Using wood to heat my home, get hot water and cook

Key considerations for sustainable living in cooler climates are space heating and hot water. And of course, in any climate it’s also important to consider how we cook our food.

In our converted barn in the Scottish countryside, we made the decision to go with Rayburn. It’s a cast iron wood burning stove which is our cooking stove in the winter, with a rear boiler that heats our hot water and connects to space heating radiators in other rooms of our home. During the colder months, the Rayburn is designed to be the hub around which we run our home.

Why do we heat and cook with wood

The plan has always been to try to create a home that is as sustainable as possible. During our DIY barn conversion project, we carefully considered all of our choices, carefully considering the materials we used, efficiency, livability, and durability. Our renovations continue, but now, after many years, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor and begin to see our ideas come to life.

In the two-bedroom structure, which was well insulated, we realized that we would have very different needs in summer and winter. During the colder months we decided to heat both the space and the water and cook with an efficient wood burner. In the summer and for lighting, etc. we rely on renewable electricity. When we don’t need heating, we will mostly cook on an electric induction burner.

Note: We currently buy our electricity from the grid, paying for 100% renewable energy, but in the future we will install solar panels on the roof. However, the power generation potential is somewhat limited, as is our connection to the grid at present.

We are in a fortunate position because we can purchase wood from our immediate neighbor. (We don’t have room to grow all our own fuel on our one-third acre.) We are surrounded by farmland that belongs to a large estate where massive trees continue to be planted and where the forests are sustainably managed. We buy and naturally season and dry the wood and cut it for use in our home. The kindling and supplemental wood comes from mature ash saplings, fruit tree prunings and other trees that grow on our own property.

Easy access to wood from a truly sustainably managed forest literally meters from our home – and dropped over the back wall into our garden – was one of the main factors we considered this option. Obviously burning wood isn’t a solution for everyone, but it seems like the most sustainable choice for us.

Our experience so far

This year, as the temperatures drop and we enter late fall, we are testing this system that we installed for the first time. So far, we’ve been blown away by how well the stove works and how much it can do (or “it” as we call it). He’s a wizard and we jokingly call him “Radagast Rayburn”.

Since the temperatures are cool, but not freezing, we’ve only been running the stove for a few hours in the afternoon and evening so far. Yes, it needs feeding, but in our opinion the amount of wood required is not excessive.

We were able to cook our dinner while cooking in the oven and on the stoves above, we had plenty of hot water and heated the kitchen as well as the upstairs rooms to very comfortable temperatures, all with one fire. This is an example of an element that truly performs multiple functions.

A little advance planning is required as the oven takes about an hour and a half to reach temperature. But even though I imagined cooking with the stove to be a bit of an adjustment, so far I’ve found it very easy to cook the things I normally like to cook, and my husband only goes out to get wood in the evenings.

The way we live is certainly a lifestyle choice, and the work involved in using wood for many of our energy needs is not for everyone. But for now, we’re happy with how things turned out. And by living close to the source of our energy, we can stay in tune with what we use and where it comes from. For us, gas or oil heating has simply never been an option.

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