feel more like a vacation home, like a ski lodge or a lakeside cabin you would rent for the summer.
“Not just a too small house in backwoods Georgia, but a romantic getaway.” Either she is still too young, or duly indoctrinated, or simply too nice, but Ada agreed with me rather than making fun of her mother who insists on life always being an adventure, or at least a vacation, preferably both.
Seeing how much we enjoy the wood stove, it makes even less sense that it took us three months to install it. Prompt as he is, John had it ready and delivered right before the first cold hit around Ada’s birthday, All Saints Day. John and my father, my parents were in US for a brief visit, heaved the stove up the stairs, it didn’t take too many liters of sweat or torn ligaments, and left it inside the door, where it stayed all through the chilly November, the hustle and bustle of Christmas, the cold start of 2015, and all up through my 36th birthday in the beginning of February. All the while we suffered the stove’s silent reproaches and daily reminders of our slacker-hood.
“Are you staying warm and toasty now?” People in the semi-know would ask, and it wasn’t a lie to nod and smile. We did in fact stay warm. Right as the first frost night was about to blanket Carroll County, Sebastienne picked up a radiant heater from Home Depot, the kind that you screw om top a propane tank and keep in your workshop or garage, somewhere drafty and far away from children. With a window generously cracked, and the carbon oxide detector ready (the one hiding in the wood stove’s exhaust hole), we concluded it safe enough as long as we didn’t have it too close to the wall where it would make the paint on the window frame bubble, and didn’t stand over it when we lit it. Before I learned that lesson, it singed my fringe once, and the burnt hair smelled so bad that Ada couldn’t stop giggling throughout “80 days around the world,” a feat in itself—it was the old, marathonesque version that includes exhaustingly long scenes of flamenco dancing and a balloon silently drifting away over mediocre landscapes.
Besides being slightly hazardous, the propane heater was fast, cheap, and surprisingly efficient, and the house small and well insulated enough that we didn’t need to have it during the night at all. I dove into my flannel pajamas, fluffy robe, and wool slippers every morning, shivered as I turned on the heater and held in the knob for the required thirty seconds of thumb ache, and did half-hearted jumping jacks as I waited for the coffee water to boil, but by the time breakfast was ready, and Ada and Sebastienne moseyed themselves out of bed—the house was warm enough to take the hat off. If it wasn’t for how ugly the beat-up exchange tank was with its blue, white, and red label for “AmeriGas,” and the stark contrast between its commercial offensiveness and the velveteen black wood stove serving as a lighter holder behind it, we wouldn’t have had much motivation to change. It was the moisture problem, on cold nights that glass door to the porch iced up, and if we hung a blanket in front of it, it only got wet and glued to the door, but that seemed like a small problem in contrast to everything else we had going on.
The truth was, we weren’t slackers. Sebastienne had her first semester as a PhD student, and solely the required reading was a fulltime job. The first months she was alternately inspired, exhausted, excited, and overwhelmed, and acted like someone who tries to speed through a marathon: sprint, stop, sprint, stop, or like the whippet mutt I had in Arizona who didn’t know how to walk or trot, she raced through the desert from shady bush to shady bush, under which she panted while waiting for me to catch up before she galloped to the next one. Pacing is key for any long distance runner, and by the second semester Sebastienne found her groove, her speed, and that refreshing second wind that carries you so much further than the first one. That all said to explain that she was busy and preoccupied and not much of a wood stove installer last fall. Not to mention that her mother had a worrisome illness that sapped any extra energy and joy her concerned daughter had left after a day of studying.
I spent most of the fall trying to find my groove, too. After two years of house building, I was disappointed by how little free time it freed up to be done. I had expected sleep-in mornings, peaceful afternoons reading philosophy on the back porch, lingering walks in the woods, and hours and hours of inspired writing every day, visions based on a convincing forgetfulness of the reality that I work at paid jobs four days per week, homeschool my daughter two days, and have gazillions of house chores. I did know that there would be a lot of house chores, but since I tend to enjoy those, and the house is small, I wasn’t worried. None of the tasks turned out to be in the least horrible or overwhelming, (I did write a little horror story about the first time I emptied the composting toilet, but I’ll save those juice details for the book.), but the sheer amount of chores was staggering.
