Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On Heating with wood.

I just got a Christmas letter from an old friend from high school. He, his wife and kids live in a suburb in the vicinity of Tokyo. He was an exchange student and so there is nothing unusual about where they live. In the letter (which sounded as if it was written by his wife—not due to the English, I think she grew up in the USA) Tad’s wife Susan indicated that they were thinking of installing a wood stove in their home. I had never associated the wood heating lifestyle with typical Japanese living conditions before, but I suppose there must be a fair number of households which live out in the countryside. Anyhow, the letter got me remembering my own experience with wood heating: We were living in a two bedroom flat in Burlington Vermont and my wife, V. (who does not want me to publish her whole name) was pregnant with our first daughter (Surenna--I read this to her and she wanted her name listed). Our original plan was to stay in the condo until I finished my MBA and then buy a house wherever my work took me. We were both making plenty of money at the jobs we had and could easily afford a house, so why wait! There were many reasons for our choosing the place we bought on Camp Kiniya Road in Colchester; one of the big ones was that the house had a wood stove and plenty of trees. Having only owned a condo and never a real house, we were somewhat apprehensive about the costs of keeping a house warm and functioning properly. The place had originally been built with the idea of being heated with wood. It was a cape with an open design and so when the stove was operating, the hot air was able to spread around to all parts of the house without the use of fans. Later owners installed an oil furnace which drove hot water through radiators. We speculated that they found heating with wood too taxing and were unenthused by the electric bills from the back-up heaters. We heated almost exclusively with the wood stove in the four years we lived there. The property was more than three acres and other than about ¼ acre taken up by the yard, driveway and buildings was all wooded. The trees were about 2/3 hardwood (oak, maple, birch and ash) and about 1/3 softwood pine and fir. There was plenty of fuel for the stove obtained by good forest management: Cutting dead trees, sick trees and thinning crowded stands. Cleaning up after the ice storm provided two years worth of heating, mostly from fallen branches. Our house was about 1600 sqf and built in the 1980’s, so well insulated. It took about a cord and a half of wood per winter to keep us plenty warm. Cutting and chopping cordwood was mostly not unduly arduous: The property was steeply sloped and I did not own a four wheel drive vehicle then, so the hardest part was hauling the wood from the lower part of the land up to the house. The house was situated on the highest part of the plot and so the available trees were mostly located lower down. Cutting wood with a chainsaw is heavy work, but if one is careful and systematic, not unduly dangerous. Splitting logs into firewood is actually kind of fun. I would just do a 15 or 20 minutes worth after work most days and found it a good way to unwind. In Vermont (and probably lots of other places) they say chopping firewood warms you twice: Once while you are chopping and once when you burn the wood. Plan ahead: The first wood we burned was not well dried—it was purchased by the sellers of the house for us (we moved in in the middle of winter). You get a lot more heat out of dry wood than green wood, plus it is a bear to get unseasoned wood to light and burn hot. This only makes sense—every drop of water in the wood has to be converted to steam and this takes energy away from the useful heat available in it. I found that wood I chopped and split in the winter and spring was plenty dry by the start of the next heating season. Wood chopped in the summer worked fine by the end of the next heating season. Maple was by far my favorite wood to burn: It burns hot, doesn’t make much of a mess in the house and is easy to split. Oak burns very hot too, but the pieces of wood are a bit splintery. Birch doesn’t burn as hot as the other two and can sometimes be hard to split. If the tree has been growing at an angle, the grain seems to tangle and not want to separate, plus the papery bark doesn’t split and can hold pieces together.

1 comment:

dbp said...

Since I am new to blogging, I just wanted to test out the comments section.

I will not comment on the post since I wrote it.