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Off With the Thermostat

January 12, 2010

March 25, 2009

I turned my thermostat down as far as it would go in February of 2008, and it hasn’t been touched since. I was lucky to get an old log-burner woodstove from someone who was downsizing, and it quickly became the heart of the house. It takes a 27-inch log. That’s almost a recreational keeper striped bass.

Burning wood is not exactly clean fuel, but we have cut all our own cordage and are trying to manage our woods responsibly. Anything dead or down goes first and anything classified as invasive can join them. It does seem that since the Cape is a glacial morain, anything that isn’t ICE might be invasive, but that is beside the point. We also scavenged a great deal of wood that would have become wood chips or simply have rotted on the ground.

This winter was particularly cold with many nights of strong wind. The sliders soon became public enemy number one, and giant wool blankets were employed to reduce drafts there. A more permanent solution awaits for next winter, but I think it might involve velcro and heavy, quilted fabric. Having an open floor plan and a large central ceiling fan was a stroke of luck that enabled us to heat the whole house efficiently on all but the coldest nights.

I grew up with a big old Temp-Wood top-loader that belched smoke during Nor-Easters and took huge, fat logs that burned almost all night. As a result, I am used to cold floors in the morning and have an ingrained aversion to morning showers. But I remembered the queer little doorway fans my father installed to help our rooms stay warm, and sure enough they were in the basement at the old house. I installed one on the doorway of the baby’s room only to find that it had very little, if any, positive effect. It did, however, get shut in the door frequently. The baby ended up sleeping next to me all winter.

The winter’s stash of oak, locust, birch, apple, cherry and maple is all gone. We burned three and a half cords, not bad for a three bedroom, two-bath house with a cathedral ceiling. We kept the temperature around 68 degrees, with dips on very cold nights and sweltering spikes when the outdoor temp rose above 35. We are now making it through the last of the heating months burning the pertrified locust that fell over during Hurricane Bob. If you cut it at night, you’ll see sparks. This wood is a saw-killer, but the logs sound like baseball bats when you throw them together and they split like a deck of cards and burn like easy money.

Of the live maple and fresh locust we’re cutting, we have around two cords logged and ready to split and stack for next year. Looks like I’ll be singing David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country (I’ll kiss your —)” when he recites, ‘…house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs, I spent the summertime cuttin’ up logs for the winter.’ I can’t vouch for any of his other lyrics.

The heat is really hard to regulate, especially when it is moderate outside. Some people go on vacations; I think I’ll just break out the shorts and tees and bask in the glow of my big Irish iron. Oak is so hot and long-burning  it has to be a no-no for these temperatures, and should be reserved in a separate pile for the coldest nights. Locust is very hot, but very fast-burning. Maple is less hot but burns long, especially if seasoned for a year instead of six months. Birch burns well and smells delicious in the air outside, as does cherry. Apple must be split small and saved for smoking fish. Period.

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