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Heating a 1,000 sq ft two-story house

 
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I just bought a 2-story wood frame house built in the 1950s in Susanville, CA. It has up-to-date insulation, but no heating system installed. I was looking at soapstone stoves, but they lack an effective means of circulating the heat throughout a home. I then started looking at rocket mass heaters, but ran into the same problem.

Right now there is a hookup for municipal gas, but I'd rather not use it (but will if it comes down to it).

Would installing an exterior wood burning heater work? I wold still have to install ducting (I'm in for this regardless, just  to get air moving throughout the house). It is a bit pricey, but I'd be willing to fork over the $$ if it meant staying off of municipal gas. I'm open to suggestions on alternative means of heating as well. Temps in the winter here can hover near 20 degrees Fahrenheit from mid-December through early March.
 
rocket scientist
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Hi Ben ;   Welcome to Permies!   And Welcome to the wonderful world of rocket science!

I grew up in a 1950's 2 story  wood framed house.   It had a basement though so we had oil heat.

To start, I recommend going ahead and hooking into the municipal gas system.
Get a wall heater for it. Install it preferably near your water pipes.  
And then strive to never need it to turn on.
As a backup heat source,  gas is a good steady alternative, much better than electric space heaters.

Now RMH's  are awesome as a heat source.
With one, your gas usage will be  tiny.
But like any single point heat system it will struggle to heat 1000 sq ft  with 4 or 5 rooms tightly packed with many wall's.
Options are limited to fans moving the warm air throughout the house (sure to be chilly in back bedrooms)
Or  if wood is easily available and city regulations permit. Then a larger RMH in the main room and tiny brick bell batchboxes in back bed rooms might be a good choice.
Tell us a little about your house layout.
Is there  a crawl space underneath to have proper support for a larger RMH?
What about existing chimneys?

EDIT)  I just reread your post and wanted to comment on the outdoor wood burner systems.
They work... BUT...
They require electricity to blow the air...
The real issue with them, is the nonstop huge clouds of smoke that will cover the area...
This is where a clean burning RMH really shines...
Nothing but steam or heat shimmers will be coming from your chimney!




 
steward
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we live in a similar sized house. open floor plan on main floor and 2 rooms upstairs. Wood framed.

We have been heating it with a fisher wood stove which i put about 500 pounds of bricks around it to add to the slow release of the fire, along with some modifications to the woodbox/smoke baffle. ( i would upgrade this to a masonry heater anyday!) We use about 3 cords of sawmill offcuts. I would love to see this come down to 1 cord per year.

We only rely on the wood stove for heating. It works fine for us. Gas is not really an option here.

The best thing we have done is slow the air which goes upstairs. We do this by having a heavy blanket/curtain on the stairwell. It could also be a door.

This tends to keep upstairs more moderate instead of stifling hot. and it also keeps the main floor much much warmer. Having the air slowly move upstairs helps big time.

Yea there are rooms which are not as warm as the main room, however i do not spend more than a few minutes/seconds in these rooms a day. No need to keep it more comfortable.

The other big thing we have found works well is keeping blankets around and using hot bricks wrapped in a cloth. It does way better than trying to heat all of the air up.

I actually prefer to have some of the house cooler than the rest for storing goods as if they were closer to the stove they would degrade quicker. Storing things like squash/potatoes/dry goods/ fermenting wines/meads/sauerkraut.


My opinion is to work with the different temps within the house to your advantage.


We do use a small 16W fan to circulate the warm air when it is colder in the house.
Also try and put the heater you choose in the area you spend the most time in.

 
Ben Marko
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I need to install some sort of ducting throughout the house as there isn't any means of moving air and the upstairs rooms get stuffy. I thought a simple fan system would work fine. 4-inch can fans worked for me when I lived in Joshua Tree and barely use any electricity. There's only two small 10x12' bedrooms upstairs, along with an 8x7' bathroom.

I was looking at an external wood heater as they don't blow much smoke and are pretty efficient. But they do burn more wood than a RMH.

For a water heater I plan on a tankless gas model. There's only three of us in the house, and demand will be on the low end, even with municipal gas. I'll be junking the existing water heater, as it is old and isn't very efficient.

I even thought of geothermal heat (there are, um...seven volcanoes to the northeast), but that doesn't seem practicable given the small yard - though there is room to put down two 30' pipes.
 
pioneer
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As someone with an All-Electric style wood frame house from the 50's, I am also considering adding ducting to my house if and when I choose to go a forced-air route.  Considering your situation, would it be possible for you to work out a system of ductwork whereby only the air from the hottest room is circulated to other spaces?  What I mean is you wouldn't necessarily be connecting the ductwork to a furnace, or the RMH itself, but using electricity to move the hottest air in the house to other areas.  Dampers in the floor vents can control what percentage of air is introduced into a room, giving the user a lot of control over the distribution.  In the event you lose electricity, you still have heat via your RMH.
 
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