Back in the stone age, when Carter and his cardigan held office, OPEC raised the price of oil and Americans got a serious case of “balls in a vice syndrome”. Carter, showing the problem solving abilities of a chipmunk, orated about malaise, turned down the thermostat, and suggested that ethanol subsidies might lead to “energy independence” in some distantly imaginable Utopian future. He subsequently lost his re-election bid in an electoral college stomping that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Go America!
My family, adapting to reality rather than wishing it away, ignored every word coming out of the President’s pointy head. We acquired one of those newfangled foreign cars that zipped circles around the ponderous battle cruisers churned out by Detroit and installed a wood stove. It was a lesson that stuck with me; don’t bitch, change!
I grew to love that wood stove. It was pretty. It smelled nice. It was cheaper than fuel oil. It was a great place to hang a Christmas stocking. Pond hockey is better if there’s a warm seat in front of a wood stove waiting for you. Etc… Nobody has fond memories of a furnace.
The stove itself was nothing more than a big metal box. It worked but it was crude. Like me! I’m glad we didn’t spend those years sitting on our ass wearing a sweater.
Fast forward several decades. It’s a brave new world. Many changes have been happy or at least bittersweet but generally with an aftertaste of stupid. We didn’t eliminate war, famine, and pestilence but we outlasted disco, the AMC Gremlin, and Tab soda. Russia never dropped the bomb but we bump around in the Middle East a lot. Microbrew beer was legalized but Sudafed is restricted. Plane tickets are cheap but the TSA does things that were once termed sexual assault. See what I mean? Change that is mostly for the better but not exactly intelligent.
Why do I mention this? Because in the time between my families metal box wood stove and the one I purchased, the EPA turned its Eye of Sauron upon wood stoves and created change that is a mixed bag of good and bad with an aftertaste of stupid. Fire, something mastered by Neanderthals, is now complex.
Modern wood stoves house intricate systems of baffles and heat exchanges by law. This isn’t all bad; they’re better at squeezing heat from wood and smoke considerably less. On the other hand who gives a shit? I don’t exactly live in Phoenix. If I don’t mow my lawn it’ll eventually run rampant with Pine and Aspen. Is it really a key value to conserve wood in an environment where it grows en masse? Didn’t the EPA go to great lengths to conserve the one material that literally “grows on trees”? Should I care about conserving something I can acquire in great quantities without spending a single dime? As for smoke, I live in a sparsely populated area. Me and all my neighbors could burn cars like a summer in Paris it wouldn’t add up to much. Count on the EPA to do things like that. They regulate the toilet tank reservoir for a guy who lives in a swamp, the wood consumption of a guy who owns a forest, and the wattage of bulbs I stick in a chicken coop. Smooth move fellas.
Time for a Curmudgeonly Gem Of Insight:
“My mental model of a wood stove is a metal combustion chamber with a flue. This was once true but the EPA drove a stake through it.”
“Modern woodstoves cost far more than you’d think; in part because they have stuff. Stuff breaks.”
Something in the stuff went south. The stove started smoking. It started making less heat. The draft wasn’t as efficient. It stunk up the house. In short, it began to suck.
I tried to figure out how to fix it but as far as I could tell, the internal baffles and crap were spot welded in place and I’d need to be a contortionist with a welding kit to do anything about it. In shame and misery, I put on a sweater and ran the furnace.
The furnace heats just enough to make life bearable but not much more. It takes wood to make the house “toasty warm”. I sat in a sweater and froze my ass off. It was just like the early 1970’s all over again.
This went on for several weeks. Finally I called a guy to “fix” my stove. Actually several guys before I could coax one to drive to the hinterlands (billing me every damn mile) and “fix” it.
What happened next was a surprise.