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On Heating with Wood

As usual, this time of year, I have not been able to write regularly.  However, this does not mean that I am slacking in my attempts to live more sustainably.  Indeed, it is the effort to do so that takes up any spare time I have and prevents me from writing here!  For example, tonight I got home after a somewhat shorter day than usual.  To my delight, it was still light out (although the sun was setting fast), the first time all week that I’ve been in the house during daylight.  This meant getting to do a long-overdue chore: scavenging for kindling.

Living more sustainable really means having to plan in advance.  Sometimes months or even a year or so in advance.  This really goes against our last minute society.  What’s the business term?  oh right… “just in time” stocking.  Trying to live “just in time” without corporations is a quick way to freeze and starve to death.  It’s frightening how dependent we are on multinationals.  Not only do we no longer have technical skills, but our very life rhythm prevents most from making the necessary shift.  In my house, we are fortunate to have a gas furnace (yes, fed by Big Oil) that will keep us from freezing as we figure out how to better plan for winter.  As usual, the learning curve is steep and if we didn’t have the buffer of commercial society, mistakes would punished harshly.  If our society ever has to make the transition suddenly (like they had to in Cuba), the outcome would be an absolute and deadly disaster.

Since we heat predominantly with wood in this house (how I love this woodstove, let me count the ways), I am learning a fair bit about building and maintaining fires.  The wood we have is starting to dry out and burn better, but we got it way too late in the season.  We bought it from a local person who splits wood and sells it by the trailer load.  We should have bought it 6 months ago and let it dry out over the summer, but my roommate didn’t have time, and I didn’t know better.  So we have a huge pile of rather damp wood that can be frustrating at times to get burning.  The wood we have was split rather large, another factor making it more difficult to get them burning.

One way to get things burning well is to start a fire with paper and kindling and get that going really hot for a while under the logs you wish to burn. This has actually been fitting will with my ‘destuffing’ undertakings, as I have been literally burning my way through boxes and boxes of useless paperwork, stored and dragged around with me for decades.  It finally is serving a purpose!  This dries out the logs, which eventually catch and burn.  Once a good bed of hot coals is going, freshly added logs catch fairly quickly.

At one point this summer, someone delivered a downed tree to our property.  It needed to be cut up with a chain saw, and then split with a splitter.  Again, knowing nothing about this procedure, I ignored the tree.  Now that I realize how important it is to have well split, nicely dry wood, I will be sure to get this organized in the spring or early summer for next winter.  Assuming, of course, that I’ll be spending another winter here.  I won’t know that for a few months yet.

Since there’s nothing to be done about the large, damp wood chunks we need to keep us warm this winter, I spent about an hour foraging about our property (and the adjacent empty lot) for sticks and branches.  With all the wind over the last few days, there was a wonderful fresh supply to be had.  I was hoping we’d avoid the snow long enough for me to get out and collect this kindling material, as once the ground is snow covered, there’ll be no finding it.  I amassed a good pile and tomorrow will break it down into packets and stack it in boxes in the shed.

Heating with wood really changes the atmosphere in a house. Now that I am accustomed to this source of heat, I can tell the moment I walk into a house if someone is heating their home this way.  I suppose it’s not surprising that many of the people I am interviewing for my research also heat (and some even cook!) with wood stoves, and I have seen more such stoves in the last few weeks than I have in my whole life.

While the notion (and experience) of heating with wood is quite romantic, there’s also a fair bit of work attached.  Of course there’s the cutting and splitting of wood, which can be avoided by paying someone to deliver wood ready to burn.  But there’s no avoiding having to haul it into the house, or constantly tending the fire.  I am getting into this rhythm, but it has taken some self-training.  I can’t tell you how many times I have started a fire then gone into the kitchen to cook, only to come back to a cold, dead stove.  Until the fire is really going, it needs a fair bit of TLC.  And as for hauling wood, it is almost a daily task when the weather is cold.  Two days ago I hauled in 5 loads, yet when I got home tonight the woodbox was empty.  So after I was done finding kindling, I hauled in three more loads (a load being as much as I can physically lift in a large box), which will be used up by this time tomorrow.  If I were to do this long-term (i.e. own a wood-heated home), I would definitely find some way to store the wood closer to the stove.  That said, it’s not bad exercise…


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