Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Try This Again - Not Sustainable Part II

Alright I believe there is some confusion as to what my last post was about overall. By looking back I thought I was pretty explicit about some things but maybe the miscommunication was on my end. I will take that blame and leave it there. I will also admit I should have added in a bit more history on the experiment.

The original experiment was about heating the entire house using an outdoor wood furnace and if it is even possible to do so under a grid down situation. It was never about burning a smaller wood stove inside the house and/or closing off rooms, adding infinite amounts of insulation etc. In fact it was about proving someone didn't need to go that rout as some old time comments had claimed they could do.

I believe this is where the confusion set in as it seems my regular readers understood that and the anons or passerbye comments didn't.

The general discussion started a few years ago on the regional Missouri Preppers network forums in which some preppers claimed they could in fact run an outdoor wood furnace, feeding it entirely without gasoline engines and do it more efficiently than running a smaller wood stove and only heating essential parts of the house like others claimed would be needed. There was some merit to these claims as the size of the thing meant there was much less prep involved in cutting and splitting and the duct work allowed a more even flow of heat.

I had my doubts about these claims and have on numerous posts mentioned that as my experiment continued. I was more convinced that a smaller stove/less space was the only way to go in a grid down situation and that a full blown wood furnace was over kill and unsustainable in consumption in a grid down situation.

My post last night was to say that after three years of trying every move I could think of I am now convinced it is NOT possible to feed one of those monsters through an entire Winter without more man power, a line on free wood, or a bunch of money buying the wood. Of course I could try and enclose the wood furnace and insulate the blower duct a bit better but I doubt that would make a enough difference overall. I started this experiment because I was the only one who had both an indoor wood stove and an outdoor furnace.

I am also of the belief that this particular Winter has been so cold that it is effecting the thermostat inside the furnace and causing it to shut down which would be solved by enclosing the thing. Still as I said I doubt that would sway the numbers far enough to make it doable overall.

The first two years of the experiment was proving doable but only barely in my opinion. This year has shown me there is absolutely no way it can be done.

Therefore I am ending the experiment and will look into some different arrangements for next year and hopefully our new house. Wood furnaces have the place and their use but I am not going to recommend them for long term sustainable and off grid living.

I hope this clears things up a bit for those who did not understand what I was doing.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!


  1. Many, many years way back when, I owned a Papa Bear wood heater. I could load that sucker and suck down the dampers and heat our two-story Victorian all night long. Sucker was heavy steel of beautiful construction. Not sure if the company is still around but I'd check. They had the Papa Bear, Mama on. If you sleep shifts are set at three hours, I totally agree with you.

    1. I should note this was in Western Washington State...cold enough to snap trees, freeze the earth four foot deep kinda cold.

    2. Stephen - The two to three hour shifts are more to run the heater in the basement. My first sign that the experiment had failed was when I had to resort to backup heat. The last two years the residual heat from the furnace was more than enough to keep the basement above freezing. Not so this year.

      I would say overnight is the one place where the wood furnace really shines as I can stack the sucker full and it will still have coals 10 hours or more later. The problem is in this cold most of that heat is being wasted because it isn't enough to pop the thermostat to turn on the automatic blower. If I leave it on manual the air begins getting cold after about 4 hours.

    3. Also sounds like that was one of the old air tight models that could be regulated by the operator. If they had firebricks inside they are in my opinion actually the most efficient stoves ever made.

  2. The key is Infiltration and insulation in that order. If you want to keep the inside temperature warmer than outside;the energy you put in the inside is only half of it, the other half is the rate at which that energy flows through the roof and walls to the outside. If 22 ricks isn't sustainable, add insulation until you arrive at a wood requirement that is. The first 80% reduction should be pretty simple and won't require anything exotic. Just sealing cracks and upping the insulation, mainly in the attic. It would also take you down to 5 ricks of wood which probably is sustainable.


    Ps. The attic is the most important because heat rises so the greatest temperature difference is between the ceiling and the upper uninsulated part of the attic. Fortunately it is also the easiest to fix.

