Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Notes on Fire Wood, in No Particular Order

An old Vermonter responded to the question, "What's the best way to stack wood?" "So it doesn't fall down."

There's a house on the hill heading out of town where the wood is stacked in concentric circles. There's no obvious benefits in the method, but it warrants investigation.

Often a row, like a wall, is built right in the middle of a field and then long sheets of steel roofing are laid on top to keep rain and snow from getting to the wood.

I have seen a criss-cross method, where the logs are sort of woven together. This increases the stability of the pile. In some cases the end of the pile is criss-crossed and the rest is piled in the same direction.

If there is something for the end of the pile to lean against like a wall or a tree or a rock outcropping, you can build the pile up against it. Running a pile between two trees works well.

Keeping enough logs on the porch where you can get to them while in your slippers seems like a good idea.

Fresh wood, or "green wood" comes from trees that are newly cut down. If you're buying wood, it's cheaper than dry wood, which someone has already been stored for a few years. It doesn't burn very well because it's full of water. If you have the space and the time, buying green wood and stacking it someplace for a couple of years is cheaper, but you need to keep 2-4 times the amount of wood on hand if you're going to get through until it's dry.

The better insulated your house is, the less wood you need to burn to keep it warm.

A friend built a small house using all the latest insulation technologies, 12-inch thick, foam panels in the roof, blown-in cellulose in the walls, vapor barriers throughout the walls, floor and roof, and double-paned, thermal windows. He can keep the house warm all night on about two small logs. In fact, the house was so airtight when it was first built that he almost died because their first fire slowly filled the house with carbon Monoxide. They now have a one-way fan to blow the occasional burst of air into the house.

Some other friends burned wood to heat their 200 year old home. The insulation there was so poor that the fire never really heated the whole house. It took hours to heat the couple of rooms adjacent the wood stove. They would came home to a freezing house, and once the fire was roaring, they would curl up on the sofa that had been placed right in front of the stove to keep warm. They spent most of the winter there.

This past summer they had an energy audit done, during which a huge fan was placed in the front door and an expert on these things went around the house using various technologies to detect any place where air was leaking into the house from outside, or heat traveled easily through. A few weeks later a team of people came to the house, and using everything from expandable foam, to double paned windows and thick layers of fiberglass insulation, shored up the whole house.

Montpelier sits in a valley. In the fall when the temperature drops and everyone fires up their wood stoves, the town becomes a pool of wood smoke. Driving out of town you rise up out of the thick air and back into the crisp blue sky. This goes on all winter.

Burning wood is generally considered part of the natural carbon cycle because the carbon that is being released into the atmosphere in the smoke was previously taken out of that same atmosphere by the trees while they grew.

Wind took down one half of a huge, 100+ year old Maple tree in the front yard of a house on County Rd. Afterward they had someone out there with a chain saw and log splitter mincing the massive trunk into fire wood. That should be enough hardwood to heat the house for at least the season.

Burning soft woods like pine and Fir don't release as much heat as hardwoods like Maple, Oak or best of all, Hickory. But they do give off nastier smoke, in fact soft woods leave a residue on the inside of chimneys and stove pipes which can eventually ignite. This is called a chimney fire.

Feel free to add on to this list in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Dying, Sort Of

There's the bumper sticker philosophy that says, "Live every day like it was you last." Well, it seems to me that it overlooks the fact that if you were going to live like you were about to die, one of your main orders of business would be to notify your friends and family of the situation, and that's really going to open a can of worms. I don't think this experience would be liberating so much as it would just make for a very dramatic day. Everyone would be crooning around you, dumping attention on you and possibly granting you once-in-a-life-time wishes. This experience would no doubt inspire you to great emotional heights and depths, out of which presumably would come some kind of clarity about what's important in the world and in your final day. This is the crux of the philosophy- enlightened opportunism. If you are thinking about actually living every day like it was your last, rather than just putting the bumper sticker on you car, then this is worth considering.

Case in point, one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. It's in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, when Gene Hackman as Royal tries to persuade his ex-wife Angelica Houston as Ethel to let him move back into the house with her and the kids. Hoping to use her pity (rather than admit he's just out of money,) he tells her that he's dying. They're standing out on the sidewalk where Royal has sort of ambushed Ethel to have the big conversation. First he just asks her if he can spend some time with her and the kids and she pays him no mind, but as soon as he drops the D-bomb, she stops in her tracks and gives his request her full consideration. Then she begins to break down, sobbing and growing hysterical. Royal clearly didn't anticipate, or plan for the outburst, and looking to calm her down, tries to retracts his initial statement, telling her, "ok, now wait a second, I'm not dying." But then she becomes enraged, smacks him in the face, and begins to storm away. Again caught off guard, and realizing his first strategy was the only one that was going to succeed, he reverts to the initial claim, saying, "Ethel, baby, I am dying." Ethel gets up in his face, and asks with the fierce concern of a stern mother, "Are you or aren't you?" He sticks with his final answer, and alas it is settled that he's moving back into the house.