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Mechanized Domestic Heat

 
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There was an interesting conversation on this site regarding Jean Pain’s method of heat, and I am in no way against it, but no matter how I calculated it, the amount of work to use compost heat was far greater than using firewood, or other methods. In other words, by the time I did all the work to makea pile of compost big enough to heat my home, I could produce a few cords of firewood to do the same thing.

I grew up putting up 30 full cords (not face cords) of firewood per year and always thought the Holy Grail of firewood would be a fully mechanized way to do just that. I was curious what other people’s ideas were regarding that concept: how to make heating your home a fully mechanical operation?

I was looking at going with a firewood chunker, and went so far as to build a feller-buncher for my log loader towards that end, but now am thinking maybe a pellet stove may be the answer.

We are an thought provoking lot, any ideas?

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I've wondered if there would be a way to take wood chips, dry them somehow and then use an oversized pellet feeder style of system to heat with them...
 
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This thread is so incredibly timely. I've been wondering the same thing.
After spending my Sunday splitting wood by hand, as well as many previous Sundays cutting from the woods as well, I'm growing more and more frustrated with heat procurement.
I thought about a more efficient splitter, and I really like the inertial splitters. But they're too expensive and though I'm into DIY, I don't need another project.
I also think those huge firewood processors are cool and would be way faster but overkill and entirely too expensive.

I agree with your pellet stove assessment, though I've not looked at hard numbers.
Roughly, I can buy pellets for $250 a ton or less, which should last me all winter.
I don't like that I have to go buy pellets, and that I can't easily make them on my own.
Yes, I know there are projects out there to do just that, but again, I don't need another project.

Is it worth the time lost that could be spent on other projects?
For me, the answer is looking more and more to be NO.
So I will be looking into buying a pellet stove this spring or summer, hoping to get a sale.

P.S. I would love to put in a RMH, but the poor house design to radiant heating , uncertain insurance problems, and required foundation improvements are making the cost too high for me at the present time.
 
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My conundrum is vacations or tending the fire for a weekend away.  I have a natural gas furnace so I have a working system now.  But I'd love to not need it and use my copious wood supply to heat all the time.  I have a wood stove now and we go through 4 cords a year.

If I could use a biogas digester to make natural gas and compress/store it, then I'd be home free.  Build up my natural gas supply all year with food scraps and when I go on vacation for a week in January, the furnace can run on my stockpile.  

Travis, is your original question about mechanizing the process of acquiring the fuel/wood or is it also the mechanization of turning that fuel into heat?  
 
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Cam Mitchell wrote:This thread is so incredibly timely. I've been wondering the same thing.
After spending my Sunday splitting wood by hand, as well as many previous Sundays cutting from the woods as well, I'm growing more and more frustrated with heat procurement.
I thought about a more efficient splitter, and I really like the inertial splitters. But they're too expensive and though I'm into DIY, I don't need another project.
I also think those huge firewood processors are cool and would be way faster but overkill and entirely too expensive.



I built this upside down woodsplitter last year, but have not really had a chance to use it. It works off my log loader so there is no need to pick up wood. I just swing over the round I want to split, pinch it, but do not split it completely, then when it is hoovered over my dump body (not shown) I finish splitting it. When the dump body is full, I just back up to my woodshed and dump it out. I don't even stack the wood, I just push it in with my tractor.

It was homemade, but the log loader costs a bit of money.


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Travis Johnson
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Cam Mitchell wrote:I agree with your pellet stove assessment, though I've not looked at hard numbers.
Roughly, I can buy pellets for $250 a ton or less, which should last me all winter.
I don't like that I have to go buy pellets, and that I can't easily make them on my own.
Yes, I know there are projects out there to do just that, but again, I don't need another project.



I have a pellet stove now, and like it except for buying pellets. I got hundreds of acres of forest so it seems silly to BUY wood. But there is some benefit to having a consistently sized product, because consistency means it can be predictable and metered.

I looked introducing wood pellets, but that was just too much. It is not just the cost of pellet equipment, but the hammer mill, chipper, dryer, etc, and all at a whopping 600 pounds per hour per task!!

