Published on Thu, Sep 20, 2007
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Home Improvement

Economical electric stoves save money by ‘zone heating’

By Jack Kintner

Fall this year begins at precisely 2:51 a.m. on Sunday, September 23, a time when most people will be snuggled into bed, the nights having gotten both colder and longer.

“That’s when people come to see us about stoves and heaters,” said Jerry Thramer of Innovations for Quality Living, one of several area appliance stores that sell wood and gas-fired stoves.

The dry heat from a wood fire with the crackle of the kindling and smell of smoke is an appealing way to turn a drab fall day into a put-up-your-feet-and-watch-the-ball-game kind of day.

If you’ve been thinking about adding something like this to your house, here’s what Thramer had to say about your options, similar to those that can be found at five other stores in the area listed at the end of this story.
Stoves are fired by wood, pellets of wood, natural gas or propane.

Additionally, there are electric models that can be placed anywhere, the flame a projection on to an internal pane of glass. One version looks like a picture of a glowing row of barbecue briquettes that can hang on the wall, but it also can put out a lot of heat.

All the electrics Thramer has show burning flames or put out heat, or both, all from a regular 110-volt wall outlet.

It’s probably the ultimate in hassle-free stoves because there’s never any wood to chop or chimney to clean, and you can use the model that looks like a massive fraternity house fireplace as a decorative accessory in any room in the house.

The electric models also come in versions that can serve as a fireplace insert, or that look like a free-standing wood stove. The effect, when they’re new at least, is strikingly realistic, and they don’t need special permits. “It’s like buying a lamp,” Thramer said, “just take it home and plug it in.”

The advantage of gas, propane or wood heat is, of course, that they will still work when the electrical power goes out.

They’re economy is based to an extent on the concept of zone heating, where you heat only the part of your house you’re using. They heat convectively, that is, by heating up nearby air that then rises in the room or dwelling and is replaced by colder air that’s also heated and so on.

Most models can be installed to use outside air as a source of oxygen to support combustion, something Thramer said is a good idea. “Why send the air you’ve just heated outside, up the chimney,” he said, “when you can keep it in the room and use outside air to keep the fire going?”

Air isn’t a very good conductor of heat, so the best way to get it warm and keep it in a room is not to heat it directly with the fire but to heat materials, such as cast iron, bricks, stones, ceramics and other heavy materials that have what’s know as thermal mass.

They warm up slowly, hold the heat and let it dissipate slowly, by which time all the air in the room has circulated by and has been warmed.

For example, if you bake your potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil you know that once the foil is removed it cools off so quickly you can hold it in your hand, but the potato stays warm for a long time, because the potato has a lot more thermal mass than the foil and both heats up and cools down much more slowly.

My home office is a converted double garage with a concrete slab floor. My wood stove is the smallest one I could find, but after a day of heating with a few pieces of firewood the slab stays warm for an extra day.

Wood is making a comeback, Thramer said, because of the rising cost of gas and propane. This includes both regular stoves that burn firewood and pellet stoves that burn hybridized “blends” of combustible woods as well as other prepared materials such as kernels of corn. In the midwest stoves are made that burn corn cobs.

“Interestingly, it’s illegal to burn anything BUT wood in a wood stove,” Thramer said, “including garbage, paper, tires, even presto logs (because they’re partly made of paraffin).”

He said that abundant and hot burning coal has not been used as a stove fuel in Washington state for twenty years or more, and Thramer said that it’s been a long time since he’s seen any even at the national shows, because the stoves must be built to withstand such intense heat and have a shaker grate to get rid of unburned clinkers.”

The same thing is true of the football-size pieces of coke that people collect by the tracks around Intalco, because while it burns readily it’s much to hot for any of these products.

For gas stoves in the area there are places like Birch Bay and Blaine that have natural gas service and others that don’t.

The alternative is propane, up until this year a difficult option for some because of requirements that a large tank be a certain distance from a house.

“But now they have smaller tanks of 150 gallons that can go right next to a house. The propane company will lease them to you just like the big tanks, and that’s enough fuel to run a stove for a year. The more you run, of course, the more you have to fill it,” Thramer said.

Some homeowners prefer to run major appliances on gas, such as furnaces, stoves, fireplaces or fireplace inserts, outdoor barbecues, dryers and hot water heaters. Except for hot water heaters, appliances designed for propane can be readily converted to natural gas by simply changing some of the internal jetting.

Thramer said that Innovations (as most other stores) offers one-day installation, including setting up a chimney and getting the permitting (if required). It may or may not affect one’s homeowner’s insurance.
So the choices are gas, propane, wood or electricity in stand alone, insert or designer installations such as the one that hangs on the wall like a big-screen TV.

Other unique designs include a gas outdoor firepit that can be assembled as a kit for $200 to $500 depending on options, a ceramic outdoor patio warmer called a chiminea that looks like a Mexican oven and a corner cabinet that has a gas fireplace in its top half.

“The technology has come a long way,” Thramer said, “with a lot of zero-clearance units that allow for these kinds of installations. It used to be that they had to be three feet from a combustible surface, but now it’s just a matter of a few inches.”

