Fans are like bacon: Almost anything can be improved by adding a fan to it. But my early days off grid were in an environment where any appliance whose power draw was measured in amps was immediately suspect unless proven essential. I saw an Ecofan on a neighbor’s woodstove several years ago and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, but they are expensive and, well, not essential in a small cabin. Then last January a Generous Reader sent me a heat-powered fan, and I got to check one out for myself.
This is a Chinese copy, which some Internet voices condemned as inferior immediately, instinctively, and as far as I know without justification. The original Canadian gadget is no doubt sans peur et sans reproche but so far I have seen no reason to suggest that anybody steer away from the later copies, which often sell for less than half the price.
Operating one is as easy as lighting the stove; the fan itself has no controls or adjustable doodads. It operates with a tiny current generated by convection rising up the extruded aluminum body through a “thermoelectric module” which, like solar panels and automatic transmissions, is basically magic. The fan is silent in operation and doesn’t run with any real authority: Stick your finger or (for demonstration purposes only) your dog’s paw in the exposed fan blade and it will stop without severing the offered appendage. But you (or the dog) won’t like it very much and will be more careful next time. There’s only one caveat…
Any idiot is going to look at those wires visible through the little stamped plate and figure out for himself that you don’t want to base this thing right up against the stovepipe. The written warning shouldn’t be necessary, but is there anyway.
So the fan is silent, requires no outside power, and actually does move hot air downstream in a noticeably useful way. And it doesn’t need a huge amount of heat, it starts spinning as soon as the iron heats up while the kindling is still involved.
A model such as this one costs just north of $50 online, and works great. I kept the box so I could store the fan safely during the warm months, and one thing I wanted to know before writing a review was how it survives a long period of inactivity following a full season of use. I’ve had problems before in storing used electronics and then hoping they’d work when needed. But when I unboxed it and plopped it on the stove this month it worked flawlessly and seems likely to continue doing so.
It’s not essential to operating a woodstove, but it’s not hugely expensive or any sort of bother in operation, nor does it require any resources and it really does make a woodstove heat a cabin more efficiently.