Last winter was as cold as this one and so over this year we'd looked at the costs & best methods of installing a quality wood burning stove to keep us warm in these colder months.
Those of you who have followed our news will be aware we had chopped & stacked wood from December to Spring, to dry it ready for use in the winter.
This is what it looks like today, but it was an adventure to fit!
We'd obtained several quotations, but each time as they became more detailed we found the estimates escalating. It got to a point that I said - enough, we'll just have to import and do the job ourselves since this would slash costs in roughly half!
My uncle Carlos whose family are based in California had always liked this form of heating and so took a particular interest when I asked him to help me engineer, buy & ship the goods to Japan. As we talked, a plan was hatched. We'd engineer the solution together, based on a detailed quotation we'd obtained here in Japan - he'd order and pay for the goods & shipping and in return I'd supply him a car of the same cost, to import to the US when it becomes eligible in a few years (The car was bought in the meantime and the bodywork restored before putting it under cover to preserve it till it's 25 years old and eligible for import to the US). It'll be further improved with nicer wheels, lower suspension, etc. before it leaves us to head to my uncle.
Hopefully in return it'll be a dream come true for him in 2014, but he'll be over in February to visit and the intention is - he'll get to drive it here too.
And so this story turned into a family project. We spent weeks together going over the details carefully over & over via e-mail & phone to make sure we had all the components we needed to make a very well engineered solution. The stove itself would be the best & largest available. I measured and triple checked, whilst Carlos would continue to question our choices. Eventually we both felt we knew exactly what we'd need to order. We looked at shipping, organised for delivery to his house and collection from there with delivery to Yokohama. By 2nd week of November it was ready to collect from Yokohama port. My wife & I dropped our daughter to Kindergarten, rented a large truck with a tail lift and headed to Yokohama port to do customs clearance and collect the goods.
I made sure the lightest pallets went in the back of the truck and the heaviest closest to the tail lift.
On arrival home, I unloaded the 3 pallets, using 2 trolley jacks and a plank of wood to wrestle the 300kg stove off the truck floor, onto the lift & off it again before driving the truck back to the rental depot with my daughter. Our first part of the mission had been accomplished!
The components for the chimney flue, including spare piping & flashing as we didn't really know how we would create the right solution. We just knew we'd do our best - so we covered various options.
Arnie (Our friend & carpenter) quickly figured out an easier way to get it inside the house using old planks of wood and scaffolding wheels and the two trolley jacks to tilt the pallet enough to allow the wheels to be fitted.
And so by lunch time, the stove was sitting in our other lounge awaiting the build of the hearth place.
Arnie & I figured that a thin 3mm plywood sheet attached to an oak frame - stained and laquered with a plastic membrane sheet taped into place would make a good base. It only needed attaching to the wall at the very back, since the weight of the stones & concrete would hold it in place permanently.
We'd ordered 4 square metres of stone, but when it had arrived the colour turned out to be much more "pink" than we'd imagined from small pictures. Still, by then it was too late as we had to get on with the job.
Sam, Arnie's son is an artist and was well suited to making a good pattern of fit, whilst Arnie trimmed the stones outside using a cutting wheel.To protect the floor we laid scrap cardboard down well and used masking tape to the very edge of our wood trim.
The stones were laid in a bed of concrete, making especially sure the positions where the stove's feet would sit would all be well supported and level. Then the concrete was left to dry over the weekend.
Before using white cement to grout the gaps. Note the hole in the ground. This was carefully measured for the cold air feed, which enables the stove to use air from under the house for the fire, which reduces air being drawn from inside the house and thus reduces drafts from outside.
The local stove company who'd spent a fair amount of time working out the quotations for us had understood & appreciated that their pricing was unaffordable to us when we called to explain, apologise & thank them for the time they'd invested. They kindly said that if we did need any help or advice, to ask - The Japanese are sweet like this and we hope we can in turn help them in some way in future.
The scaffolding company they use came to fit, but had never worked on a copper roof before and had no idea how to safely put up scaffolding without damaging the contours. From inside, Arnie & I measured where there were metal beams & wooden supports and from this knowledge, we were able to make a pine frame on which the metal feet could be attached. From a team of 5, two worked feverishly carrying components, whilst the remaining barked orders. Shinobu, Arnie's son did most of the securing of wood with screws, but by around 6pm we had it done.
How scaffolding would be put up without damaging the roof had been a concern but as we finished the day I breathed a sigh of relief. Another challenge had been met!
The next day with Arnie having prepared a frame over the preceeding couple of days and added a 1cm thick fireproof layer, we glued the remaining stones into place using self-tapping screws & pieces of scrap wood to hold them in place. We fitted small boxes around where electrical receptacles were positioned and masked these off, before concreting between the gaps.