So I am now thinking about going in a different direction. Since a pellet stove can burn corn, why not grown corn and burn that? My fathers pellet boiler can burn corn, soybeans, wood pellets, etc. So I did some digging, and it seems 1/2 an acre would be about 4 tons, about what I need to heat my house a year. I am pretty sure I can grow corn for less then the $1000 it would cost me to buy wood pellets. I already have the equipment to grow corn anyway, but what about harvesting it?

To get the corn dried down, I would let the frost hit the corn, then harvest the corn in November when the wind has really dried it. I would then collect the ears and run them through a homemade corn sheller. I looked on YouTube and they are easy and cheap to make.

But there are some options here. I can burn 100% corn, a mixture of 50/50 corn/wood pellets, or just go back to wood pellets completely!





 
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Mike Jay wrote:My conundrum is vacations or tending the fire for a weekend away.  I have a natural gas furnace so I have a working system now.  But I'd love to not need it and use my copious wood supply to heat all the time.  I have a wood stove now and we go through 4 cords a year.

If I could use a biogas digester to make natural gas and compress/store it, then I'd be home free.  Build up my natural gas supply all year with food scraps and when I go on vacation for a week in January, the furnace can run on my stockpile.




This is my issue as well. My wife went to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I was stuck at home literally eating at the Happy China Buffet. THAT SUCKED! So if I go with a wood stove/ wood furnace/ wood boiler as my primary heat souse, I am in the same situation as you.

Ideally I would have a wood furnace, located in my basement to help heat the bottom of my floors, but also pump the heat to the first and second floors by the existing ductwork. But this would leave me with the issue of heating my house when I was gone, or buying a back up heating system. Now the price tag is twice as much, to do the same job (heat my home).

A pellet furnace eliminates that problem though, because with its big bin, it can go up to 10 days without being tended too...it feeds itself via an auger. It also controls how much it is fed based on the heating needs of the house, and at $1000 is pretty cheap. BUT I have to buy wood pellets. That was when I was thinking about the possibility of burning corn. That takes away the problem of buying wood pellets, but also the problem of having to buy a back up system for when I am away. It also gives me the feeling of being all organic, self-sufficient, and not really taking any longer. I could even take the corn stalks and feed it to my sheep as corn silage so there is a stacking function to this.


My father has a A-Maiiz-ing Heat Biomass Boiler, but they also make a Biomass Furnace. That is what I am going to get. I already have a wood/coal boiler, but it would be expensive to hook up to this house. My idea was to sell that boiler, and just take the money and buy the Pellet Furnace. A used boiler is worth about the same as a new Pellet Furnace.

Mike Jay wrote:Travis, is your original question about mechanizing the process of acquiring the fuel/wood or is it also the mechanization of turning that fuel into heat?



Either one Mike, I was just starting a conversation, and in the case of Cam, it seems timely.

This is my Wood/Coal Boiler I am going to sell. Sorry, Katie stays with me! :-)


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Travis Johnson
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But I had one more thought on this...I really do not like growing corn. I can grow it, and we have, but its just that...well...it is corn. BORING!

My thoughts were, what if I grew sunflowers. here sun flowers grows REALLY well, and with a lot less inputs, so what if we burned the seed from them. I did the math and it would take 8 times more acreage, so 4 acres to grow 4 tons of seed to burn. I got plenty of land to dedicate to that, so it is no big deal, and a harvester would be really easy to cobble up. Sheep can still eat the chopped up stalks, so really the only bad thing is, the extra land. Even then I would rather see 4 acres of sunflowers then a half acre of BORING corn, but a person could split it up too; 2 tons of corn mixed with 2 tons of sunflowers, so that would be 2-1/4 acres to plant into corn/sunflowers?

Anyway, just a secondary thought on this.
 
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A corn burner that can do pellets and run for 10 days sounds like a perfect solution, especially if you can grow enough corn.  1/2 acre isn't that much either.  Neat option!
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Plus with sunflowers you can eat them or make oil as a side benefit.  I use the stalks as replacements for bamboo in the garden.
 
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Gorgeous wood burner by the way!
 
Travis Johnson
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Mike Jay wrote:Plus with sunflowers you can eat them or make oil as a side benefit.  I use the stalks as replacements for bamboo in the garden.