Our daily consumption of five gallons of water for drinking, cooking, tea, dishes, tooth brushing, nose rinsing, and hand washing is very moderate compared to the average American household’s 300 gallons per day, and with a dispenser over the impromptu kitchen sink, and bucket to catch the drain underneath—the system is so smooth that we currently don’t consider any improvements. We always have at least one empty water jug on the floorboard of the car to be filled at our convenience at the grocery store or at Hannes’s and April’s house. Lugging water isn’t all bad, it’s easier and cheaper than plumbing, but it is heavy and splashes in your face, and if you’re in a bad mood, it makes it worse, particularly on a cold day, but at least we don’t have to carry the water on our heads and hike through the desert.
Then it was the laundry. We are the kind of people who wash all our sheets and towels and blankets every week—I have allergies, we have a dog, grossness is gross, clean is better, and we want our world to smell like drier sheets. I don’t mind the laundromat, it is fast and easy to get all you laundry done at once. The atmosphere can be a little gritty as it is frequented by the same people you always see at the driver’s license offices and the social security offices, (I have obviously spent time enough there to know.), but a little grit is fine with me. So there I am, surrounded by other people like myself who don’t own a washer or drier, and I’m no longer embarrassed if I drop my lacy string underwear or my shabby boy shorts on the floor, but I’m still embarrassed if the book I read has a cover from a movie, in particular if it involves a couple kissing, or something equally pathetic, and I go to great lengths to hide it from the toothless guy in overalls next to me, I don’t want him to think I’m reading a romance novel, I’m not, it’s not my fault that they made a movie out of a great book, and that of course they pick a love scene, because, face it, sex sells, but the book has so much more depth, it’s a different story, really. Really. I smile to the man, who takes note of me long enough to kindly return my greeting before he continues folding his laundry, unfazed by the potentiality that the girl in the big green Eskimo coat might be reading trashy fiction.
Everybody at the Laundromat folds their laundry, and their commitment to neatness makes me wonder why that ability hasn’t somehow been rewarded in life with their own set of washing machines. I stuff all our clothes, towels, sheets, and dog blankets in two laundry bags as fast as I can, efficiency is my motto, when the washer blinks “done,” I’m already ready with basket in hand, but I don’t fold our laundry there, something that makes me feel like I’m less organized than the overalls guy. I do fold them at home, stack white T-shirts with white T-shirts, colors with matching colors, even a separate pile for stripes, we have many stripes, and I fold our underwear, and match all the socks. We don’t own an iron, which will forever render me a wild teenage slacker in my mother’s eyes, but I think I’m rather neat. So yes, laundry. I don’t mind it, but it takes up more hours and energy than I think clean linens should be given, not to mention that we spend $50 a month at it. Even if does make financial sense to have our own washing machine, we don’t have any water, and our limited solar power system doesn’t currently give us enough electricity to power a toaster.
We could only afford one solar panel last year—it powers the battery to run our DC system and gives us enough electricity to have light in the evenings as long as we use LED light bulbs and it hasn’t been cloudy for more than three days in a row, but not enough to plug in the refrigerator that is currently used as a pantry. We hope that by the coming summer we can take some of Sebastienne’s student loans to buy three more panels, which should be sufficient to run our full AC system and give us enough electricity for the fridge and to charge our computers, phones, and Bluetooth speakers as much as we like, and we won’t need to buy ice three times a week. During the hottest months, we bought ice that we kept in Tupperware in the freezer pocket, which kept the fridge sufficiently cool to keep the arugula from wilting and the butter (EarthBalance or SmartBalance or whatever non-butter butter we currently use) from liquidizing. The Indian man who runs the gas station at the corner with the giant posters of women with breasts bigger than the beers they are holding and stomachs flat enough to never have had a sip of said beers, starts to look at us suspiciously after a couple of weeks:
“Only one bag of ice?” he always asks, and I always answer:
“Yes, only one bag of ice, please,” with my most “I’m-nice-and-proper-and-not-up to-anything-suspicious smile.”
“Okaaay, one bag of ice, $2.07,” he grunts and looks at me as if he doesn’t for a second buy that I’m not up to anything suspicious, and sighs as if I rob him dry by using his generous service of bagged ice without buying any of the beer that he so boob-a-lusciously markets. The gas station is one of those that is frequented by the same kind of people who use the Laundromat, (and the driver’s license offices and social security offices), and since I am there to notice, I can’t help noticing that I am there to notice.
I aim to take up life’s misadventures as unopposed experiences to string onto the necklace of memories from my trip to Earth, but despite the stubbornly self-created story that I’m still this upper middle class Swede who is out on an adventure in America: “Ooh, isn’t this exotic and fun, it is almost like real life!,” which is true to the extent that I have the social safety nets that spare me from wringing my hands at night, fearing for the safety and health of my children, which allows me to maintain a more playful stance toward our lack of money—I have a growing suspicion that my adventure among those who live from weekly paycheck to weekly paycheck has turned into a rather long sojourn.
