Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Wood Heat

1/5/2012 7:16:38 PM

Tags: "wood heat, " "simple iving, " permaculture, farming, subsistence, sustainability, D Acres Permaculture Farm & Educational Homestead

The butter was hard. Not frozen, but certainly not spreadable. With close attention, it was possible to collect some shavings by scraping with a sharp knife. This could then be carefully balanced over a slice of bread.

The reason, though, was not that we had just pulled the butter from the root cellar nor that we had frozen it for storage. No, the reason was simply that the room stood at 48 degrees. If you were to take an extended observation of the kitchen, you would see that the cooking oil, sitting beside the window, was more solid than liquid. The woodstove was cold, and the granite countertop chilled your hands to touch it. 

Granted, the above may be a slightly extreme example. We don’t often let the indoor temperature drop into the 40s here at D Acres…we prefer a balmy 50-55 degrees. With a sweater or an extra hat, that’s downright comfortable. And it is winter, after all. What are sweaters for, but to wear them when it’s cold? 

We heat with wood here at the farm, both with woodstoves and a wood-fired boiler. The latter is how we heat our water, as well as space through the use of a radiant heat system on both the first and second floors of the community building. 

Wood heat of course, entails work. More specifically, it entails work that is much more personal and therefore tangible than, for example, propane heat. As the weather allows throughout the year, we are in the woods with chainsaws and our team of oxen. Trees are felled, logs are hauled, and wood is cross-cut. The mauls are then taken out and the cordwood split for storing and drying. All told, each cord of wood represents a significant number of human hours. 

Engaging in the work rapidly impresses upon us the worth of our wood. How do we assess the time, energy, sweat and care that are part and parcel of our logging efforts? How do we value such an essential natural resource? It is abundant, but not endless. 

Still, I admit that I am on the harsher end of the spectrum. Stoic consumption of hot water and the layering of multiple hats strike my young fancy more than burning wood every day. I like winter because it is not summer; a season of cold is part of the annual yin-and-yang, ebb-and-flow of temperatures across the year. 

My point, though, is not to advocate a minimalist regime for all. I simply want to spread an appreciation of sweaters, of layers, of hats in winter. Each works just as well indoors as out. Consider from whence your heat is sourced, and how best to value, conserve and utilize the energy that winter heat implies. 


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