With the concrete dried, we removed the masking and swept the cardboard clean to avoid concrete dust causing scratches to the varnish. The hearth had turned out a lot nicer than we'd imagined.
Now at last we were ready to put the stove into place and begin working on fitting the chimney flue!
To lift the stove into place, we used a 3-Ton Chihoru mechanical winch I'd bought from Yahoo! auctions as a 2nd hand kit to use for tree felling & dragging...
We didn't know how to release it... So on top of a 3 metre step ladder I had a fight with this 3 ton winch.... and the winch won!!
As I pulled hard on a short lever, all of a sudden the long handle which had been used to lift the stove released the weight of around 300kg & whacked me on the side of the head.
"OOOOUUCH!!!!" I yelled, as I rubbed my swelling head. Fortunately I hadn't been knocked off the ladder!
We continued, whilst the side of my head bled a little and begun to swell. I could only laugh at my stupidity and be thankful it hadn't been worse but for the next week or so I wondered what people thought I'd been up to when they saw me, ha!
The stove positioning had been carefully planned to allow enough space from combustible materials and now sat perfectly - without even needing to adjust lef heights. Our concrete slabs had dried in position without sinking.
spot lights I'd put up were re-positioned and we marvelled at how good the stove now looked in it's permanent home.
The next step was of course to be up in the roof. A messy place as there's still so much soot from the irori fire that had burned inside the house for centuries!
Arnie & Sam had used scaffolding to make a safe platform to work on first. Arnie then figured out the safest way to route the double walled flue as straight as possible up to the roof, avoiding beams along the way and using correct lengths to enable the chimney to protrude the required amount through the intended hole. Particular attention was paid to movement from heavy earthquakes as well as clearance from combustible surfaces. He even used cladding to make a collar so that if straw were to fall at the base of where the piping comes through the ceiling, it wouldn't be able to sit against the chimney flue.
The picture below shows a wooden plank close to the flue, this was part of the scaffolding whilst working. For those interested in how we engineered safety through a thatched roof - Notice the fibreglass insulation inside the chimney facade that was made for the protrusion through the roofing. The plywood box was very strongly attached to the structure so it could never be blown around by winds. The insulation also left no air gaps. With a double walled chimney flue carrying the gasses temperatures can never get hot enough to risk a fire. Aside from support brackets and locking rings between each section, the piping used was fitted as short as it could possibly go - which means the weight of the chimney can never cause the chimney to reduce in length.
Arnie's the man!!!
The top of the roof was the final part of course. The existing copper roofing had been cut to allow the wood to come through, so this was beaten and bent back into place first.
I'd ordered 0.8mm copper which was very heavy to carry & work with & overkill - but it was the thinnest I could find of the sizes we wanted.
First we secured the stainless steel chimney top and made sure the copper wouldn't come into direct contact with any other metal to avoid any possible corrosion form electrolysis.
Nails used were all copper and so we had to punch holes in the sheet first, then hammer the nails home.
To finish, we put on the copper chimney cap Carlos had sourced from a Stateside supplier.
The final solution had saved around 30-40% over what we'd have been charged to buy & have the work done by the local specialist, but most importantly had been fitted to the best level of quality & safety possible & I hope these pictures and details will help give a good example to others who may want to fit a similar stove to their Kominka here in Japan.
It's now been a couple of months since we begun using the stove. We've been burning Japanese cedar, which is the prediminant wood we have on our land that we also intend to continue cutting down. Our lounge has become a room that is used much more and on especially cold nights we bring futons and sleep in front of the fire together.
As it has a catalyst, it burns much of the creosote resin that would otherwise escape up the chimney. On very cold days we heat just the lounge, but the adjourning rooms can be heated too, especially if we use a small fan to direct the warm air. Although we bought a fire grate to protect our son, he knew from the beginning it's hot & therefore dangerous and doesn't ever go too close, but of course we always keep an eye on him. We also haven't fitted the fan kit at the back of the stove to aid convection. The cold air feed was definitely worthwhile.
I guess we can sell the extra things we don't need, as there is demand for this sort of thing in Japan anyway.
My old sailing friend Obata San is very good at making metal things and from pictures I e-mailed of our progress, he kindly made two log racks for us to use. In return, we gave him a truckload of wood which will help keep he & his wife warm at home this winter. I'd like to give him some of our wood each year. It's always warming to the heart to be able to help a friend in return who has helped so much in the past when we sailed our catamarans together in Inage & Yamanaka lake.
We have gone through about half the wood we stacked and dried last year and will have enough wood to continue to burn well into the spring, especially as we took down an old wood shed (eye-sore!) recently
Finally, here's a picture of us on our son's first birthday, where Mum & daughter had baked the cake & decorated it together. Slowly, our little girl is taking more & more interest in typical female interests. I hope to plant lots of flowers & rose bushes in the spring with her and make those little fingers green from a young age. Time will tell...