Besides water, laundry, and ice we also have to replace the propane tanks regularly, both for our fancy camping stove with oven, and the heater (before we installed the woodstove). We also go to the gym five times a week, not only to get fit, but to use the showers, a luxury I have come to treasure more than I ever thought I could appreciate hot water from a faucet. With the car loaded with water jugs, propane tanks, laundry bags, gym clothes, shower stuff, groceries, computers, (we drag around our laptops to charge the batteries and mooch Internet), water bottles and nutritious snacks, because you never know, our more-crazy-than-not hound dog perched on a soft blanket, and a long-legged daughter carrying art supplies, giant puppets, and miniature wolf packs—we look like we are about to go camping whenever we go into town. We’ve been forced to let go of our old saying “I rather die than go twice,” (inherited from one of my dad’s old hunting buddies), referring to how we rather carry all the groceries at once than being forced to make two trips. On the second or third trip to the car through the dark on the cypress chipped path that separates us from mud and elevates us the side of civilized humanity, my otherwise so brave and optimistic wife gets something cloudy and despondent in her eyes, and I know that she thinks that this just isn’t any fun.
Seriously burnt out on house building and house projects, we were both so bored with the house that even if we enjoyed living there, we spent most of the fall dreaming of fun places to move once Sebastienne gets her PhD five years hence—London, southern California, Boulder, Colorado…somewhere easy and fun, maybe an apartment with a balcony with a view overlooking something more interesting than brush piles; running hot water to splash in our faces like they do in the movies, disregarding my sensitive eyes; a gym downstairs with a pool and a sauna in which we sweat our non-cellulite thighs; a bar around the corner in which I can drink beer without aggravating my asthma, and we go to listen to music several times a week and don’t feel in the least self-conscious or bored or awkward, and we won’t long home to crawl into bed with a good book and a cup of tea to quietly rest in each other’s company…
Not only were we busy with the general maintenance required to keep ourselves clean, warm, and full, etc., and bored at the prospect of continuing that maintenance to maintain a life in the Georgia woods while working for low paying jobs and lugging our own shit around—the wood stove became that one very important paper that we hadn’t started to write yet, and the first blank page got blanker and blanker and longer and longer until it seemed like it would take the kind of heroic effort that we know we are capable of, but only when the sun is shining, we have at least nine hours of sleep behind us, caffeine in our veins, and two unscheduled days generously spread out ahead with nothing else demanding our attention—that is to say, not very often. Whenever I mentioned the wood stove, Sebastienne got that look I recognize from my own face when I hear Alma’s too long doggie claws clickety-clacking on the wood floor, a look that says:
“Hush, pff, sigh, yeah yeah, I know I should, but it’s so difficult, and not now, first I have to, shh…”
We have never installed a wood stove before. We don’t know what to do. We know that it involves cutting a hole in the wall, and making sure that our house won’t burn down. Something needs to protect the wall, something needs to protect the floor, and something needs to get the smoke out. Something. John, endlessly enthusiastic and supportive, remains available for our questions, and keeps suggesting that we go to “Bollen’s Hearth Shop” north of Bremen, (Note here that I almost managed to mention it without adding that it isn’t Bremen, Germany. These days, if someone says “Athens,” I say “Georgia Bulldogs,” not Acropolis, I’ve been here too long.), a mere 30 minutes’ drive out of town. This seemingly sensible suggestion is laughable to those who know us well. We never drive out of town unless we absolutely have to. We never buy something in a store if we can buy it online, preferably on Amazon where we know our way around. We never go to a small store where we’ll be forced to talk to people if we can go to giant store and use self-checkout. We don’t ask for help if we can google it, even if stand next to an unoccupied store attendant and have to search for information on the phone. We rather drive to the grocery store to buy water from the dispenser located outside the store where you don’t have to talk to anyone than walk across the street to our sweet and kind neighbors who let us fill our water tanks for free from their well. We might have built our own house, something huge and brave in many people’s eyes, but we never ever call if we can text or email.
