Thursday, February 6, 2014
The Truth is it's Not Sustainable
I am on round (what is this six?) whatever of my two to three hour sleep shifts as the temps once again plummet below zero. They are forecasting a dip to around -7 tonight and then not getting above the lower 20's for the next 5 to 7 days. The radio is basically saying the snow will remain indefinitely and with it the wind chills are diving into dangerous levels once again.
Really the wind isn't all that bad to be honest, nothing like that first polar vortex as they called it. But without running the backup heater in the basement every few hours I would more than likely get frozen pipes again.
While I wait for the heater to run it's course I been crunching some numbers and I am pretty certain now that there is absolutely no way on earth one person (meaning me) can possibly keep up with the wood needed to heat this entire house totally off grid.
I started this experiment three Winters ago and managed to figure out the best way to keep things going with no backup propane use and only using enough electricity that I could produce myself with solar panels and deep cell batteries if I had to.
There have been issues of course. For one thing my initial figures for the volume of wood needed proved to be short of the mark even using average temps as a guide. Relative wind chills always seem to throw those numbers out of whack. As I found out the first year attempting to gain a good stock pile during the Summer months proved almost impossible. I could do it but the time factor cutting a load during the Summer was running almost 2 to 4 times as much as cutting in Fall and Winter and when you are trying to do it as basically a one man show those time considerations were important.
Cutting during the Fall and Winter was more efficient but also suffered set backs of incalculable lengths due to snow and ground conditions that were constantly freezing and thawing. The best system I found was to cut as many trees down as I could and make various wood caches that I could then go and pick up when ground conditions allowed. February was the worst month for encountering long term snow cover followed by extreme muddy thawing.
Last year I was able to enter the heating period which I calculate as November through March with 4 cords of dried and split wood and then make on average one cutting/hauling trip a week that allowed me to keep up with demand and use. I had one point last year where I had plenty of wood cut but was stressing being able to get to any of it. Again that was in February. This is what prompted me to begin the large "needing split" cache at the barn. The large snow storms also proved good times to split this wood and add it to the truck for weight.
This year all bets are off. I have averaged 2.3333 (etc.) loads of cutting and/or hauling per week. As near as I can calculate it as I started off with just North of four cords once again I have now consumed at least 22 cords of firewood this Winter alone and I still have a month to go. That number includes about 6 full loads or about 4 cords of prime long burning Oak.
There is absolutely no way in Hell I could keep up with this volume of wood cutting on my own indefinitely. I am just not young enough to keep that up for five months straight. If we removed small gas engines from the whole scenario well let's just say we would all be frozen here after about the second week of December.
So as of this Winter I am declaring the post-collapse use of my large wood furnace as the sole heat source as completely impossible unless more man power can be added to the equation or I recalculate the average inside temps and really piss the wife off.
There is just simply no way I alone can keep up with harvesting the amount of wood I am using in my current calculations. Maybe if I was 25 years old once again.. maybe... but heat wasn't as important to me back then either.
There have been times this Winter when I have been shoving wood into that furnace so fast it reminded me of a movie watching one of those firebox tender guys on an old steam engine. I have burned an entire truck load in less than two days time on average. If I have to make more runs per week then I also have to start adding more time in for unloading which I now get around by burning directly off the truck.
At this point I am going to declare this long term experiment unsustainable and make plans for adjusting to the smaller stove next year and only using the large furnace when temps get below a certain number.
Also another thing. I usually make 50 firestarters from bees wax and lint each year to use. The last two Winters I have on average needed to use at least 45 of them, which means the fire was allowed to go out and needed to be restarted with the firestarters as there were no coals to use.
I have used seven....count em 7, firestarters this year. That's just insane. I have also dumped more cans of ash this year than I can count.
Your mileage may vary but if you think you are going to heat your retreat location with wood I suggest you actually try a year or two, day in and day out before it comes down to crunch time.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!