I’ve been meaning to do a post about how we decided to position our Esse Ironheart woodstove, but have been reminded by a new reader who is about to purchase an Ironheart and is curious about how best to site the stove in her home. Welcome Catriona and thanks for prompting me to get to a post that’s been brewing for a long time!
We found the Ironheart by chance and are we ever grateful for that bit of serendipity in our lives. When we decided to purchase our patch of land and embrace the need to build a new home on it (as the land came without any significant buildings on it), it didn’t take us too long to decide to build a concrete or ICF home (insulated concrete forms). But we didn’t know much more than that and simply started reading whatever we could on sustainable energy options for homes and on modern house design.
An article in a green homes magazine showcased a home with an Esse Ironheart integrated into its kitchen. My husband was immediately smitten and started researching the Ironheart in earnest. Everything we read told us that this would be a smart investment: a heating source that made use of renewable fuel (trees) and burned as cleanly and efficiently as any woodstove ever had. It was a bonus that we could plan to cook and bake on it, but those additional features seemed quite abstract at the time.
Armed only with the theory of the Ironheart, we proceeded to design a home that positioned the Ironheart very centrally in the main living space, but still made use of a natural gas furnace and an electrical range in the kitchen.
We moved into our home in the late fall of 2010, and that first winter we were blown away by how incredibly well the Ironheart performed and how amazing an ICF home was at retaining that heat. In summary, we’ve learned:
1. The Ironheart is indeed as good as it gets; the heat it puts out is incredible, the options for controlling that heat are amazing, and you can see it igniting the wood gas and burning everything inside the box. It truly is a deeply efficient woodstove.
2. Combining the Ironheart with a home made out of concrete has been a double whammy: we can easily achieve tropical beach temperatures in our main living area (ie 27 degrees celsius and upwards, or high eighties and upwards for you fahrenheit folks) if we don’t regulate the size of fire and rate of burn. Additionally, our concrete house holds onto that heat incredibly well: on a typical cold winter’s evening (remember, we are in eastern Ontario in Canada and it can go down to minus 30 degrees celsius) we would wind down the Ironheart’s output in the early evening (ie the woostove started cooling down then). In the morning, the main living area of the house would still be holding steady at between 18 and 20 degrees celsius (again, very comfortable sleeping/living temperatures) in spite of the cold outside.
3. We only need about four good-sized logs to heat our home on a typical winter’s day; you can read more about our wood consumption here.
4. The Ironheart gets to cooking and baking strength very quickly: on a cold winter’s morning, we could be frying eggs on top within 15 minutes of lighting the fire and baking in it after about an hour.
5. Smokin’ hot the Ironheart is (I sound like Yoda!): standing in front of the Ironheart’s woodbox, stirring a pot on top of the stove one morning, my husband called out to me that my denim skirt was smoking. I’d forgotten to pull the hanging screen across to create a shield between me and the woodstove, and I very nearly regretted that oversight!
6. We could have gone without the natural gas furnace that we installed at the time of construction; we heated our home nearly 100% from the Ironheart this past winter, and realize we could do it completely, even without making any further changes to our woodstove infrastructure. It’s a bit frustrating realizing this, but on the other hand we know the traditional furnace will still make our home more sale-able should we decide to move in the shorter term (no plans to do so however!).
Some key things to tell you about our home’s layout
1. Our ICF home is a bungalow with a walkout basement. Its north side is nestled in the side of a hill, making the front of the house appear very small; it’s the south-facing side that is full of windows on both levels to make the most of passive solar gain.
2. We designed the main floor with the following things in mind:
i) We wanted one large main living area that could be easily closed off from the rest of the house should we ever need to heat it exlusively using the woodstove for an extended period of time in extremely cold weather. With that in mind, our ‘great room’ includes the kitchen, dining area and living room. It has four exits: a single door to our mudroom (seen next to the kitchen in one of the images above), a door out to our screened in porch (next to the woodstove itself), a single door to our bedrooms in the hall beyond the great room, and double doors leading to our front hall/entry and to an open set of stairs down to our lower level.
ii) Cool bedrooms are completely desirable to us, so having them outside of the main area being heated works well.
iii) We deliberately made the design of the house very open in the front hall, where stairs lead to our lower level, as we liked the open feel and design features it made possible (including a reading bench and bookshelves on the landing of the stairs), and hoped it would help with air circulation in the house (it does, but not enough).
Some particulars about our woodstove’s installation and positioning
1. The tiled area underneath the Ironheart is wonderful and is exactly the size it needs to be; I’m grateful to our builder for his knowledge and attention to detail in this.
2. The position of the Ironheart within the room it occupies is perfect and I wouldn’t move it an inch; I love how handy it is to the kitchen and the dining table, it’s a perfect focal point from every spot in the room, and it’s just right where it is. I would never consider placing an Ironheart physically in the middle of a room (ie rather than on the perimeter), as it wasn’t really designed for that kind of installation and it just gets so damn hot. It just feels right being along a wall.
3. Our woodstove is positioned the recommended distance (for Canadian woodstove standards – about 14 inches) from the wall behind it and had no special treatment (ie no heatproofing, no tiling). We have noticed that the painted wall behind the stove becomes incredibly hot when the Ironheart is at full strength, and so we are planning to install some kind of heatproof layer to the wall before our next heating season. It’s incredible to know that some UK homeowners have the Ironheart positioned flush to neighbouring cabinets and counters in their kitchens; that doesn’t seem safe somehow!
Things we wish we’d done differently and which we are addressing
1. We should have ordered the woodburning insert for the firebox. Our model came with the standard coal burning insert that is commonly used in the UK (where this stove is designed and made), and we are still using it that way (we are awaiting a wood insert, but the Esse Ironheart rep has not been very communicative – that’s another story).
2. We should have got more involved to ensure that our model would come with hob lids; we left the order in our builder’s hands and unfortunately the stove came without the lids. Those lids, when we get them, will undoubtedly help with controlling heat output (which is particularly important for us being in our way-too-easy-to-heat concrete house).
3. We can’t get a whole lot of heat from the Ironheart – amazing as it is – down to the lower level of our walkout bungalow. We’re seriously looking at installing the optional hot water add-on (with two radiators) in order to better distribute heat from our woodstove to our lowel level. That is a whole other post, and I will address it very soon.
Upcoming posts on the Ironheart will include:
- more specifics on the amount of wood we burned each day during our heating season, the tools we’ve come to rely on and maintenance of the woodstove
- our plans for installing the optional hot water system with radiators and how we might have designed elements of our home differently had we had firsthand experience of the Ironheart
- plans for cooking during the hot weather months (trust me, these do not include the Ironheart!)
NOTE: My husband would like it placed on record that he cleans the window of the Ironheart before every new fire, which is why the window to the firebox in these shots looks so grimy.