The life of a social introvert can seem confusing for those who think that human interaction is easy and always the same. If I was psychoanalytically inclined, I would probably wonder why my first reaction to seeing another human being outside of my immediate family, (that is, Ada and Sebastienne), tends to be a momentarily shiver of dread, but luckily I’m not interested in that can of worms. Rather than getting lost in reasons why, I follow the penguins’ advice from the movie Madagascar: “Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.” Similarly inclined, but differently gifted, Sebastienne uses the stork technique: By immersing herself completely in whatever she is doing: cooking, reading, or simply thinking—she is always trying to figure out one universe or another—she doesn’t see you, and by the introvert’s logic that means that you don’t see her, either, until she is ready to pull her head up out of the sand. Despite these tendencies, I don’t think we come across as shy, or even particularly awkward, not more than the Everyman. We are generally fond of the human species, (minus its tendency toward causing itself and other beings a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering), host genuine emotions like caring and fondness for our friends, and are known to not shut up once we get going. Sometimes we hide from having to greet an acquaintance, and at other times we seem completely uninhibited—we have directed and acted in plays in our community theatre, I’ve taught yoga for years, Sebastienne has more charm and charisma than a beehive full of honey (or so I think), and in our early courtship, under the influence of liquids and falling in love chemicals, we did body shots on the bar counter, and other equally inappropriate public displays of “affection,” but we know each other well enough to laugh and roll our eyes when the one of us says:
“Maybe we should just go to Bollen’s.”
“Yeah, right, haha.”
I wouldn’t say that we are complicated or particularly complex, as far as people go, a person doesn’t have to add up to make sense, or even make sense to be. I do occasionally feel like an annoying 90s rerun of “Beavis and Butt-head,” (which I actually never saw, we didn’t have cable): As soon as I say anything, make any claim, or express any preference or opinion, I hear this little devilish voice inside of me:
Most of the time, we compensate our laziness and antisocial tendencies with an ability to wiggle around until we find space within sticky situations, but the reluctance to step out of our comfort zone turned out to be a serious hindrance to get the stove pipe needed to install the wood stove. Home Depot is our go-to-store and has been so for the entire house building process. We know where everything is, we know each isle, and are comfortable enough with the employees to chat a word here and there, but we still refuse help to look for the right screws or to load the car. We know Home Depot, Home Depot is easy, Home Depot is right across the road from the Kroger that carries the dog food made from wild caught fish that our hound lives on, and sprouted bread, and almond butter, and has a water dispenser, and a Redbox for our Friday movie night. Home Depot is part of our world, our daily movements, and doesn’t require extra effort or courage. Home Depot doesn’t carry stove pipe.
Home Depot has a chimney kit you can order through their online store, but we can’t make the online store except our credit card, and Sebastienne doesn’t want to order through Amazon, since it would be too difficult to get spare parts, but she comes up with a clever solution: We go to the bank, we like our bank, they know us, we know them, they are nice and hand out lollipops and dog biscuits. It’s a drive-through, which makes it even better. We take out the $500 cash needed for the stove pipe kit, which we then take to the pharmacy where we buy a VISA gift card, drive to Hannes’s and April’s house to use the Internet, and finally order the stove pipe kit through the Home Depot website, hurray! This was in the end of January.
My birthday wish was to get the wood stove installed. Not primarily because it would be cozy to drink hot chocolate hazelnut milk in front of the fire, but to get rid of that uncomfortable itch I felt every day when I saw it standing there unused. Procrastination gives me stomach ache, I want to rip the bandage and get it done with. My birthday fell on a Thursday this year, and my hero, my wife, promised to set aside both Friday and Saturday to install the stove with me, days she normally studies. Two whole days, and the sun was shining, too! Hannes texted to say that the chimney kit had arrived, we technically still live with him and April, and receive our mail there, sometimes in the form of building supplies. I drove through the sunshine with a giddy “It’s finally happening! Is it finally happening?” feeling making my legs feel bouncy with anticipation. My life is so exciting.
The box didn’t fit in the car. The trunk door has got harder and harder to open to the point where it doesn’t matter how much we kick or booty bump it—we have to stick everything, including garbage bags, lumber, and other building material in from the passenger door, another reason why we don’t want people to help us load the car. Not to be deterred, I emptied out the box in the garage and loaded the content in piece by piece into the backseat, making sure that I didn’t lose any screws or instructions. Once I got everything back to the tiny house, the chimney kit filled the living room floor. After we had inspected it all, we realized that we still needed more pieces, which meant we wouldn’t be able to finish in the two lovely empty days ahead of us, and you could feel the giant, disappointing sigh hanging in the room.
John, who should have been named Jack for his ability to pop up, showed up to witness our rumored progress, which at that point wasn’t very impressive. He suggested that we go to Bollen’s.
