Since moving into this homestead house, I've been slipping closer and closer toward nature. Every day I'm faced with the stark realities of providing food and shelter, in all their various forms. Today I need shelter, or more simply, heat. In my previous homes, I just clicked my thermostat up a notch or two when cold. Now I need to throw a log on the fire, literally.
With fall settling in, temperatures are dropping rapidly. The nearby mountaintops are dusted with snow. I've been adding clothing layers daily: sweatshirts, sweatpants, scarfs. Lol. Finally, I got brave and ventured into the basement where the HVAC system and wood burning stove reside. There I found a mystery: the furnace seemed to be dysfunctional; the side panel door had been removed. Not only that, but the propane feed line was disconnected entirely.
I have to admit I was a little concerned. I quickly ran upstairs and checked my inspection report: nothing at all about a dysfunctional heating system. So much for property inspectors.
Upon further investigation, I learned that the furnace was installed to serve as a heat distributor for the wood-burning stove. The side of the furnace facing the wood stove was removed and has a fan strapped to it. On top of the wood stove are heat-induced fans that blow towards the furnace. The idea was this: heat from the wood stove flows to the fan that blows into the furnace that is piped to most of the house. The furnace is not connected to the bedrooms, so the heat blowing into the furnace has no direct route to the bedrooms. Lol. Any heat blown into the side of the furnace is mainly delivered to the living room upstairs because it has a direct connection to the basement, and that is the shortest piping length.
What was the name for a complicated design like this?
I saw something back in my school days. I think they called it a Rube Goldberg machine, which according to Wikipedia is:
"a chain reaction-type machine or contraption intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way."
I definitely have a contraption here. I guess this is homestead heating at its finest, but I need to figure out how to utilize it. I need wood to feed the wood stove, which feeds the heating system, but I've never used a wood burning stove before! The previous owners left towering woodpiles in the back, but I quickly realized I must learn how to use this stove...and NOW, or I freeze.
One of the smaller woodpiles is covered, but the majority of my firewood is uncovered in a field—exposed to the elements. Rain is more frequent and I can’t allow my wood to get wet! Soaked wood will lead to no heat, and that will lead to a temperature drop in my house... 68..65..62..56.. and so on, and then my pipes will freeze; then I will freeze!
Average winters here are very cold, so I need to protect my heat source ASAP! The wood pile must be tarped, but I've never officially tarped anything in my life! Sounds silly, but I’ve never used a real tarp for anything. The closest I've come is wrestling with my oversized Star Wars towel at the beach.
What could be so complicated about covering a woodpile?
I purchased three heavy duty, 16x20 foot tarps online, and they were not cheap! Everything was dead calm as I dragged the heavy tarps out to the woodpile. I opened the first one and quickly realized they are difficult to unfold. The first fold wasn't bad, but they increasingly got more unwieldy, until I was practically RUNNING to the other end to get the darn thing open. Why was I running? Because the wind was picking up, lots of wind! A little more and off I'd go, up to the snow topped mountains! You've probably seen those beach vacationers pulled behind a boat with a kite strapped to their back: suddenly they are 2,000 feet in the air and holding on for dear life. With these images flashing through my mind, I finally inched the edge of the tarp over the top. Wind could still breeze through the openings in the side, to help dry out the wood.
I did my research on wood piles. Online experts say to have a "rotating" firewood pile. The previous owners left multiple wood piles that appear to have different ages. The largest was left on the grass uncovered, so I tarped that one to stop the moisture.
How long can I store firewood outside?
Apparently, wood deteriorates after four years and is not great for burning! BUT if it's kept dry, it's still good firewood. Sometimes, older wood burns better.
What is wood seasoning?
Wood seasoning is the process of drying wood and removing moisture from wood walls—turning green wood into dry wood.
How long does fresh cut wood take to dry?
Different wood types dry at different rates depending on thickness, temperature, and moisture. Well-seasoned firewood has a moisture level of less than 20%. Purchase a moisture detector here to determine the moisture level of wood.
Why should you age your firewood?
Aged firewood is lighter to carry, burns cleaner, ignites easier, and is safer for the chimney.
I checked my wood piles, comparing the moisture content in each. Sometimes I found a large log that was light to carry; other times I picked up a similar sized log but struggled to lift it. The heavier logs, with more moisture, I threw to the side of the pile under the tarp to allow wind and sunshine to dry them out.
I’m learning as I go and also connecting to my homestead roots. Although my problems seem immense, I find myself thinking about my great-grandparents and how they made it without electricity or running water. Their journey motivates me to “get the job done” as I struggle through these problems (even simple ones like tarping a woodpile). Check out the vlog to watch my full struggle and maybe have a laugh.
Hopefully, I can now safely say "I will have heat this winter!"