    P.p.s. The best single book on the subject is: The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling by Daniel D. Chiras. There are other books that go deeper into individual areas but this one covers all the principles. It is $20 well spent.

    1. Dan - Where did you get the impression the attic is not insulated? I have room to add more of course until I fill it to the peak and block the vents if I so desired but achieving a balance when we are getting temps 30 degrees colder than normal causes some serious issues. Which is why I am saying attempting to run an outside wood furnace right now is not sustainable.

  3. Shoot, if I can't get gas for my saw for the 4-6 cord I use to heat my small cabin in North Idaho I've already decided I'm finished, and I've got easily felled trees everywhere. I'm just betting on having enough wood to get me through a 2-3 year gas shortage. I cannot survive up here without gas. If I have to cut wood with a crosscut saw, I'm following the path of the Golden Horde.

    1. Griz - LOL I hear ya. That was the entire point of this experiment. I produced a few loads using hand tools to get a baseline then switched back to chainsaws and splitter but looked at the numbers per cord. My last figures showed there was NO WAY one man could do it in workable hours. It really has little to nothing to do with insulation but overall burn times and the amount of BTU needed to set the blower on the furnace going at this point.

      I would need to add at least one more cutter/loader tot he mix to make the numbers come out as feasible.

      I wouldn't join the horde but I would shut the furnace down and begin cutting for the stove and basically live in one or two rooms of the house. In a grid down situation I wouldn't have to worry about the pipes anyway.

  4. I still say that you have other issues. 22 cords is WAY too much.

    Either the stove is bad, or the ductwork is bad or something.

    We have been 30 degrees F below normal here all winter, and while our wood use is higher than normal, it ain't 22 cords worth either.

    1970's house..2x4 walls, 6" blown in insulation in attic and still have single pane glass (with storm windows) and decent curtains covering the. Single story ranch with 14oosw feet and we have gone through about 3 tons this year (51/2 RICKS. (not cords).. THis is with the backup furnace running when we aren't home during the day, which accounts for about 25% of our heat...

    Your consumption is too high by a factor at least three (more like 5).

    again, something doesn't make sense.

    (Not saying that even that rate is sustainable though)

    1. B - Well I shut off all backup heat. Also I am not sure if you are familiar with the furnace type I am using. It will take a complete wheel barrow load of wood at one time and doesn't allow the type of operator control an indoor stove does. The wind can really hurt the internal thermostat as well. 22 cords is about double or a bit more than I usually go through but that is since October too which usually I don't even start burning until November.

      My point is all the insulation in the house doesn't matter when the outside temps are keeping the blower from kicking in therefore requiring me to by pass the automatic air intake and increase the air flow manually. For weather like this what I really need to do is inclose the furnace I think.

  5. I don't know whether you have started your new house yet but you might want to look at some of the scandinavian kit log homes produced in sweden. They are designed to be heated of just one woodburning stove and amongst other things feature triple glazed windows as well as passive solar etc etc. They are quite cheap too but I don't know about importing them in the states. They really have got the design of them figured out. My cousin bulit on last year and yes our winters are mild in the UK but until DDecember he didn't even have to light the woodburner! I will try to get the details of him as it may give you some ideas to play with.

    1. Anon - That sounds like a neat idea but I'm afraid the choice of what is going to be built is entirely out of my control. The wife has had one particular house picked out for years and she is dead set on getting it. However any advice on extras and such are always welcomed if they can be incorporated into the design :)

  6. Ah the constraints of the whims of gods and of course that higher power, our wives!
    My house is very old and what they call grade 1 listed. Essentially It means I actually have to get permission to do pretty much anything that affects the look of the outside and certain interior work. We have managed to fit triple glazing in timber frames which was extortionate as most of the windows are arch shaped. It has made a substantial difference to heat loss.
    I have to say though had the house not been in my family for so long, literally hundreds of years, I would much prefer a new one. We've spent years insulating everything and as I mentioned previously our central heating is run off a rayburn that bothe provides hot water and heating via radiators.
    We have been trying to install a wood pellet burner as the output is far higher but getting planning permission to build a structure to house has so far been impossible.
    Ironically we are in the timber business and we convert the lop and top into wood pellets for commecial use. I could heat the place at minimal cost then.

