Don’t you just love curling up by a crackling fire on a cold winter’s eve? Lord knows, I do – just as much as in summer, because I love camping! So when I bought my home in late 2005, I had a list of wishes and needs, and a fireplace was right up there in the “needs” section.

Indeed, most homes have one, because along with having a full-sized kitchen or a second bathroom, a fireplace or woodstove is one of the most common requirements. I wonder if this is true everywhere, and not just in an area where, if your main source of heat fails, you need a backup.

So this photo, taken directly from the MLS listing I first saw, was what my fireplace first looked like:

The first night we came over to see the house after getting the keys, we lit this little fire:

As soon as I got the keys, though, my first order of business was to paint that room something other than the colour of crud (that yellow-y beige, reminiscent of grease trapped in the grill of your stove vent).

terra cotta tile surround
The next incarnation, once furniture moved in

About a year after that, I didn’t like the terracotta tile surround of the fireplace anymore, so I painted it white. What a difference it made! It brightened up that corner of the room (you’ll see a pic later down this post).

But alas, I rarely used the fireplace, because as every homeowner learns, they are an exit to the outdoors through which all your heat escapes. The glass doors on a fireplace limit that loss in a very minimal way; in fact I hung a blanket across the fireplace when it was really cold and didn’t light any fires at all. Fires were basically for the fall and spring. In fact, I still have some of the firewood left to me by the previous owner, which I’m saving up for backyard campfires with friends.

Fireplace fire
A 2013-dated picture of a fire, simply because FIRE!

Pellet stoves: an ecologically sound replacement

So I replaced my cold and drafty fireplace with a wood burning insert (“insert” means putting a stove…into a fireplace!) Before Montreal enacted the 2013 anti-fireplace law (controversial, for good reason), I wanted to install an EPA-certified stove insert. But at the time, the city disallowed solid fuel stoves and masonry heaters. The law is now revised so that fuel type is not important if the emissions certification protects air quality.

I prefer solid wood as fuel because to have local private forests, we need to value them. The best way to value them on private land, after the joy of owning a forest of course, is to have woodlots. Firewood comes from dropped deadwood and selective logging. Cutting a small percentage of a forest every year (around 3%) is sustainable and generally not considered harmful for an ecosystem (considering every tree on a case by case basis). Now what happens if we don’t value firewood? We will lose our forests as landowners transform them into something more “profitable.”

Still, I decided on a pellet stove (pellets are compressed sawdust from the milling process). I did my research, acquired the permit, and bought the Harmon pellet stove P35i fireplace insert. It heats up to 900 square feet, which is enough to make my TV den / home office nice and toasty. Foyers Lambert did the job in late fall 2014, and we installed the tile surround on the floor in the spring of 2015.

pellet stove with fire tile surround
Here’s where you can see the painted white tile surround of the fireplace.

This is how I enjoyed my new fireplace in the winter of 2015:

pellet stove with fire

This is how it looked with the new floor (the floor is important; insurance policies require 18 inches of tile or fireproof flooring in front of the hearth):

tile surround wood stove

This post’s cover photo (wayyyyy up ^) is how I enjoy the pellet stove in the winter as of 2016. In 2017, I added a beanbag to meditate and lounge in front of the fire.

I buy my pellets at Reno Depot and at Rona on St. Patrick, and a bag lasts me about three to four days, lounging in the TV den/office space for about 4 hours per night (a bag is about 12 hours of burn). At around $5.75 a bag, this is an inexpensive way to be warm, comfortable, and happy (the Danes have one word for all three: hyggelige) on a cold night.

Pellet stove fire
Fire in the burn pot of the pellet stove!

There’s a call to action…

If you aren’t in the financial position yet to upgrade your fireplace, there’s something really awesome you can do for nature. Come spring, inspect and clean your chimney and prepare it for welcoming chimney swifts. They need urban habitat! Unfortunately, woodstoves use metal pipes to line the chimneys – unless you choose a different egress for the smoke, little that it is (up to 90% less than traditional fires). Swifts can’t cling and build their nests in metal pipes; they need masonry towers.

If you enjoyed this post, I wrote SO MANY eco-renovation posts when my interests were also based around DIY and professional renovations. That’s not so much the focus now. I decided to root down in the niche of biodiversity landscaping, so I didn’t blog about the great kitchen renovation I did in March of 2018. But if I’d had a newsletter at the time, I’d have blurbed it with a share to my Instagram pics.

Any DIY that results in eco-living is still good for the newsletter, so please sign up. Ask a question if you’d like!