“We are not going to do that. We’ll never go to Bollen’s.” Sebastienne finally confessed, half embarrassed, half defiant.
“I think Lowe’s carries stove pipe, too,” he then suggested, without showing too much surprise at our refusal. Lowe’s! Lowe’s is Home Depot’s twin just down the road. We bought the Roxul insulation for our roof there, and have no complaints besides that we don’t know the store layout as well, it is a three minutes longer drive, and is located next to Walmart instead of Kroger. Still, it didn’t seem too much of a hassle, we can handle Lowe’s.
Standing in front of their glorious stove pipe section, we saw that they had a whole chimney kit.
“Hrmph, it didn’t show up on their website, how should you know?” Sebastienne grumbled defensively to herself. I didn’t say anything, I hadn’t even looked online. They didn’t have the pipe we needed, though, the one that would match the kit we had bought online. One of the employees lumbered by with a cart full of something tall that I was too distraught to take a closer look at. Fueled by frustration, Sebastienne responded in affirmative when he wondered if we needed any help:
“Do you know of any other place in town that sell double walled stove pipe? We just need that one part (she pointed at the display drawing of a chimney), but you don’t seem to carry it.” The big man in his blue apron didn’t look to be much of a socialite, either, as he scratched something, furrowed his brow, and when he finally spoke, it sounded like he was wondering aloud to himself:
“I think there is that one place up in Bremen…”
“Bollen’s.” I suggested helpfully. Sebastienne snorted, she looked almost angry:
“Well, ha, we just don’t drive out of town.” To which the man just shrugged his shoulders and left. Sebastienne’s eyes met mine, we were too tired to laugh, but the laughter was there, teasing us, tempting us to see the hilarity in the situation our stubbornness had led us. After less than a minute of jaw clenching, Sebastienne gave me the look that she gives me right before she suggests something that she knows that she shouldn’t suggest, it goes against her better judgment, especially when she knows that I will say yes, I pretty much always say yes against any judgment if it means that I can get what I want sooner or easier. With a mix of hesitation and hope, both delighted and resigned to the fact that there is never anyone around to make us see reason, she blurts:
“We could just buy the stove kit here, the whole thing, then we can get all the parts today, and we’ll know where to find replacements. We just have to return the other one. Home Depot pretty much always take returns. I think even from their online store.” She drifts off at the end, that’s not the fun part.
“So we could have bought the whole thing here three months ago?” I laughed, I couldn’t help rubbing it in, it was too delicious to resist.
“It wasn’t on their website!” Her protests weren’t very defensive, she knew I was grateful that she had tried to order anything at all.
We bought the whole stove kit that day, found two square garden path rocks that fit perfectly under the stove, and got the right screws to attach the copper plate and porcelain spacers that we had decided to use as a fire wall. It was that easy.
Next morning, with hole saw in hand and a queasy, anxious smile:
“Do we have any alcohol at home?”
“I don’t think so…ooo!” I suddenly remembered that at our housewarming party Chris and Amy had given us a handful of tiny bottles, the kind that you get on airplanes, full of suspicious liquids. One was mouthwash blue and called “Kinky,” which I didn’t think would help this morning’s hole business, but there was another, less toxic looking bottle that promised whiskey and cinnamon and something as encouraging as “Caramba!” I poured it into the shot sized ceramic cup with cutesy hipster birds that we got from my mother, and thus fortified, Sebastienne cut a fourteen inch hole in our wall.
She started with the hole saw on the drill to open up a space big enough to get her hand in to remove the sheep wool, and once the insulation was gone, the jigsaw cut pie shaped pieces out of our pretty wall. To mark the location for the hole without turning the wall into Swizz cheese, Sebastienne drilled holes all around the edges from the inside, which were then relatively easy to follow on the outside with the jigsaw. All those years of “tracing the dots” finally paid off.
One crazy coincidence: Without too much measuring, we had decided on where the exhaust pipe should be based on that it couldn’t be too close to the loft ceiling above or the electricity line below, and relatively centered between the studs that we knew to be 16” inch apart. As we opened up the wall, we landed dead center in a 13 by 15 inch rectangle—we had apparently put random blocking and an extra stud right there. The hole should ideally have been 14 inches, but we made it work, grateful that we hadn’t decided on an inch over in either directions, which would have led to an awkward and chilly view of the woods.