I never thought about that. Great idea.

A lot of people do not think about using the stalks chopped up in a small wood chipper to make silage. Back when I only had 4 sheep I used to do that. My little woodchipper make the same quality corn silage as our 1/2 million dollar combine!

It really does not matter what a person grows. If you are going to grow a garden, just make it a bit bigger and allocate it for winter heat. I mean what is the difference in having 1/2 an acre a year for corn-heat production than 10 acres in forest for wood heat?

I have a 2 acre field that is too small to do anything, so I would probably grow corn/sunflowers, feed my sheep and heat my home, and get a subsidy from the USDA for doing so. It is not wrong because I am feeding my sheep with the corn.
 
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To me, a happy medium would be the village mill model.
Instead of getting your grain ground into flour in exchange for a cut given to the mill, you could get your wood turned into pellets in exchange for a cut of the rw product.
I think pellets take much more time to process, so you would receive previously made pellets of a similar quality.
A truck load of punky pine branches wouldn't get you much in return.
Depending on the process, feedstocks other than wood might be used.

If we use a wood burner that would autonomously run on woodchips, foresters with chippers could visit with chippers could and process fuel onsite, or individuals with chippers could process their own fuel.

Here is an example of such.
The cost and clean burning of this system may not suit our purposes.

I am interested with using a efficient wood heat, like that from a rocket stove, to jump start the self immolating pyrolysis of woodchips, and store the heat produced in liquid medium.
This seems doable on a homestead scale, with heat being actively produced for long periods without tending.
Should be clean burning as well.
Mechanizing the process to work over longer periods without interference seems over my head, in no small part due to the difficulty in sourcing an affordable,reliable screw auger.
 
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Travis, now you have me thinking.  If I use wood for 90% of my heating and corn for two weeks in the winter, how much acreage would I need for corn?  Do you have a number for how much corn you need for a day of heat?
 
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Mike Jay wrote:Travis, now you have me thinking.  If I use wood for 90% of my heating and corn for two weeks in the winter, how much acreage would I need for corn?  Do you have a number for how much corn you need for a day of heat?




Not much...

If you do the math...corn in 30 inch rows (narrow) averages 160 bushels per acre, and there are 56 pounds to the bushel. This is pretty good because corn actually burns hotter than wood pellets. In my house, I burn (1) 40 pound bag of wood pellets per day to heat my home.

14 bags of corn would be about 800 pounds...

But I would never plant in rows. I would till, then scatter seed, back drag the seed with a log to cover it, and get well more then 16o bushels to the acre. In fact great corn farmers are getting 400 bushels to the acre by pushing yields. Corn is not like some plants where you start getting high densities and they start dying off. They plant corn in rows for the sake of tractors, not because of the corn plants themselves. They have done studies on corn densities and it is really, really high before they start dropping off, that is why I would go with broadcasting seed...I do not have a corn planter, and I do not need to plant in rows anyway.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:There was an interesting conversation on this site regarding Jean Pain’s method of heat, and I am in no way against it, but no matter how I calculated it, the amount of work to use compost heat was far greater than using firewood, or other methods. In other words, by the time I did all the work to makea pile of compost big enough to heat my home, I could produce a few cords of firewood to do the same thing.



Did you take into account that once a Jean Pain system is set up, you don't need to touch it again for about 16 months? Firewood needs to be cut and stacked, then some gets re-cut as kindling before being carried to your firebox. It's also an inherent danger (albeit a largely controllable one) inside your home.
 
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Sweet!  So if I burn 50% more than you (bigger house I believe) but if corn is more power dense than wood, I'll say I'd need 1 bushel of corn per day.  20 days of heat needed per winter = 20 bushels = 1/8th of an acre at traditional yields.  Or 1/20th at awesome yields.  If I fail at corn farming I could always buy pellets as a backup.  Now I have something to noodle over.....
 
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Why not just grow grass, get cows to eat the grass, sell the milk, and burn the cow dung?

Mechanisation has a cost, a loss of the opportunity to do physical labour which wrecks havoc on the body's health.  The time you used to spend splitting wood you now have to pay someone to attend their gym.
 
