Resilience In Retirement
This is a great thread about resilience. Maybe the divisive political discussions would be better elsewhere.
You can probably learn a lot more about operating your wood stove from others here at PP or the internet for that matter but here’s my 2 cents.
1. Don’t stack the wood against the house (ants, termites, etc)
2. Try to burn only dry wood. Mostly hardwoods if possible. Pine is a soft wood that burns easily but has low energy density. Great for starting fires but builds up more creosote. Oak is hardwood, harder to ignite, burns hotter and has much more energy density.
3. Burn hot for a while first thing in the morning before throttling back with the damper. At night you will burn cool (nearly closed damper) to hopefully have coals still in the morning. The problem is when you burn at low intensity you get creosote build up in your chimney. Burn hot to volatilize as much as possible. Getting the chimney cleaned annually is cheap insurance. When I came home from the Navy one time I learned the family hadn’t followed good practices and the first time I started it for the season we had a chimney fire.
4. Wire mesh chimney guards are best installed before the raccoons move in (personal experience….).
5. Expect to be tracking in a fair amount of dirt and debris and plan accordingly.
6. Consider keeping a big pot or kettle of water on the stove to keep the humidity levels of the house up in the winter, especially when it is very cold. Don’t let it get empty though… If it is -10F with 100% relative humidity outside (very likely in NH on a frosty morning in February), by the time you heat it to 70F in your house the relative humidity (RH) would drop to a little over 6%. Rule of thumb is RH drops by half for every 20F increase in temperature if no water is added. Incidentally, the reverse of this is why we are getting more heavy rains nowadays, warmer air carries more water and therefore has more to drop….).
For anyone looking to heat with wood I can highly recommend looking into rocket mass heaters. You do pretty much have to build them yourself, but they aren’t that hard to construct with the information that is out there in a relatively recently available book and some videos about construction.
I built one in my mobile home that is on the low side of efficiency for what a RMH can do. I think this is mostly because I don’t have enough space for the full thermal storage bench. Anyway, I was heating with a Hearthstone wood stove, which is a soap stone type. With the RMH I found I was using about 50% less wood and 80% – 90% less propane in my back up heating furnace. The mass will store heat for a long time reducing the need to burn as often.
Some time back I wrote a blog post about it with more info and links to the materials I used to help me figure out how to build mine by myself. If you are interested in reading it you can go here.
Oh, I should say too that other people who heated with wood stoves and switched to a rocket mass heater found they were using as much as 90% less wood!
I second David’s recommendation to look into wood stove alternatives. I have no experience with a rocket mass heater, but we love our masonry heater. It is essentially a large cement block surrounding a firebox. The wood burns hot and fast and the masonry soaks up the heat then releases it slowly. The masonry heaters have been around for years, especially in Europe. We got ours with an oven so we cook with it as well.
Mark is quite right: do not burn wet wood. I have found a wood shed to be ever so much better than the stacking methods I tried.
I’ll now second Carl’s comment. I haven’t used a masonry heater, but they are awesome as well. Essentially the same concept as a rocket mass heater, designed to burn really really hot and then store the heat in a mass. Masonry heaters do tend to be more beautiful, but they also tend to need a skilled mason to construct thus they are generally much more expensive than a RMH. I’ve heard the RMH described as being a peasant’s masonry heater, possible to build for a few hundred dollars, and something you can maintain yourself if anything wears out.
Mark is right too that wet wood won’t give the same level of heat. Much of the energy ends up getting used to evaporate the water still in the wood. I’ve adapted one of my outbuilding to become a woodshed so I can be using good dry wood for the hottest fires. Also, if you have a RMH or masonry heater that can take the intense 2000+ degrees F temps then splitting the wood into smaller pieces, exposing more surfaces, helps it to burn hotter too which allows the mass to pull out more of the heat for storage.
If you are splitting wood into smaller pieces I’d recommend getting or making a kindling splitter. The brand name if you are buying one is Kindling Cracker. I made one this year and it has been SO nice for splitting up my firewood, a much safer, easier way to go than swinging an axe. Yes, I did a blog post about that as well which you can find here.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the frostfree period, Tom. Where I live in Albany, NY, we are officially zone 5, but the average annual minimum temperature, which is used to define hardiness zones, has been creeping up since the 90s and is now around -7°F, making us zone 6a rather than 5b. I think the frost dates you quote are the official ones for Grafton which I’m guessing is well to your north. (See https://davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/index.php). Where I live, my frost free season is almost always significantly longer than at the Albany airport because of the forest cover around my property and the nearby hill that slopes down to a pond – just like your slope down to the river.
I’m curious if you considered passsive solar. I see from the photos, there are more windows on the south side of your home than the north side, but I wouldn’t say the window area is large.
Also, thanks to David Huang for recommending the Kindling Cracker.
Regarding the comment on really cold snaps and pipes freezing: do you have a way to drain down the system easily if you have to leave in the winter? That plus some RV atifreeze in the toilet tanks would provide peace of mind.
