Friday, July 20, 2007

Rough Draft

As the wet snow pelts your windows, there’s nothing like curling up in front of the wood stove, slurping a mug of hot cocoa, and relaxing to the sound of a crackling fire while you gently blacken your walls and lungs with creosote.

All Mainers, at one time or another, will toy with the idea of switching to wood heat. We’ve got all these trees around, and they don’t seem to be doing much for us.

Meanwhile, a week’s worth of heating oil costs more than a Nintendo Wii video game console, which means many Maine families will face some tough choices this winter.

For my family, the choice was an easy one. Our oil furnace is old enough to donate to the Maine State Museum. We spend a lot of time worrying about losing power in a bad winter storm or in a cataclysmic, civilization-ending catastrophe that will result (sooner than you'd think) from the Bush Administration's Spongebob Squarepants-inspired energy policy.

So we're putting in a wood stove. Here's what you need to know if you decide to do the same.

First, check with your fire department for information on how to meet codes. If you neglect to do this, and your house burns down, your local insurance agent will be happy to help you put your life back together by snorting in a condescending manner.

The stove must be located a certain minimum distance from any flammable surfaces, which will force you to install it in the exact center of the largest room of your house (or, if you have a small house, in the driveway).

Your chimney must be a certain height, too. Construct your chimney so that it is at least 45 feet taller than the highest point on your roof. Your chimney should require a giant red blinking light after dark.

As for the stove itself, make sure you find out if it has a catalytic converter, a porcelain-type, honeycomb-shaped device that traps smoke and burns extra pollutants and evil spirits out of it. This creates more heat for your home, but reduces the entertainment value of your stove by making it unlikely that you'll experience a raging chimney fire.

Still, the catalytic converter seems like a good deal, until you find out that many of the things you would commonly burn in your stove can damage the device, including cardboard, wet wood, lighter fluid, gasoline, painful love letters or photos, DNA samples, Uncle Clem's long-lost lucky briefs, and marshmallows.

If you plan on burning anything besides pristine ash or cherry logs that have seasoned for 12 years, consider a non-catalytic stove or an open camp fire, preferably stationed on ceramic tile, near a window.

Other factors in deciding what stove to get might include whether it's made of solid cast iron or welded steel, whether it has grates and an ash pan for easy cleaning, what size log it can take, and (most importantly, if your wife is like mine) what it looks like. All other considerations evaporate in the presence of a “cute matte finish.”

It seems like my wife could have crafted energy policy for the Bush Administration.

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