Oh dear wood stove, how do I love thee? And how do I hate thee when it comes time to take down the chimney pipes and clean them out because smoke has been backing into the Wagen at really inconvenient times, like when we’re sleeping? But I jest (a little). I never hate our wood stove. It is my all-time favorite way to heat a room, and it is currently one of the cheapest. Chopping wood, the smell of oak, lighting a fire, and the flicker and crackle—it is satisfying in a way I can only explain by blaming instinct. Fire is the ur-television.
But maintenance is annoying, especially when you need to tackle it alone with a ten-month-old baby on your hands. The wood stove had been letting in minuscule, but horrid smelling, puffs of smoke. The Beard thought something was wrong with the door, that it was no longer closing properly. There was far more smoke coming in when we lit a fire than usual, and we couldn’t open the lower door (which we do often to get a big bit of wood burning) without the stench. Besides being icky, it was scary. No one wants to die in the night of CO2 poisoning. Or wake up next to a baby who has died of co2 poisoning. So we stopped heating at night, when we wouldn’t be conscious to monitor the smoke situation and open the windows obsessively. It was cold by morning. And that was icky too.
Then the Beard went off to work a 48-shift, and I was all like “I am going to get to the bottom of this, so help me cod!” Thing is, when smoke is backing up into your room, it usually has more to do with your chimney than with your stove. We used to heat our kitchen with a stove whose door didn’t close all the way, and yet, with a one-inch gap right next to the flames, smoke never poured into the room once the fire was lit. I looked around the internet and found a lot of people talking about how cold air can temporarily block a chimney, forcing the smoke down into the room. A solution for this is to stick a piece off paper into the chimney and light it, a trick which should warm the air enough to break the block. Note to self. But our problem lay elsewhere.
Turns out (and I had only looked at night, so I couldn’t really see it, and did I mention that I desperately need glasses?) that the little hat we have on top of our stove pipe to keep rain and wind from coming down it had collapsed on top of the pipe itself, leaving onyl the smallest of holes for the smoke to escape.
I found a neighbor to hold Baby Pickles while I worked, borrowed a ladder and a pipe cleaner, and took down all the piping for a scrub. Then I took the bus to the building supply store to see if I could get a”T” shaped bit of pipe to replace the hat at the top of the chimney, which is what I have on the pipe on my Wagen, now our kitchen. They didn’t have any at the store, but what they did have were a bunch of sexist jerks working there who, as male employees of building supply stores in Germany tend to do, talked down to me and generally treated me as if I didn’t have a fucking clue. “But there is no such thing as a “T” shaped bit of metal piping!” Oh, right, because I imagined the one that I have at home. Thanks for clearing that up then, I’ll just be on my way.
After a bit of insisting, the building store man finally admitted that such a thing did exist, after which he told me that there was no way I could put such a thing on my chimney, that a professional chimney duder needed to do that (though this “it must be done officially” attitude is very German, he did specify dude, harumpf). Oh, but they could order one for me, if I insisted on being a reckless jerk. I wondered why I hadn’t just jimmy rigged something myself in the first place and left. I am sure that there are men working at the building supply store who don’t talk to women customers like they can’t possible know what they are talking about, but every woman builder I know has had a similar experience repeatedly. And I have never seen a woman working at one of these stores, besides at the cash register. Boo hiss.
Back at home, my baby-watching friend and I jimmy rigged a rusty old piece of pipe into an acceptable “T” and jammed it on the top of our chimney pipe. (We had a piece laying around that was shaped more like an “L,” so we hammered off one side of it to create a makeshift “T.”) I reattached all the bits and pieces and lit a fire. And hot damn, no more smoke.
PS The above photo is what the fire in the stove looks like right this second. We haven’t been keeping the glass door very clean.