Fill winter garden void with kale

By Roderick Pagnossin
Good Karma Plant Farm

Fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest can be a long, dark time.
It is difficult to find plants that can be grown outside in our climates that provide much needed color and endure such extreme conditions. No other plants will fill this void like flowering cabbages and flowering kale plants.

To liven up the entrance areas or other focal points, plant a grouping of these hardy, easy to grow plants. They will laugh at wind, rain, sleet or snow. As the weather gets colder, winter cabbages or kales become more intense in color.

Most varieties are found in garden centers this time of the year and are a great bargain as they grow for at least six months, lasting thru March. The common colors of these plants are green with contrasting purple or green with contrasting white. Plant them in an area where they will receive at least a few hours of sun a day.

They will command attention if planted as a group, or place several in a large pot or planter. Enjoy winter flowering cabbages and winter flowering kale plants.

Fall is perfect time to install gutters

Gutters are essential to protect a home’s siding and foundation against water damage. Unfortunately, because they are used so often they get damaged regularly.

Some damages are minor and easy to repair; but some are so extensive that it’s easier to install an entirely new gutter system than repairing the existing one.

There are many different types of gutters available but the best type to install is snap-together vinyl. These gutters are moderately priced and almost completely maintenance-free. They don’t distort over time the way metal gutters tend to do and if they dent, just pop it out. Vinyl gutters are easiest to install, though many environmental groups say the manufacturing of such vinyl contributes harmful toxins into the environment.

Tip: Ladder Safety
Use an adjustable ladder stabilizer that attaches to your ladder and braces on the roof. This helps keep the ladder from slipping and allows you to work on the gutters that are directly in front of you. It is important to brace the feet of the ladder. Put the ladder feet on blocks and then drive a stake into the ground so that it is right behind the ladder feet.

Step 1. Plan the gutter run and make a map of your house before you buy any gutters. Figure out how long the gutter run is, how many downspouts you need and the length of the downspouts. If your old gutter system worked well, copy it. That is, put the downspouts where the old downspouts were, etc. Your local hardware store can help you figure out which vinyl gutters work with your house.

Step 2. Snap chalk line to guide gutters. There are two ways to mark the slope of your gutters. If the gutter run is less than or equal to 35 feet put the high point of the run at one end and slope the gutter down to the other end where the downspout is. The high point is one inch down from the top of the fascia (the board from which the gutters hang) and the slope is one inch every 10 feet. If the gutter run is more than 35 feet put the high point in the middle of the run and slope it down to the downspouts on each side. Again, the high point is one inch down from the top of the fascia and the slopes are a quarter inch every 10 feet. Mark the slope by snapping the chalk line so that you have a guideline when putting up the gutters. Have someone hold one end while you hold the other.

Step 3. Install downspout outlets. Attach the downspout outlets using one of the 1-1/4-in. deck screws and a power screwdriver (a power screwdriver makes the project go along much faster).
The downspout outlets should be even with the chalk line and lined up so that the downspout attaches at the edge of the house. These outlets won’t be at the extreme end of the run because the roof goes out farther than the house. In Step 7, attach small sections of gutter at the very end left of the roof.

Step 4. Attach gutter hangers. Fasten the gutter hangers to the fascia every 24 inches. Start attaching them using 1-1/4-in. deck screws about 1-in. away from the ends of the roof to give the gutter support at the ends and to make room for the end cap. Make sure that you are following the chalk line so that the gutters are angled properly.

Step 5. Attach gutter corners. Attach the corners that don’t have downspouts and should not be the end of the run.

Step 6. Attach end of gutter run and cut gutters. Cut the gutter sections with the hacksaw so they fit between the downspout outlet and the end of the roof. The section should go from about the middle of the downspout outlet to the roof end. Put the end cap on and snap the section into the downspout outlet and hook the gutter onto the hanger. Cut the other sections so that they go between the downspout outlets. Remember that the gutter section starts from about the middle of the downspout outlet.

Tip: Cutting Gutters
When cutting gutters, you need a solid base to work from, so turn the gutter upside down and have it resting on the ground or a piece of wood as you cut.

Step 7. Hang gutters. Make sure to do this step on the ground. Connect the gutter sections together using the connectors by snapping them onto the gutter sections. For a run less than 35 feet, attach the end cap to the end without an outlet. Now, with the help of another person, hang the gutters. The other person needs to hold one end while you snap the gutter into the outlet and while you hook the gutter onto the hangers.

Step 8. Attach the beginning of a drainpipe As for the downspouts, cut a piece of drainpipe so that it fits between the downspout elbow on the outlet and the downspout elbow on the wall.

Put the elbows on the pipe and snap it onto the outlet. Use a drainpipe hanger to secure the other elbow to the wall.

Step 9. Install a drainpipe cut to another piece of drainpipe that fits between the elbow on the wall and one foot above the ground. Snap the drainpipe into the elbow at the top and attach another elbow to the bottom.

Fasten a drain pipe hanger at the lower elbow. Cut a section of pipe to funnel the water away from the base of your house - this length is personal preference.

Use a plastic splash block to protect your house from water seeping back toward the foundation.

Courtesy of TrueValue