As winter wanes

After a great many weeks with more days in the minus twenties than we care to count, temperatures in our neck of the woods have bounced upwards recently. Getting outside for a ski, a snowshoe or just to do chores, has been much more enticing on these milder days, though in the evenings we invariably find ourselves clustered back around the woodstove.

Of course, the pets need no excuse; they curl up by the Ironheart whenever it pleases them, which is often. And when we can, we curl up with them.

The Ironheart in winter

It’s only taken us four winters, but we finally figured out how best to place our furniture in relation to our Ironheart woodstove.

Sofas placed around Ironheat woodstove

Early on in the season we had a fundamental rethink about our main living space, which is one large room with a kitchen at one end and a living area at the other with the Ironheart in the middle. When we moved in, we almost unthinkingly placed our dining table in the centre of the room and next to the Ironheart. It made practical sense, given that meals are served from that end of the room, but somehow it never felt right. It really didn’t make the most of Ironheart and opportunities for enjoying its warmth and the glow from the firebox.

Suddenly, this winter, we realized that the dining table really belonged over by the large windows at the far end of the room and our sofas felt most at home right in front of the Ironheart. Now, we have a room that just makes sense for us, with our dining table still near the warmth of the Ironheart, but able to give us views to the outdoors and abundant daylight, and our sofas ideally positioned to maximize exposure to the Ironheart. It’s where we read, chat, play games, think about work or even get a little work done, snack or enjoy a casual meal, hang out with our furry friends (Petkid’s readers will know that we now have two kittens as well as Reggie the labrador retriever), and just generally live. It has made the Ironheart even more central to how we live, and that’s made this winter that much better.

You can read more about how we decided to physically position our Ironheart in our ICF bungalow in this previous post.

The fuel that keeps warming you

Dead elm tree in segments

We live an area affected quite significantly by Dutch Elm disease and the Emerald Ash Borer. Anyone familiar with pictures from our land will know that it’s dotted generously with dead trees standing amongst the living. For the most part, this represents wood that we will get around to harvesting as and when we can.

Heading into this winter, we were aware of a large elm behind our house that really needed to come down. We also knew we wouldn’t tackle it on our own. It was simply too close to the house and we’re just not that experienced with felling trees. We called the experts in, and one morning they came, felled it and cut the trunk into 16-inch lengths. Sadly, I was out the morning this happened, and I only got to hear about it afterwards from my husband and our youngest son. Apparently, the tree made a fantastic ‘whomp’ when it hit the ground, shaking even our concrete house. I wish I had been at home for that!

Later that day, Reggie had a blast exploring the tree that was now laid out across our back lawn, a broken echo of its former self.

Dog exploring fallen tree


If you’ve never tried to split elm, you don’t know true frustration. It’s a fibrous wood that hangs on and puts up a fight. This was definitely the year to invest in a better axe than the one we’d been using, and my husband put in the research before making a final choice. It’s from Fiskars and it’s every bit as good as the reviews said it would be. Part one of the clear up was splitting those 16-inch lengths into logs for the woodstove and hauling them over to the chicken coop where our outdoor wood storage sits.

Father and son at wood splitting time

Fortunately, our youngest loves to use the handcart for hauling just about anything, but especially wood. Which meant that cutting up the thin branches for kindling fell in large part to me.

Clipping branches

Our older boy came home from a shift at the library in time to help out with branch clean up and raking.

Clearing up after a felled tree

Happy to help in his own way, Reggie snagged bits of branches here and there and generally kept the mood fun.

Dog with a stick in his mouth

Wood is that amazing fuel that warms more than once. It warms when you cut it down, again when you split and haul it for seasoning and storage, again when you carry it indoors (when perhaps you also split larger logs before burning), and finally when it burns. How good is that?

Firing up the Ironheart: The first woodstove meal of the year

Beef stew with Guinness

It’s official, Ironheart weather is here (that’s woodstove weather, if you’re not familiar with this particular British export). We’ve had a couple of burns already this year, and yesterday I cooked our first meal of the season in the stove.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef & Ale Stew, which lends itself beautifully to a slow cook in the Ironheart, stretched over about three hours. A 350-degree conventional oven works fine too (and is what Oliver created his recipe for).

The recipe calls for stout or Guinness, and I’ve always used Guinness and love its particular flavour. The only modification I make is to add some spuds, as I can’t imagine a beef stew without potatoes (though Oliver seems particularly inclined to beef stews which include everything but).
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How long is your woodstove’s burn time?

Hot embers in Ironheart woodstove after 17 hours burn time

Long winter nights mean that keeping the fire going in your woodstove is essential; being able to stir up still hot embers in the morning means it’s easy to relight or rekindle a fire for a new day’s burn.

How about a burn time of 17 hours or longer? We haven’t been in the habit of timing our woodstove, though I have written before about just how efficient our Esse Ironheart woodstove is and how very little wood we need to burn to keep our ICF house warm during the winter (photo below). The other day, at around minus 15 Celsius (that’s 5 Fahrenheit), my husband noticed at 5.30pm that our firebox was full of red hot embers some 17.5 hours after last adding a log at 10pm the night before. Being able to forget about tending the fire for that long is a common occurrence around here, but we just hadn’t taken note fully before. It is worth saying here that we have the wood burning insert for the Ironheart and that we had a lot of ash banked up at the time of feeding the fire that last time.

Four logs of wood in front of Ironheart woodstove

There are a number of factors that will affect burn time, including the kind of wood burned, how well stacked the wood is within the firebox, air flow/control, and so on – all of which my husband works to optimize regularly – but what we think we’ve been able to demonstrate here is just how incredibly efficient the Esse Ironheart woodstove is, particularly when combined with ICF (insulated concrete forms) house construction. Getting a long burn time is one thing, but having a house envelope that can hold that heat in is naturally going to extend that time. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with other Ironheart owners here over the past few years, some of whom are having to feed their Ironhearts much more than we do, largely because they have a house that requires more continual heat input.

There are great pleasures in tending to and feeding a fire in a woodstove, as my husband will attest. Is burn time important for you? (I bet it is if you chop and haul your own wood.) What woodstove routines do you relish?