- This reply was modified 1 week, 5 days ago by aggrivated.
thc0655 this was such an interesting topic that I actually registered after years (and years) of lurking. I commend you on such a well thought out plan and putting it into action.
Although retirement is a good ways in the future for me I have been keeping it in mind as I have put in the work on the farm my wife and I purchased a couple years ago. Like you can attest to, it is all a whole lot of work. And a lot of it won’t produce a lot of results for a few years.
Everything seems to be more complex than you’d think. Even something as trivial as what green bean to plant can turn into a real production. Our first year’s garden we tried Dutch half-runners which are THE go to green bean in the Appalachians. Guess what, a whole lot of the seeds are contaminated from previous attempts to take a wonderful backyard bean and cross it with other types to make it tougher so that it could be transported/marketed. They are fibrous and just about uneatable. We managed to get some of them and ended up with a lot of wasted effort for nothing. This year we have Kentucky Wonders and they have been perfect. 24 quarts so far this year, more to come, and all we’ve tasted have been great.
And I don’t even want to get started on how many hours I spent trying to get accurate and concise information on apple tree pollination. Gads! I wish I had a dollar for every incorrect article on triploid pollination. :p
Anyway, a big hat tip for such a great topic and an encouraging mod your way for the travails of starting your journey.
Thanks for all the encouragement and tips on various parts of our project. We want to minimize wood heating, but that will be up to the weather and how well our PV system works in the winter with the Mitsubishi heat pump system.
We’re also battling other parts of the environment for the fruits of our garden. We successfully fought off a leaf spot fungus on our lone cherry tree using an organic method we first found on the Interwebs and then confirmed with our organic gardening books. A raccoon got four of our first 6 ears of sweet corn and last night he came back for more. They seem to know exactly when they are 2-3 days from prime ripeness (which is when we’ll pick them)! But I had a Havahart surprise for the naughty little guy and gave him a free ride to some woods 2 miles away. My granddaughters from Iowa were here on their last day of vacation and were delighted with the whole adventure. Tomato hornworms got into our tomatoes and half stripped two of our 10 plants and ruined about a dozen green tomatoes in about 12 hours when we first noticed them. We removed them by hand which is the organic method (!!!). We learned two additional facts from that experience. First, if you see hornworms with little white eggs on their backs don’t kill them. The eggs are not their own but belong to a predatory wasp that lays them there. The eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the hornworms killing them, and then become wasps which continue dive bombing the hornworms into oblivion. Second, if you crush a 4” hornworm with a rock the green guts will shoot out both ends at least 4 feet. Forewarned.
Once our gardening season is done, we’re going to get serious about our bug out plan in the hopefully extremely unlikely event we have to evacuate from what I believe is a very safe and adequately isolated spot here in NH. Our original plan was to get a small 20 foot RV trailer but we have become disenchanted with the concept after looking at a few with money in our hot little hands. Instead we have put down a deposit on a GoFastCamper to mount over the bed of our Chevy Colorado. It’s much simpler than a towed RV and allows us to maintain our truck bed for hauling stuff. Since it only weighs about 250 lbs it also allows the truck to still handle like it always has and go where it’s always gone. It’s a brilliant solution for us. Check it out:
Our master plan includes weaving patches of wildflower meadows in with our vegetables, pollinator gardens and fruit trees for a variety of reasons. One of our big hopes has been to attract and keep Monarch butterflies, but we figured that might fail completely or take years to accomplish. They apparently will only lay their eggs on milkweed. Our two stretches of wildflowers started from seeds broadcast by hand back in mid-June are looking mostly like beds of weeds with the tallest plants only 6” – 10” tall (most are 1” – 3””). The very knowledgeable lady from the NH Cooperative Extension (Cathy Neal) said to expect your wildflower meadows to look like weed patches for 2-3 years. Be patient! she urges and resist the urge to tear it all out and do something else. We’ve been seeing Monarch butterflies on our butterfly bushes and a few others in our pollinator garden so we’ve been holding our breaths in anticipation. Our wildflower seed mix included milkweed but if any of it has germinated its too small for us to identify yet. This morning we went out to work in the garden and saw half a dozen little Monarch caterpillars munching on plants in our wildflower patch!! Yay! The only problem is my wife is so concerned about her wildflower patch she wants to remove the caterpillars by hand and place them somewhere else on our property so they don’t impede the growth of our wildflower meadow. She’s our gardening boss and I’m just the manual labor, but I put my foot down on that issue. I evaluated that idea to be the equivalent of spraying the atmosphere with aluminum micro particles to block out the sun and reduce global warming. We’re going to celebrate the Monarchs while keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t eat all our wildflower seedlings.
All of you who are between us in New Hampshire and Mexico: be on the lookout for our Monarchs! I’m sure the Mrs will want to band them for future study, so I’ll get back to you on what kind of banding she puts on their tiny little legs. 😉😂
Here’s a demonstrator stretch of wildflower meadow grown by the NH Cooperative Extension.
Here’s the Mrs today with some of our 15 lbs of tomatoes, green beans, peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers.
- This reply was modified 3 days, 12 hours ago by thc0655.