This morning I stepped outside and almost fell right on my butt. There was a slick layer of ice on the front steps. Ice coated my car windshield as well, necessitating the familiar ritual of windshield scraping. As the day progressed, it warmed up a little, but then an Alberta Clipper crested the Worcester range and Mount Hunger faded and then disappeared behind snow. In Montpelier it is raining – 35 and raining as the sun sets. We’ll get some snow, or else freezing rain, if the storm sticks around a bit.
Most of October experienced well above average temperatures, so the rapid transition to cold and ice feels abrupt. Of course, these cold temperatures are not all that far below average for late October. The heating season is really getting going.
One of the neat things about the house we bought this spring is an old Sam Daniels wood furnace. The furnace sits in the basement and is surrounded by a series of vents and a fan. The fan sporadically turns on when the furnace gets hot and blows the heat through the house. Unfortunately our chimney turned out to need to be rebuilt, but with this being done the furnace is good to go. We also have an oil furnace, but plan to use mainly the wood furnace.
I think the wood furnace looks like it is making a sad face.
There are lots of advantages to heating with wood in Vermont. The hardwood forests can be harvested sustainably, and firewood is mostly a byproduct of timber harvest anyway, as smaller and crooked logs can’t be turned into lumber. As long as forests are not removed permanently, wood heat does not add any net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, nor is it affected by all the environmental, economical, and political problems associated with obtaining oil. It can be much cheaper than heating oil. If we have a tree blow down, we can burn it. It works when the power goes out, albeit a bit less effectively (the fan of course won’t run). One downside is having to deal with the wood, which can be hard work and isn’t for everyone. As for the actual act of maintaining the fire, that i really enjoy. So far. We’ll see if I still do in March. The other (very minor) downside is I can’t see the fire unless I go down into the basement.
This is about three cords of wood. We bought six. We have no idea how much we will need, nor how much oil we will end up using (which we will mainly use when we are gone for longer periods of time or during extreme cold).
We have been very safety conscious because we have a friend who had a house fire due to a (very different) wood stove setup. We’ve got a metal lined chimney and the furnace is in the basement surrounded by concrete, far from anything flammable. Unlike the previous owner, apparently, we’ll be cleaning the chimney each year, though apparently the risk of dangerous chimney fires in a metal-lined chimney is low.
I’ve got a lot to learn about the furnace and wood heating. At first I’d get the basement all smoky each time I lit it, but I learned how to prepare the fire and manipulate the vents to get the fire going without having to open the furnace door after the fire is lit. I’m not sure how hot to get the fire though, as people have told me ‘you can burn this furnace really hot’ but I don’t have any context for that. I’m sure stuffing it full with pine needles and throwing in a match is unwise, but on the other hand I am wondering if my frugal ‘only use three logs at a time, stacked triangularly’ strategy is not the best one here. The fan isn’t turning on much and that may mean the heating is less efficient. I’m not sure if larger or smaller diameter logs are best. The wood itself needed a bit of seasoning when we got it. The warm, dry fall conditions so far have dried it out quite a bit, as evidenced by the ‘checking’ (cracked ends) on the wood. However, I brought some of the wood into the basement too early, and it isn’t as dry. They say burning green wood can get the chimney gunked up, but this definitely isn’t green wood… still I’ve been mostly sticking to the ash, which has a lower moisture content than other hardwoods, for the start of the heating season. I haven’t tried burning any buckthorn wood yet, but I will at some point.
In any event, it will be fun to see how it goes.