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Chris Watson wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:There was an interesting conversation on this site regarding Jean Pain’s method of heat, and I am in no way against it, but no matter how I calculated it, the amount of work to use compost heat was far greater than using firewood, or other methods. In other words, by the time I did all the work to makea pile of compost big enough to heat my home, I could produce a few cords of firewood to do the same thing.



Did you take into account that once a Jean Pain system is set up, you don't need to touch it again for about 16 months? Firewood needs to be cut and stacked, then some gets re-cut as kindling before being carried to your firebox. It's also an inherent danger (albeit a largely controllable one) inside your home.



I have a lot of experience with compost heat, but never got burns that long, but I have always used a mixture of grass/wood too. I am not saying you are wrong, I do not know. I know my compost piles get hot the first winter, enough for flames, but they are done by summer, and no way they will do anything by next fall.

But firewood, I don't know, it depends on how you do it. If you go back to the beginning of this post you can see that I hardly touch my wood now. But then I thought, "I can do even better."

My original idea was to convert to a firewood chunk system. With my feller-buncher I could fell and haul the trees. Then after building a firewood chunker, feed my trees into the firewood chunker, then dump the firewood chunks into my firewood shed. The only "touch" would be carrying it from the woodshed to the woodstove.

But again, that left me with a less-than touchless heating system, and no way to leave the house. This is a HUGE problem for me because my cancer treatments are going to start up soon a state away. That means my wife cannot be with me because she has to babysit the stove. That sucks. We are married, we should be together on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Cancer Treatments, etc...

But a pellet stove, burning self-produced corn? It would be 100% mechanical, and self-sufficient.

The sunflowers would just be a bonus! Cool factor of 1 million and one. "What are the sunflowers for?" "To heat my house...and the bees love me for it too!"


 
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Graham Chiu wrote:Why not just grow grass, get cows to eat the grass, sell the milk, and burn the cow dung?



That is not a bad thought where it is warm. When I was over in Ireland they burned peat, smelled something fierce, and cast a bit of heat, but at my house this morning it was (-4 F) or -20 (c). That requires some serious BTU's!!

Graham Chiu wrote:Mechanisation has a cost, a loss of the opportunity to do physical labour which wrecks havoc on the body's health.  The time you used to spend splitting wood you now have to pay someone to attend their gym.



I just don't have it in me any more. Age and cancer has taken its toll. I guess you just wake up one day and realize, it takes me longer to do this then it should, and as the days get shorter for your life, you realize you want to make the work you do meaningful.

Work is a VERY good thing, but to work just for the sake of working is not. With only 24 hours in a day, I want to devote it to something meaningful. I am obligated to provide for my family, but if I can do that through using my mind to create unique ways of doing things, and provide for them in additional ways with the saved time; it is a really good thing.

I grew up putting up 30 FULL cord of firewood in for the greenhouse, cellar, upstairs stove, and my parents wood furnace; trust me, I earned my right to go fully mechanized!
 
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Graham Chiu wrote:Why not just grow grass, get cows to eat the grass, sell the milk, and burn the cow dung?

Mechanisation has a cost, a loss of the opportunity to do physical labour which wrecks havoc on the body's health.  The time you used to spend splitting wood you now have to pay someone to attend their gym.



I thought maybe Travis should be use sheep poop, but it occurred to me that manure contains a lot of fertility.
Plus, sunflowers or corn need a lot less care than cattle.

Hmm,  makes me wonder, is there a tree crop that would work as well?
A tree crop could reduce the annual input of work even more.
Acorns come to mind,  chestnuts are  probably too  big and pokey.
A nitrogen fixer with a small dry nut could be great.
 
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William Bronson wrote:Mechanizing the process to work over longer periods without interference seems over my head, in no small part due to the difficulty in sourcing an affordable,reliable screw auger.



Ever thought of making your own auger?

Flighting Design





 
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William Bronson wrote: To me, a happy medium would be the village mill model.
Instead of getting your grain ground into flour in exchange for a cut given to the mill, you could get your wood turned into pellets in exchange for a cut of the rw product.
I think pellets take much more time to process, so you would receive previously made pellets of a similar quality.
A truck load of punky pine branches wouldn't get you much in return.
Depending on the process, feedstocks other than wood might be used.

