Heating a house with rolled newspapers

I'm almost reluctant to say this because some folks find it hard to believe. Last winter my heating bill was confined to the cost of one-quarter tank of oil and onesixth cord of wood. Other than that we heated the home with waste newspaper, rolled into the form of logs and burned in a conventional wood-burning stove.

The whole operation was in the nature of a an experiment. We wanted to see just how far we could go on paper power alone.

As it happened we were surprised at how little conventional fuel we needed. STill, it does take work. Rolling up all those paper logs is time-consuming and this year we may well burn a little more oil, wood, or both. But not much more, mind you.

Ours is a small Cape Cod home with 1,100 square feet of living space, excluding the basement. It is heated by a very small Norwegian-built wood-burning stove situated in the living room. The net result is that we enjoy a living room that is warm to hot when the stove is burning, while the rest of the moderately insulated house remains cool.

The cellar, now unheated except for the brief period when the oil burner is used, remains cold during winter -- around 45 degrees F. -- which is only a few degrees above refrigerator temperature.

All this has necessitated a change in living style. Warm night attire and bedding make for improved sleeping comfort. A sweater is routinely worn around the hose other than in the living room. Oil heat is used because of its convenience. It is turned on the first thing in the morning for perhaps half an hour to quickly raise the temperature back into the 60s from the low 50s to which it falls in January and February. Other than that earlymorning firing, the oil burner is not used again all day.

One drawback to newspaper logs is that they burn more rapidly than wood. To burn paper properly the damper has to be left wide open, thus speeding up the rate at which the paper burns.

We find a paper-log fire needs to be stoked about once every two hours. If we are going out at any time and wish to keep a fire going in the meantime, we will stoke the stove with wood, leaving the damper half open; hence the use of one-sixth of a cord of wood last season.

One plus for a rapidly burning paper fire is the almost total absence of creosote buildup in the chimney. I've cleaned out the chimney and stovepipe just once in the past 12 months, and the total amount of soot removed would not have filled more than a gallon jug.

Mixed wood and paper logs make for an easy-burning fire; paper logs on their own are somewhat more difficult to keep going. But I have found that paper logs burn very well if care is given to stacking them in the stove. The secret is to have a holow heat-trapping core in the center.

In my stove, I rake some ashes into two ridges across the front and back sections of the stove and place the bottom layer of paper logs on these ridges. This allows air to get under the logs and so helps the fire get started.

The bottom tow logs are placed side by side in the center of the opening, leaving a small opening between the logs and the sides of the stove. The next two logs are placed on top of the first two but leaning up against the sides of the stove, leaving a space in the center.

The final paper logs goes on top and in the center of the previous two logs, bridging the gap and leaving a hollow space down the center (see sketch).

This hollow center now is loosely filled with crumpled paper or fine sticks of kindling -- anything that will catch fire easily. Because the logs are so long that they come to the front of the stove, more crumpled paper is placed in the front. It is this crumpled paper that is lit to start the fire.

Generally that is all that is needed to get the fire going. Occasionally the paper logs do not catch properly the first time when it is necessary to add more loosely crumpled sheets of paper and start again.

This stacking method works well because the hollow core at the center traps a tremendous amount of heat that is able to sustain the burning until the logs are totally converted to charcoal, at which stage they burn their hottest.

From then on new paper logs are added to the fire in groups of three when needed, one log at each side of the stove and one on top. This forms another central hot core which ensures continued combustion.

Meanwhile, the older logs burn back underthe new ones and form a cavelike hollow which also traps enough heat to ensure total combustion.

Be very gentle when placing on the new logs or rearranging the old ones. If the older burning logs (pure charcoal by this time) are roughly handled, the charcoal will crumble into powder, in which form the logs will not burn readily.

I roll logs by hand. I select a number of newspapers (folded in half if they are full-size or left as is if they are compact-size) and roll these into a log that is about 4 inches in diameter. Then I take the log and wrap it in another newspaper. This outer wrapping of paper holds the log in place so that it isn't even necessary to tie lot with string or a large garden Twist'em wire.

In making paper logs, confine yourself to newspapers. Many of the higher-quality papers have a thin coating of china clay which tends to stay in place when burned, thus cutting off the air supply from the rest of the log.

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