We had long pondered how protect the wall from catching on fire without placing the woodstove in the middle of the room. Fire protection is even trickier than water resistance, our earlier building challenge, since you can’t simply add more surface—heat moves through most materials. The solution we came upon is both simple and beautiful: We ordered a 2×4 copper sheet via Amazon, which arrived rather bent and beat up, but after ten minutes of bending, folding, and stepping on it, and finally hitting it flat with a mallet—it had that beat up, scratchy look we like best. The important thing to remember with fire protection is the heat transfer, even the screws to attach the metal can’t touch the wood. Sebastienne found 1 inch porcelain spacers and plastic sleeves meant for the job, but the screws we bought were a little too long, a problem we solved by sawing them off to the right length. The result is quite amazing—the copper and the wall behind it, cooled by the 1 inch air gap, stay significantly cooler than any of the surrounding walls. We now wish we had bought a bigger piece of metal, which we probably will once the winter season is over and we’ll move the woodstove to clean the chimney.
The final installation challenge was the actual chimney. Any job that requires ladders is automatically my job, I love heights and grand views so much that my ex-husband planned to build a tower in the backyard to keep me content in suburbia, (yeah, he’s a pretty nice guy). The chimney didn’t require that high of a climb, I was a mere nine feet off the ground, but the tricky part was to get the six foot heavy and sleek metal pipe up and screwed into place.
“Esh, it will be fine!” My optimism soared this close to the finish line. Standing on that step on the ladder that says “this is not a step,” I hoisted up the chimney pipe as Sebastienne pushed below. As long as I had the bigger part of the six feet below me, or centered in my arms, all went well, but as the center of its gravity shifted upward, my balance got increasingly challenged. Leaning toward the house, I teetered, shivered, and sweated in my big coat.
It wasn’t working, I couldn’t give that final umph needed to lift the chimney in place without risking losing my footing.
“Abort mission. Backtrack. Backtrack.” Slowly, carefully, I slid the chimney down into Sebastienne’s waiting arms. Standing on the ground, again, looking up, we both huffed. We toyed with the idea of getting help and a longer ladder… I looked at the chimney. It was put together by three separate two foot long pieces.
“Hrmph. Does it really need to be six feet? I could easily get up four…and then we wouldn’t need help…” Sebastienne looked at me, I could see that she was trying to evaluate just how crazy my idea was. Of course she didn’t want to ask for help either, but…
“I guess it would be tall enough. It’s a pretty steep pitch, and we do have a metal roof…everything I read said that it needed to be two feet above the highest point within ten feet…but…the draft should be enough.” She bit her lip and shrugged her shoulders. I got the four feet up without too much hassle, and the stack looked plenty tall to both of us.
“Taller would just have been wobbly.” I commented convincingly. Sebastienne laughed:
We bend the rules a little, but not to the point of danger.
Wohoo! We the woodstove is installed! It only took us three months and two days. Now it is time to chop wood.
Our forest is a wonderful mix of pine and hardwoods, but as we cleared the land, we targeted mostly the young pines south of the house—they grow fast, don’t give any substantial shade during the summer, and block the desirable winter rays skimming the horizon. We have a lot of pine fire wood. As the first fires in our new wood stove revealed, the pine doesn’t burn hot enough to get out of the creosote zone, which means that we can’t use most of the firewood we had precut and dried. We’ll use it in the fire pit in the summer, it won’t go wasted, but it still means that we don’t have any cured wood ready to burn.
“We are a disgrace.” I cheerfully concluded. Sebastienne nodded in agreement:
“Yep. A complete disgrace to all homesteaders.” She didn’t sound too sad about our fall from grace either, as we loaded the small bags of firewood from God knows where into our shopping cart outside Kroger.
“Five dollars per bag…a bag lasts a day. Three bags won’t even last us until Thursday. And the whole reason we got a wood stove was that we have so much free wood! On eight dollars an hour, I have to work a lot to keep the house warm.” I don’t know why I sound so happy about it, besides my perverse fascination with the absurd and ridiculous.
“We weren’t prepared.” Sebastienne tried to defend our honor.
“We didn’t prepare, that’s why we aren’t prepared. It’s the end of February. What were we thinking?”
“We were thinking of other stuff. Next year, this year, we’ll be ready.”
As soon as Sebastienne gets out of school this summer, we’ll cut up the hardwoods we have laying around the land like a giant’s game of “pick up sticks,” rent a splitter from Home Depot, and get enough wood to last us from November through March. We’ll build a better and larger woodshed closer to the house, every step counts when it’s below freezing and you carry an armful of wood. Next year, this year, we’ll be ready.
HUGE THANKS TO JOHN LEBOWITZ!