If we use a wood burner that would autonomously run on woodchips, foresters with chippers could visit with chippers could and process fuel onsite, or individuals with chippers could process their own fuel.

Here is an example of such.
The cost and clean burning of this system may not suit our purposes.

I am interested with using a efficient wood heat, like that from a rocket stove, to jump start the self immolating pyrolysis of woodchips, and store the heat produced in liquid medium.
This seems doable on a homestead scale, with heat being actively produced for long periods without tending.
Should be clean burning as well.
Mechanizing the process to work over longer periods without interference seems over my head, in no small part due to the difficulty in sourcing an affordable,reliable screw auger.




Myself...and maybe I am not understanding the situation fully, I might instead go with a chain conveyor, especially if the auger is going to be subjected to direct flames. In that way, as the chain conveyor (a series of squares) would allow the ash to drop down into the ash box when it reached a certain size.

Another possibility is, the cable conveyor inside a tube. This looks incredibly DIY, but maybe not subjected to high heat and direct flame. In that case you would just stretch a cable between two pulleys, one driven by a motor and controller, the other an idler. The tube could be steel or plastic depending on the heat it is subjected too, with disk simply cable clamped to the cable in set intervals.




 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Ever thought of making your own auger?




Hah,uh yeah and then no!

I don't weld,  plus the geometry is not strait forward (to me).

Very cool process though,   nice links, good explanations, I found myself going down a delicious rabbit hole....

DIY projects can save money and labor,  or it can waste it.
Too much learning curve wastes the labor and money you were trying to save in the first place.
The design process is good mental exercise either way,  beats watching TV.


The idea of using a conveyor belt, or this cool flexi system hadn't crossed my mind, I was so stuck on imitating an industry standard way  of moving solid fuel.

Sometimes I  look to duplicate standard solutions on a cheaper DIY basis, and I  save design time and effort doing so.
Sometimes I miss out on better solutions by copying the known ideas.
Sometimes I knowingly seek the niche circumstances where a novel solution will shine, cause it's just so cool I want an excuse to use it!

My eyes are opened, there are other ways to deliver woodchips to a fire beyond an auger, though I'm not sure if any of the solutions are DIY projects for me.
I did notice a vibrational/gravity fed delivery system that I can definitely grok.


 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Chris Watson wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:There was an interesting conversation on this site regarding Jean Pain’s method of heat, and I am in no way against it, but no matter how I calculated it, the amount of work to use compost heat was far greater than using firewood, or other methods. In other words, by the time I did all the work to makea pile of compost big enough to heat my home, I could produce a few cords of firewood to do the same thing.



Did you take into account that once a Jean Pain system is set up, you don't need to touch it again for about 16 months? Firewood needs to be cut and stacked, then some gets re-cut as kindling before being carried to your firebox. It's also an inherent danger (albeit a largely controllable one) inside your home.



I have a lot of experience with compost heat, but never got burns that long, but I have always used a mixture of grass/wood too. I am not saying you are wrong, I do not know. I know my compost piles get hot the first winter, enough for flames, but they are done by summer, and no way they will do anything by next fall.

But firewood, I don't know, it depends on how you do it. If you go back to the beginning of this post you can see that I hardly touch my wood now. But then I thought, "I can do even better."

My original idea was to convert to a firewood chunk system. With my feller-buncher I could fell and haul the trees. Then after building a firewood chunker, feed my trees into the firewood chunker, then dump the firewood chunks into my firewood shed. The only "touch" would be carrying it from the woodshed to the woodstove.

But again, that left me with a less-than touchless heating system, and no way to leave the house. This is a HUGE problem for me because my cancer treatments are going to start up soon a state away. That means my wife cannot be with me because she has to babysit the stove. That sucks. We are married, we should be together on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Cancer Treatments, etc...

But a pellet stove, burning self-produced corn? It would be 100% mechanical, and self-sufficient.

The sunflowers would just be a bonus! Cool factor of 1 million and one. "What are the sunflowers for?" "To heat my house...and the bees love me for it too!"