    1. Anon - Believe me I know what your saying. I cannot wait to dump this old house myself. I really really thought about going with a water heating system at one time but I got too good a deal on the furnace I have.

      Sorry you have to deal with all those regulations. I refuse to ask permission from the government just to do what I feel is best on my own property.

    2. I would rather not deal with them either, unfortunately or fortunately depending how you look at it, my house is part of a family trust and part of the trusts stipulations is that all building regulations and covenants be adherred to. We have managed to keep the house, farm and woods for so long it would be a shame to find having broke the conditions of the trust that we become liable for inheritance tax.
      Successive governments, usually labour ones, have seen it their duty to steal as much as they can without little thought for history or stability of rural communities. Historically our woodlands used to give the people in the nearby village the freedom to collect fallen wood. The last labour government wanted to calculate the value of this to add in as income we should of collected and therefore taxable.
      The politics of envy will be a big contributor to the final downfall of the west.

    3. WOW. I had no idea the Brit government went so far as to try and tax foraged firewood, especially fallen deadwood. That's even more greedy than our government around here. One thing I can say is the taxes and 99% of the progressive rules have no gotten out this far yet but the EPA keeps hoping.

      I understand your choice my friend. Keeping the old ancestral farm is a very important thing to strive for and worthwhile. My hat's off to you and I hope you keep it up.

    4. Anon - I hope you come back and read this. Do you have a blog yourself? If so I would love to read about your adventures and your place.

      So what is stopping you from just building an extension behind the house to put a stove in? Do you really think a semi-permanent structure would incur their wrath?

    5. No we don't have a blog, my brothers and I did discuss doing one but a lot of what we do is controversial. For example we use deer hunting as a way to control the rampant population. No big deal in the US but hunting here is not only a class issue but will also guarantee a visit from the eco loons. We also have been visited several times by the RSPCA as we use pigs to naturally ckear undergrowth in woodland as we as horses for log extraction where vehicles would tear up the ground too much. Some people including some of the RSPCAs inspector seem to believe that pigs should not live in their natural environment and horses should be merely expensive ornaments!
      Being a listed building Grade 1 has serious legal implications. Unlike breeching normal planning regulations Listed Building status means that any unauthorised alterations to it is actually a criminal offence. The listed conditions we have restrict any construction more than 1.5m high of any temporary nature, ie timber sheds and no permanent structures within 50 metres,160ft, of the houses, turret, barns or lawns! Anything there would require full planning permission!
      To be fair the house is of significant historical significance having been the home of one of the last Welsh Princes. Not many houses have a tower with arrow slits, a dungeon and cellar complete with spice and salt safes!
      As to our governments attitude to tax. Some 15 years ago we were informed by the HMRC that giving our employees, we have about 50 at any one time, a Christmas turkey or goose was a taxable benefit in kind! We still give them away but now pay for them out of our own pocket, we raise them anyway so the cost is minmal but still!
      We also give the lads that work in the forests and the timber mill three cubic metres of log each per year, mainly from the lop and top, but it still burns well.
      To give you an idea of the size we have several hundred acres of woodland, much of which is coppiced providing every thing from hedging stakes and fencing pales to sawn kiln dried timber. We have cattle providing milk and beef, pigs, sheep a commercial orchard and grow organic vegetables. We gave a farm shop which sells the produce as well has agricultural machinery workshops ran by another of my brothers.
      In short we have enough hassles with the Foresty commision, Cadw, Heritage England, Defra and just about any agency that fancies a bite. It doesn't help that our land straddles the Welsh English border so frequently end up dealing with two agencies, sometimes three if there is an EU quango involved too, over just one issue!
      Anyway sorry to rattle on, love your blog though.

    6. And I apologise for the typos!

  7. Pioneer Preppy, I think the problem some of us are trying to address with you regards your approach to finding a "sustainable" method of heating your home. Heating is not a "sustainable" endeavor by nature. Nobody I know can easily get access to 22 cords of wood per winter.

