Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stayin' Warm?

(This post mirrored from the Womerlippi Farm Blog)

It's the depths of a Maine winter, and despite continued climate change and what was initially expected to be an El Niño year, we're having proper Maine winter weather. The warming trend expected in the southern Pacific in the early fall never quite panned out and SST temperatures there are right about average now.

As a partial result, we've had a solid week of cold Canadian air. It's warmed up quite a bit out there just now, a brief slug of warmer air having penetrated north as a Rossby wave passes, and the outside temperature is just below freezing. But the Canadian or more correctly polar air will return today and we'll be back in the teens and below for another week.

Minus ten to plus ten degrees F is, to say the least, pretty cold for an Englishman, even a fat one. But I long ago learned to deal with it, and even thrive.

How do we stay warm and well in such cold weather without contributing greatly to climate emissions?

Two important factors: Dogs and logs.

The science of logs is very interesting to me, especially this time of year when we depend on it a good deal. The Womerlippis heat primarily with wood, much of which we cut off our own land. This year we began the winter with about three cords on hand, most of which was ash and bird cherry, cut from the southerly end of our smallholding, that had been seasoned for two years. About a cord of ash was only one-year old, the remains of a single large ash tree tree that overlooked this year's garden expansion and had to go.

This would have been enough firewood, had we had a La Niña winter more like last year's. But the cold weather meant we burned more than we planned, and so I shopped around for an extra cord of dry firewood. A young lad in the town came by on New Year's Eve with a truck and a buddy and dropped a cord of mixed hardwood right into my firewood crib. (The very prompt delivery was, I surmised, due to a need for cash for some New year's carousing.) This was wood that had been cut and stored in tree length for two years, and so it is seasoned, but not nearly as bone dry as the Womerlippi logs that were cut and split and covered for one to two years.

Accordingly, some judicial mixing and matching of logs is called for. The off-farm logs can be burned whenever the house is too warm, or when the outside temperatures are moderate. The Womerlippi logs are saved for when the house needs to be warmed up, or when it's very cold outside. So far the coldest it's been at the farm was -5 F. It can get a lot colder than that around here. When it does, we have a back-up, a forced air oil furnace that can be fired up at the touch of a tiny button. This furnace, at 175,000 BTU/hr, dates back to the original pre-retrofit farmhouse, and is about double the capacity required for the house at its current level of air-sealing and insulation, so it heats everything up very quickly indeed. But we try not to use it, preferring to live on BTUs that are part of the contemporary carbon cycle, not the Cretacean one. 

This is a life trick that a lot of people are going to need to learn, one way or another, if we're to avoid a climate that is more like that of the Cretaceous. You don't need a wood stove. You could build a passive house like Unity College's own Terra Haus, or the Unity House. Or you could use a pellet boiler like the ones in our college library or Thomashow labs. Even a moderate retrofit of a regular oil-burning home can reduce your oil consumption enough to help meet emissions reduction targets.

But the wood stove is my favorite approach because of the nice radiant quality of the heat.

It helps in this emissions reduction project that our particular wood stove is a well-designed Norski model with the modern afterburner or secondary combustion set-up. Not only does the presence of a secondary combustion chamber reduce particulate and other emissions, it also saves firewood. The detailed retrofit work that we've invested in year after year also pays off. The house is literally cocooned in insulation. We haven't used more than a few gallons of heat oil a year for many years. Our last delivery was three years ago, and then only a hundred gallons. 

We do use the oil furnace when we leave the house and animals in the hands of a sitter, and most recently managed to fry an igniter during a power outage, requiring a diagnosis-and-repair process. Following that, I ran the unit for a few days, partly because I wanted to make sure it was working safely again, partly because we were having a cold snap and Aimee wanted me to do so. But I could only put up with the noisy thing for a few days and was glad of the excuse to turn it off yesterday when the temperatures warmed up a bit.

So, we're back to the logs. We used less than fifty gallons of oil this winter. I don't intend to use any more if I can help it.

As for the dogs, well, it's our winter break, and they get a lot of attention. In particular, they get nice long walks in the snow in the deep empty woods behind our house. There's about two thousand acres of empty Maine woodlands and wetlands back there, and in the winter, when the wetlands are frozen, it's all very much more accessible than in the summer when the bugs deter. I enjoy these walks, and appreciate the recovery of fitness and a regular sleep pattern that accompanies the exercise. If I didn't have as much work to do as I do, I'd take a good long walk with my dogs every day.

Here's some pictures that Aimee took that capture the mood of these winter hikes with the dogs.

Flame, a rescued Australian shepherd from Louisiana, has taken to the snow like a duck to water.

Ernie, an English Shepherd, and the official Womerlippi farm sheepdog, is her constant companion.

Sometimes we need to use snowshoes. 

Here's what happened to my second-best set of snowshoes just the other day! But because the snow was set up well, I was able to finish the hike easily with the fragment of snow shoe that remained attached. 

And yes, duct-tape does make a good repair material for snowshoes. If you're cheap, like I am.

So that, dear readers, is how we stay warm in the depths of a Maine winter, without adding too much to climate emissions, or to consumerism.

No comments: