Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 10: Happy Heating Quartile!

We are entering the second quarter of our heating season here in North America. I arrived at December 10 some years ago by totaling average heating degree-days for a season, dividing by four, and figuring quartile dates. These are posted on the wall below to remind us how our supply of wood is holding up. Of course, weather each year is different and sometimes it's colder, like last year’s heating season that was much longer than average. So, an actual heating season may differ from average like last spring: when a vernal equinox snow buried sprouting grass and crocus for a few weeks.
Left: Wood Added Last Spring; Right: Wood Being Removed; 
A third of US fossil energy services buildings: lighting, heating water, conditioning space and running appliances. These applications are typically easier for renewable energy than those in industries that need high temperatures in huge amounts, another third, because homes, offices and institutions are spread out and require heat and cooling at modest temperature. Lastly, it is difficult for solar, wind and other forms of today’s energy to address the fossil third that fuels vehicles. They move and can’t manage bulky energy storage that is not market ready. It’s up to us to insure we realize energy resource tools that our children and generations can use forever. Purchasing natural gas, heating oil, propane and fossil fueled electricity for heating and cooling  homes are votes for fossil energy purveyors, with their required fracking, tar sands, ocean drilling, pipelines, barges, supertankers and railcars, not to mention water pollution, habitat disintegration, and climate change. Protests are easy to ignore. Using local resources diminishes fossil fuel profits.

We’ve been burning wood to heat our home since the early 1970’s. It takes more work than paying for oil deliveries, the most common source of heating fuel in our rural area, but it also has rewards:
1.     Spring: exercise gathering, cutting up and splitting 12 tons of wood into chunks;
2.     Heating season: daily workouts loading and transporting wood from shed to kitchen;
3.     Every few hours: loading wood into stove firebox;
4.     Twice weekly: jaunts to spread ashes on fields;
5.     Six months: cooking meals & making maple syrup over an already hot surface;
6.     Warming Shelves: starting seeds, dehydrating food & rising dough; and
7.     Always: enjoying radiant heat along with warm, dry garments.
Selecting wood keeps our woodlot in prime growing condition, our orchard and evergreen trees open to sunlight and utilizes waste wood dropped by utilities, storms and neighbors. We spare good trees for lumber, food, woodcrafts or growing mushrooms, though trimmings do become fuel. Removing dying trees and those that become challenged by more successful plants allow those remaining to sequester carbon faster from the atmosphere.

A shortcoming: we can’t leave home for too long during December and January. Passive solar gain keeps our home well above freezing for the rest of the heating season. We’re planning to back up our cook stove in the kitchen with radiant floor heating that utilizes heat from a solar collector and storage. We then have to add another source, probably a wood pellet burning water heater, that can automatically generate heat when the sun doesn’t shine for extended periods. We’ve already experienced six-weeks in early winter where the sun rarely came out.

We’re looking forward to January 19th and March 3rd, midpoint and third quartile for an average heating season, when ordering and planting seeds, maple syrup and wood gathering take over our lives.