Sunday, October 19, 2008

Things we are psyched about...

...this awesome box found in our woodshed during our dumpster vacation... wood rack from Plow and Hearth...(thanks, mom)

...the food mill sitting in wait for softening apples to be mushed into apple butter...

...and Psych on Hulu.

Also, we used our woodstove for heat last night and it was incredible. We are completely in l.o.v.e. Ceiling fans and transoms help disburse the heat magically and the stove was still warm when we woke up this morning. Fab-o.

Things we are not psyched about....people who call us from the Rhinebeck sheep and wool festival to gloat about spending a beautiful fall day at the yarn orgy. (Thanks mom)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nature abhors a vacuum...

...and I abhor a monoculture lawn.

We have a small front lawn. It is worthless, we do not use it. It is heavily shaded, bordered on the South by jack pines, the West by black locusts, the East by quaking aspen, and the North by the house. It is approximately square, about 2000 sq ft. We want to put garden in there, or perhaps something else. Whatever it is needs to be shade tolerant.

One option is to kill the grass and re-seed it with a shade tolerant prairie mix (we are planning to put prairie out into the field as well...)

Or, we can design some sort of ordered garden. What say you, readers? Good suggestions for plants/gardens for the front yard? See the pic of the house in the sidebar of the blog to see what the yard looks like...

Home heating economics (firewood and other contemplations)

In our house we have central heating and air. We have not yet turned on the Air conditioner, and we probably never will.

Heat for this house has in the past been supplied in many ways. Once, there were wood stoves. Then, there was coal. Coal was replaced by fuel oil. Fuel oil has given way to propane. Propane again gives way to wood.

The current central heating system for the house actually consists of 2 propane furnaces working in harmony and controlled by a multi stage thermostat. One of the furnaces alone does not have sufficient power to heat the house, especially the upstairs. Most of the reason for this is that we have large lengths of ductwork that runs through crawlspaces and the basement, all of which was uninsulated and leaky when we moved in (we also have drafty single pane windows... that's a story for later). When we moved in, the secondary furnace was not operational. As a result, it took about 2 hours for the furnace to begin delivering warm air into a cold house. we always knew where our mittens were. The basement was warm though, and the ducts radiated much heat! Owing to the lack of insulation, in rooms serviced by long runs of ductwork the air blowing out would never be "warm".

After getting the second furnace operational, magic things happened - if you throw enough brute power into things, we get cooking quite quickly! The furnace was fixed on a very cold day, but the house heated up like magic! Two furnaces firing heats the whole house quickly. Of course, wonderful things can happen if you are willing to burn 50 gallons of propane in a day!

This number is real - we burned 50 gallons of propane in a single day. This explains why the average use of propane by the previous owners was 1800 gallons per year!!!! Propane currently costs 2.69 per gallon. I have no interest in spending $5,000 to heat our house this year. Fortunately, I don't think we'll have too.

We stayed chilly for most of last winter, and between mid January and now we have used 600 gallons of propane. We did manage to insulate 80% of the ductwork (Makes a big difference). We also lined some of the windows with plastic shrinky wrap lining (Huge help there!!!). JoAnna also made curtains for the bedroom (kills those drafts quite nicely!). INstallation of a new programmable thermostat was also a big plus. Despite all of this, I still feel as though we're probably getting less than 50% efficiency out of our 80% efficient furnace (we only turned one on for most of the season). Lots of heat wasted still.

Fortunately, we have wood, and 2 stoves to burn it in.

I recently surveyed the trees of our property, here is what I learned:

Our property is slightly more than 8 acres, half of which is a field. The remaining half has trees. I measured every tree on the property with a DBH of greater than 4 inches. We have 438 trees of this size. There are an additional 3-400 saplings of 1-4 inches DBH. The average DBH of the trees on our property is 9.6 inches. The largest tree that we have is a Silver Maple with a DBH of 43 inches. The second largest is a Sugar Maple with a 36" trunk. We have 197 significant Black Walnut trees, 28 of which have a DBH of > 16 inches. The predominant species on the property include Walnut, Sugar Maple, Black Locust, Cherry, and Mulberry.

