Monday, December 6, 2010

Wood stove in Van?

The stove idea was an experiment. I'd heard of wood stoves in boats and RVs but never in a van and my trip to Labrador demanded some solution for how cold and damp it gets. A propane tank would run a heater and with proper insulation that's not a bad idea. The van wasn't air tight at all so the risk of dying from lack of oxygen was actually less than dying from exposure but I was going to one of the most remote places in North America where wood and not propane was plentiful. And the challenge of a wood stove was something I had to try. Then someone sold me the Fatsco wood stove and I bought 7 feet of stainless steel flex pipe ordinarily for pellet stoves. The hardest part was figuring out where the stove pipe would exit the van. I considered the sliding windows but finally decided to put it totally out of the way through the roof so the stove pipe would heat up and radiate heat. I think there's a good argument for putting the stovepipe chimney horizontally through the back of the fiberglass roof, instead of vertically through the very top of the roof. It adds like a foot onto an already high roof so can catch on tarps and bridge underpasses and tree branches. IF it went through the back it would be out of the way and if the angle was still sloping up then the smoke would still draw out and not get stuck. I don't know. I think the way I did it looks more "traditional" but it would work as well if it went horizontally but not cause me problems with tree branches.

I decided against this route
I had a cool stove pipe chimney that once fit on a sailboat and I intended to glue that to the top and then screw down...
Chimney with heatproof rtv gasket sealant. Screws came next through pre-drilled holes.
...but the screws actually wouldn't go into anything but fiberglass so once I cut a hole in the top and inner fiberglass surfaces I cut a pie shaped plywood circle that had another circle cut out that the stove pipe would go through. Then I fit each individual piece of pie into the hole and set it between the fiberglass surfaces. See? Then I reassembled the pie (blindly, as I numbered the pieces) so when I put the stove pipe through the hole and into the chimney that was a pressure fit, and the screws went down into the fiberglass and through the plywood creating a secure fit. On the inside I manufactured a sleeve that fit around the stove pipe and then I screwed up into the fiberglass and plywood with short screws so any downward pull on the stove pipe would not pull the pipe out because it was now attached to the ceiling.

I really should post a whole tutorial with my better pictures but I don't want to encourage anyone to do this since it's crazy. No van will be warm enough for a cold winter. I remember feeding the stove in a Walmart parking lot and smoke was pouring out the chimney and drifting across the street, basically causing whiteout conditions. But if I went down some deserted road and lit the fire the police would invariably show up and tell me to leave town. America really isn't the right country for this kind of silliness. Mexico and Canada wouldn't care but you don't need a stove in Mexico and it's too cold in Canada. If you want to live in a van then go to the southwest; you have no business in the north in the winter. You would need a big stove and well insulated van and a piece of land where you won't be bothered by the police. In which case I'd wonder why you don't build a cabin and live in that. The areas of single pane glass in vans ruin the insulation factor and if you covered up all the windows then you'll live in a cave. I see it as a temporary solution or an experiment but I can tolerate almost anything and between the police and the chopping of wood on a barren sidewalk and pissing in a frozen milk jug...this wasn't my idea of a good time. Living in Labrador was perfect but that was summer and fall...and there was no one within 300 kilometers. Ok, it worked for what I wanted but camping in truck stops and Walmarts in winter was really a chore. Tourists thought it was cool but the store owners all called the police.




hard earned marshmallow
Once the fire is burning and drawing well through the chimney I can actually open the top of the stove to roast marshmallows or feed wood in and the smoke will not enter the van.

Landlocked Salmon For Dinner
The stove is mounted on a stainless steel box with a steel plate dispersing heat in the back
Yes, that's an American Pop album cover on my van.
Yes. To anyone who doubted it. 15 degrees and snowing in Norway, Maine. 75-80 in the van. T-shirt and fuzzy slippers. And some Walden by H.D.T. [Actually "The Money-less Man" by Mark Boyle]

The conclusion is that it can be done and with proper insulation it will keep the van warm but only as long as the fire is going. The capacity is small so it doesn't burn much wood and needs regular attention. The van has too many windows to keep all the heat in, too many holes, too much metal and the temps in New England and Canada was too low. I had a good sleeping bag and that's why I was able to sleep but everything that was liquid would freeze by the morning and I had to start all over again melting water. Also, there is truth to the method of allowing air to circulate rather than blocking up every hole. Yes, the air is cold but if no air is allowed to circulate your body temperature will really do nothing to keep the van warm AND the air will fill with cold moisture and BE EVEN COLDER THAN OUTSIDE. It take a leap of faith to open the window when it is zero degrees but once that fire goes out I knew I was going to be cold no matter what. By not allowing circulation I kept all the moisture I was producing in the van to freeze on every surface and it was always warmer outside when I opened the door. The van became a refrigerator without any circulation. Yes, the wind chill factor is important so I'm not talking about opening every window completely so a fierce gale howls through the van. That would make things worse, but cracking two windows makes sure no wind comes in but there will be some circulation. Sailors have this problem too. My conclusion is that this particular 1969 Econoline van with no heater and an exposed engine and no carb/exhaust pre-heating system and a big uninsulated bubble top, and no power steering, and holes in all the door gaps is not equipped for freezing winters so it belongs in the south west, dry and cool in the winters. The desert. It is a perfect desert vehicle and that's where it is going to stay. In fact, I don't even like cold weather.
Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.