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  • Writer's pictureFiona McLean


Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Living in eastern Canada we experience sub zero temperatures for about half the year and we frequently experience temperatures as low as -30C. For winter survival we require some form of indoor heating which can be gas, electric or wood (depending on where you live) from mid September to mid May. For me, these winter months are extreme and it is important to be prepared. The sub zero cold sinks deep into my bones and the only antidote that I know of is a wood burning fire and the warmth that it emanates. I think there is something essential to our humanity in a wood burning fire. It is like the ocean in that it is a force that we are all simply drawn to in the very essence of ourselves.

In the absence of my imaginary tropical life by the ocean I plan to curl up beside my tiny fireplace and hibernate the winters away, tucked safely into the warmth of my little hand built cottage surrounded by the richness of my tools and my artistic ideas.

The Hearth:

In order to reduce the minimum clearances that protect the walls and floor from the radiated heat I require a non-combustable heat shield and a hearth. I purchased a small load of paving stoves in a clearance bin and set out laying the hearth. I have never laid tiles before but it was super simple. I never hesitate to learn something new especially if it involves working with my hands.

The Heat Shield: I hired a local welding shop to make the heat shield. We used 2 x 1/8" steel sheet welded together at 90 degrees. We added 1" feet at the bottom to allow air flow both underneath and behind and we added 1" bars at the top to secure the shield to the studs. The overall dimensions are regulated by law and determined by the code. As per the dimensions of the stove, the final dimensions of the heat shield are 36" x 47". Once assembled I spray painted the shield with matte black metal paint then installed it in place. On its own it is awkward and it weighs a ton so moving it around for painting and installation was not easy, but I managed.

Fireplace Installation:

Wood burning appliances are highly regulated in Canada so the process of purchase and installation can be both expensive and complicated combined with the the fact that efficient, ecologically sound tiny wood stoves are hardly ubiquitous in the mainstream marketplace. After copious research online and on foot, I decided on the Morso 1410, Morso is a Danish manufacturer whose wood burning stoves meet some of the strictest global environmental standards including certification from the prestigious Nordic Swan Eco Label. As is required by law, the stove and chimney were professionally installed by WETT certified technicians in the spring of 2019.

The Wood:

The standard log is 16" but my stove can only manage an 11" log at best. I met a local farmer near me who sells Ash firewood from his forest and who generously cuts and dries my logs at the required 11". This gentleman farmer I have befriended is a rare gem. He is a cattle farmer that works extensively repairing and restoring antique farm implements. He drives a 73 year old car that is in mint condition. The farm where he lives is beautiful with a massive 100 year old barn that has been carefully restored. The whole experience there is enchanting and magical. I also love the physical work that is involved in preparing the wood to burn. Again, it seems essential. In this first year I burned approximately 1/2 cord of dry hard wood so it is proving to be an economical source of heat

When it is -30C outside it is difficult to find the motivation to get out of your jammies and into your woolens, boots, scarf, hat, mittens and snow pants but my hope is to have at last potentially resolved that hesitation with the invitation of the fire.

[photo credit @brunobellisinder]

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