My 16-month stat is based on Jean Pain's original system. His enormous, low-nitrogen wood piles would take six weeks to heat up and stay hot for 14-16 months. But, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the volume of wood used in that system was insane. Jean Pain was a forester whose job was to clear deadfalls from the forests of Provence for fire suppression. The man had access to wood in quantities that would stagger the average permie. He built conical sections 10m in diameter at the base, 6m in diameter at the top, and 6m tall. That's 1,231.5 cubic meters (over 7,700 barrels) of shredded wood. He gathered the wood over months, then sheredded and assembled it in an afternoon.

That's the part that appeals to me. You have cancer (and my prayers) which affects your decisions. I thankfully don't have cancer. What I have is lumbar spinal stenosis that usually isn't bad. I can perform hard work for a day, then I'm on my easy chair for a day or two with a heating pad and some good Scotch. My goal is the fewest recuperation days per BTU. A slow-burn without nitrogen can provide that.
 
Travis Johnson
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Chris Watson wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:

Chris Watson wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:There was an interesting conversation on this site regarding Jean Pain’s method of heat, and I am in no way against it, but no matter how I calculated it, the amount of work to use compost heat was far greater than using firewood, or other methods. In other words, by the time I did all the work to makea pile of compost big enough to heat my home, I could produce a few cords of firewood to do the same thing.



Did you take into account that once a Jean Pain system is set up, you don't need to touch it again for about 16 months? Firewood needs to be cut and stacked, then some gets re-cut as kindling before being carried to your firebox. It's also an inherent danger (albeit a largely controllable one) inside your home.



I have a lot of experience with compost heat, but never got burns that long, but I have always used a mixture of grass/wood too. I am not saying you are wrong, I do not know. I know my compost piles get hot the first winter, enough for flames, but they are done by summer, and no way they will do anything by next fall.

But firewood, I don't know, it depends on how you do it. If you go back to the beginning of this post you can see that I hardly touch my wood now. But then I thought, "I can do even better."

My original idea was to convert to a firewood chunk system. With my feller-buncher I could fell and haul the trees. Then after building a firewood chunker, feed my trees into the firewood chunker, then dump the firewood chunks into my firewood shed. The only "touch" would be carrying it from the woodshed to the woodstove.

But again, that left me with a less-than touchless heating system, and no way to leave the house. This is a HUGE problem for me because my cancer treatments are going to start up soon a state away. That means my wife cannot be with me because she has to babysit the stove. That sucks. We are married, we should be together on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Cancer Treatments, etc...

But a pellet stove, burning self-produced corn? It would be 100% mechanical, and self-sufficient.

The sunflowers would just be a bonus! Cool factor of 1 million and one. "What are the sunflowers for?" "To heat my house...and the bees love me for it too!"

My 16-month stat is based on Jean Pain's original system. His enormous, low-nitrogen wood piles would take six weeks to heat up and stay hot for 14-16 months. But, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the volume of wood used in that system was insane. Jean Pain was a forester whose job was to clear deadfalls from the forests of Provence for fire suppression. The man had access to wood in quantities that would stagger the average permie. He built conical sections 10m in diameter at the base, 6m in diameter at the top, and 6m tall. That's 1,231.5 cubic meters (over 7,700 barrels) of shredded wood. He gathered the wood over months, then sheredded and assembled it in an afternoon.

That's the part that appeals to me. You have cancer (and my prayers) which affects your decisions. I thankfully don't have cancer. What I have is lumbar spinal stenosis that usually isn't bad. I can perform hard work for a day, then I'm on my easy chair for a day or two with a heating pad and some good Scotch. My goal is the fewest recuperation days per BTU. A slow-burn without nitrogen can provide that.




Yeah I hear you. My other house was ideal for Jean Pain compost heat. I had 100% radiant heat so I just had to pump it to my main boiler loop. In the end, I just decided if I was going through the trouble of making a compost pile, I might as well just gather the firewood and burn it through a standard wood boiler.

It is NOT that compost heat would not work, it was just that I got all this forestry equipment that makes logging and producing firewood pretty easy.

Sorry to hear about your back woes though. myself, I had some bumps in the road last week, but one of the Premier Brain Surgeons in the country is reviewing my charts today or tomorrow so soon I will be able to get a treatment plan!
 
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