After reading material from a variety of extension agencies, I am estimating that our trees make up about 115 cords of wood. I am also estimating that 4 acres of woodlot trees can produce 2 cords of wood per year.

Here are some other fun factoids:

1 gallon of propane = 14.6 pounds of wood.

1 cord of walnut = 218 gallons of propane. A cord of Black Locust is the BTU equivalent of 275 gallons of propane. A cord of our least favorite tree, silver maple, is only 188 gallons of LPG.

Let's normalize these somewhat and assume that we want to burn the equivalent of 750 gallons of propane per year - this approximates to ~3.1 cords of firewood, give or take. In the extension materials that I have read, this seems like a reasonable amount of wood and is in line with the experience of others. This may be beyond the sutainable yield of our woodlot though, by about a little more than a cord per year. In 90 years, our woodlot will be a field of stumps. Lesson learned - We have enough wood for our lifetime!

We want to keep trees though, so we need to take a sustainable yield.

So this year, I would like it very much if we did not have to use our central propane furnace at all.

This spring we dropped 4 trees that were interfering with our barn, as well as a large dead walnut tree. We also chopped up a large Sugar Maple that fell in a severe thunderstorm. Our labor earned us a little over 2 cords of walnut, locust and maple, ready and waiting for the first chilly evening. I don't know if 2 cords will be enough to make it through the winter, but I have to believe that anything is better than burning propane in our central furnace, including space heaters.

A 1500 watt space heater will do an acceptable job of heating a room. Left on for 8 hours, it consumes 12 kilowatt hours of electricity. We pay $0.07 per kilowatt hour (for now...). This translates to 84 cents per day per space heater. Even if we run 3 heaters 8 hours each per day, we are still looking at 2.52 per day, or about an extra 75 bucks on our electric bill each month. Even if we doubled that to be an extra 150 bucks per month, and assumed that we ran them for 6 months, we're still looking at less than a thousand dollars worth of electricity. I wonder how this compares to the cost of electricity for the blower on the furnaces. In the winter with the furnace, our electric bill last year was over 200/month. In the summer, it has been 80-100 bucks per month. The only thing not on now is the furnace...

This, coupled with our wood stoves seems the way to go. As fossil fuels become more and more scare, we need to go full circle, back to wood stoves, the way this house was heated when it was built, 152 years ago.

Anyone wanna buy 2 propane furnaces and an A/C compressor?

Fireplace reveal....



It's still a bit dusty. We've got to clean off the slate and seal it, as well as decide on some trim for the floor...but yayyy!!!! We're nearly there.

The side by side shot:

The "side by side" kitty shots:

Friday, October 10, 2008


Some knitting photos:

The start of Bill's DNA scarf from walnut dyed wool:

And Bill's sock (you can't tell how enormous it is but it's big)

My Sunday Market Shawl

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tiling is D.O.N.E. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We plugged in the last holes on the chimney tile just moments ago!

You can't see a photo yet because it is still rather messy in here.

It's messy outside too.

Look at the slop! It's like if you take rocks...and cut off little pieces then mix with make, like, mud.

But this is us celebrating our completed tiling:

And this is Bill looking very cute after lots of wet saw work. (This may be the last photo of him in his twenties because tomorrow he is 30!)

Nearly there...

We have two and 1/3 rows left to put on the chimney. (Hopefully this afternoon!)

It's been getting colder so we chopped up some fallen trees yesterday. One was a big, old sugar maple and some of the wood is a bit nasty for inside, so we are setting it aside for maple syrup boiling in the spring. It's some sort of cannibalistic circle of life deal.

We did have our three small "break in" fires for the stove but we're hoping the weather stays warm a little longer....

Bill is spending the morning canning gobs and gobs and gobs of garden tomato sauce. I think we are up to nineteen quarts at this point. (!!!)