Winter is coming! Crazy, we know. It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were hunkering down for our first winter in our off grid cabin, but in reality we’ve been gearing up to face this year’s winter for months now. Yes, we really have been planning for winter all summer long, and we’ve needed all the time we’ve had, and more!
Last year we stayed warm by moving our RV into a tiny cabin / RV garage combo that we built from scrap material that we gathered for pennies. It was simple to heat and winterize, and that’s what we plan to do this coming winter too. If all goes well, we will start building our home next year, bur for now it’s a better choice for us to keep maintaining what we have rather than start a such a big, daunting building project right away.
Spending the winter in a travel trailer isn’t an ideal living situation for a lot of people, but it works just fine for us. However, we spent the past few months making some big improvements in our winterizing cabin to make it more snug and efficient for this coming season. We’ll be dressing as warmly as possible, of course, but we want to do a better job of heating our living space as well.
Last Winter’s Stove Setup: Adequate but Not Ideal
Because we arrived at our property late in the season last year, we had to make do with crappy firewood. Most of our supply came from soggy mill ends and they were hard to burn. This year we are more prepared- we’ve been harvesting out own firewood for months and now have a good supply stocked up. But there was one problem that we only just solved; installing a better wood stove in our cabin.
The stove we used last year was adequate, but we wanted an upgrade. On the coldest nights last year, the firebox was too small to bank with enough wood to last until morning, so we had to get up in the night to restock it. This messed with our sleeping schedule and left us uncomfortable and groggy.
For this reason, we were thrilled to come across a (much bigger) old fisher wood stove at a yard sale for about $100. We’re not going to lie, this stove was a big ol’ rust bucket when we came across it, though there wasn’t any damage that a few quality hours with a wire brush couldn’t fix. Now our new-to-us stove is gleaming and should be ideal for our heating needs.
Our previous stove had a six inch chimney and was only single wall. Frankly, we dodged a bullet that it lasted all winter without problems, and we didn’t want to test our luck again. We don’t recommend this size, and this coming year we’ll be using a triple wall chimney instead.
Installing our new chimney proved to be a tricky problem. Our cabin isn’t anywhere near airtight (in fact, we like it that way- a little ventilation is a good thing!) but that doesn’t mean we wanted all our hot air leaking out where the chimney connects to the ceiling. It was necessary to proceed with caution in order to set our system up correctly and safely.
Note: If you have building codes in your area you won’t legally be allowed to build a chimney system like this. An EPA-approved chimney pipe will be needed instead.
Updating Our Heating System for Maximum Efficiency
When we installed our old stove pipe last year, we wanted to do a through-the-wall installation that meant we needed to go through the roof. We chose to do this over the eave so that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t water tight- it would just leak outside! For this new chimney, however, we needed to go right through our main roof.
How do you fit a 12 inch diameter chimney through the roof without getting leaks? It’s not easy. Things were more complicated because our roof is corrugated metal and a 45 degree angle, making it difficult to find the right size flashing. We ended up with a “maxi flashing”, a big, rubberized piece of flexible flashing that looked like overkill but turned out fine.
In order to make the perfect cut for our ceiling, we found a calculation on the internet (thank you Google!) that worked great for the measurement we needed.
Installing the chimney cap took us a while, but we finally got it done. We also took advantage of our stove swap to upgrade our hearth in order to get more thermal mass and extra heat. When the stove was finally installed like we wanted it, we tried it out just to make sure we weren’t going to burn our house down.
Readying Ourselves for a New Winter Season
The good news? It worked great! A laser thermometer showed that the temperature right where the stove pipe met the roof was about 80 degrees- well within the safe range for our home.
Our new stove is set up and we are looking forward to a snug, cozy second winter in our winterized cabin setup (plus soaking in our new wood-fired cedar hot tub that we built prior to building our home). Prepping for the cold during summer and fall was occasionally a pain, especially when we’d rather be foraging for wild food and going crazy with canning, but we know that all our efforts will be worth it when we have a warm home to retreat to all winter long.
The last things we need to do to be 100% ready for winter are upgrade our off grid water system (hint… we have a 1,700 gallon direct-bury cistern waiting to be installed!) and put the finishing touches on our solar power system. The race is on… what can we get done in another month? Stick around to find out!
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