Taking Control of My Home Heating

| 12/20/2010 8:22:34 AM

Let’s pretend that it’s a January night, it’s 20 below outside, the wind is howling and the power goes out. How long will your house stay warm? The natural gas will keep flowing to your furnace, but your furnace blower fan needs electricity. Lets say that the power stays on, but you hear a loud clunk in the basement, and when you go down to check, the furnace isn’t working. Would you know how to fix it? Most of us have lost the basic skills that allowed us to be in control, and we are now at the mercy of “an expert”. Hope they’re available to come out and fix your furnace tonight. If you’ve got a 24/7 One Hour Response contract on your furnace, how many hours a year do you have to work to pay for it in after tax dollars?

I couldn’t fix my furnace in the city, but I’m in complete control of my woodstove. I cut the wood that heats it, I keep it going, and I clean it. There are very few moving parts and I can replace anything that does wear out or break. It’s a nice feeling. I’m in control. My house will never get cold. If some tree takes down a power line or if the gas company doesn’t store enough gas some winter to meet demand, I’ll still be toasty.

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, more than 10 million U.S. households will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter without assistance, which would be a new all-time record.

We designated one day this past September as woodstove cleaning day here and it wasn’t too bad. It took a little longer than usual because we filmed it to post on YouTube  and to use in upcoming DVDs. The process is pretty straightforward. I removed the section of stovepipe on the main floor. This allowed me to clean the chimney from the inside. I took one section of pipe outside to clean it. Inside I used a trick I’ve learned from professional chimney sweepers. I taped a green garbage bag to the upper section of the stovepipe, and put a small hole in the bag so that the chimney cleaning fiberglass rod could fit through. This way as ash and debris get swept out of the chimney it ends up in the bag, rather than on top of the woodstove or in the air.

Attaching the pieces of the chimney sweeping brush

The garbage bag trick to catch debris...

Our woodstove is Pacific Energy and is a non-catalytic type. The first generation of efficient woodstoves used a catalytic combustor to clean the smoke. They had a primary combustion in the main stove and when you put the stove into airtight mode the smoke was redirected through a honeycomb of refractory material that got very hot. As the smoke passed through this superheated honeycomb any particulate and unburned materials were burned off. So you got fewer emissions and a better burn and more heat from your wood.

Our stove uses secondary combustion instead of the catalytic combustor, which is nice because I don’t have to replace anything (we used to have to replace the combustor in our old stove about every 2nd year at a cost of $200 or so.) This newer stove has a steel baffle on the top, which brings air into the stove and introduces oxygen to burn off the particulate. This is a fabulous system and once the stove is burning well and you dampen it down, you can see sheets of blue flame coming from the baffle, as it’s introducing oxygen for the secondary burn. This stove requires far less wood than our previous one with the combustor. One thing that I love about this stove is that there is only one accessible place for air to get into the stove, which is the door. It has a fabulous gasket, which you see me replacing here. Our old stove had an ash door, a side door, and a trap door to put it into airtight mode. Air leaked in everywhere so it didn’t burn very efficiently. If I load our new stove with good hardwood, I can get a good 12-hour burn out of it. It’s great!

12/23/2010 2:15:03 PM

Has MEN finally figured out how to include pictures in an article? wow! welcome to this century!

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