    And, think about it, who cares about the experiment if it is costing too much money and you are being too wasteful with your resources in the first place.

    Thrift, frugality, and austerity (things we will all be FORCED to practice soon, if we are not doing them already) require researching what kinds of heat are going to work for the region and climate we live in, the best insulation techniques and how much will be required, etc.

    Secondly, there is the cost in man hours and actual money. Man, I can't be experimenting with those two things! I have to know whether the effort of my money and labor are going to give me the optimum amount of heat.

    And then, okay -your wife wants the house temp to be 75 degrees +. She's going to have to learn that when there isn't money for heat, she's going to have to layer and put on more clothes. Don't know how old you and the wife are, but I sure see a LOT of people wearing flip flops and sleeveless t's in the winter and then thinking 69 - 75 degrees is "too cold" in the house.

    Please stop taking these comments in the wrong way, Pioneer Preppy. We're trying to give you good advice.
    As a prepper, I would think you would want to utilize all your resources and your TIME to the fullest degree of success. When our societal/financial collapse comes, you can't be burning 22 + cords of wood for heat! You can't be expecting to keep your house temp at 75! You are going to be thankful you put however much insulation you need into your attic and walls and that people gave you good advice about how to save the tiniest amount of heat escaping your home.

    One more thing -about building an insulated building around your outside wood burning stove: probably a bad idea from a safety standpoint. I knew a guy who did that, and his house caught on fire & it burned down. He was warm for a jiffy.

    Again, Pioneer Preppy, don't take everything the wrong way -as criticism or not understanding your experiment. We're trying to help you, and some of us have been around the block a few times.

    1. Anon - I know what you are trying to say. I am not upset at anyone, at least anyone who didn't try and shoot an insult my way simply because I told them their comment was irrelevant to the discussion.

      This is not about insulating and never has been.

      It is about keeping the blower going on the outside furnace. No amount of insulation is going to effect that to be honest. The insulation post and dealing with lower than normal temps in the house was last month.

      As a mater of fact you cannot know until you run the numbers and see all the obstacles involved. The final analysis came down to "is the lack of needed prep time on the wood worth the use of more overall". At these temperatures it isn't, at last year's it was.

      Like the few you are defending you are failing to see the purpose of the experiment or the up side to it.

      As for enclosing the furnace I wouldn't recommend it in wood but a metal building would definitely be on the agenda if we were not hoping to build this Summer.

      The simple fact is no one asked for, nor was a primer in insulation needed or in fact even relevant really. It takes X amount of fuel to make the blower kick on depending on temperature outside not temperature inside. Burning anything without the blower going is more wasteful than adding more to keep the blower going.

      It's really that simple.

  8. I have come to the conclusion that the word furnace applies to the old world, the world of lots of cheap energy be it oil gas or wood or coal. It is a concept that assumes the whole house gets heated and everyone walks around happy and warm. This whole outlook only came about in the early 20th century. The only "open concept" buildings were train stations as people had small compartmented rooms for the most part and they heated the room they were in. There were fewer bathrooms to freeze. In the new world we will have to look at things very differently.

    1. SF - I would say you are prolly 100% correct. When the temps were relatively mild the less time needed to screw around with the logs and being able to cut them in 24" lengths with half the splitting made a huge difference.

      Under these extreme cold conditions since the furnace must remain outside and all the decreased prep and cutting time didn't help.

      As we have discussed before I believe in a grid down situation it will be back to a stove and shutting off rooms, etc.

  9. Pioneer I didn't want to get invoved in any blog fight. I just wanted to say that you really helped me a lot when I started using my wood stove and I was worried about you working on grabbing a couple of hours sleep to feed the furnace/beast. We live and learn if we are lucky!

    1. MASR - I didn't really consider it a blog fight lol. If someone else did then well that's their problem I guess I have much thicker skin than that. Burning a stove or a furnace is as much about the region you are in as anything else which is why I always include that in any advice I give. It so happens you were burning some wood I had some experience with had you been using Aspen or a lot of Pine I would have really been at a loss however.


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