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Texas Energy Crisis is a Huge Opportunity

 
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Anyone out there see what's happening in Texas as a huge opportunity to let people re-discover wood heating?

Also, the idea of a community wood bank!

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/climate/wood-banks-winter-maine.html
 
master pollinator
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I'm not sure. Given the general climate in Texas, I think Rocket Mass Coolers would be an easier sell.

Any sort of wood heating will get a lot of pushback in urban areas due to air quality concerns. What's coming to light is the poor insulation in houses. To my mind, upgrading this would be a simpler, passive fix that contributes to efficiency in both hot and cold temperatures.

Thanks for the link! The concept of a community wood bank is pretty cool. I think this sort of thing has been done forever in country communities on an informal basis.
 
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Hi, I would think that the energy problem might give us all an opportunity to introduce permiculture to those who never heard of the idea.  If a person lives in an apartment in the city they can still have the ideals of taking care of the things around them. Maybe grow a few things in pots on their balcony? Recycle better? How about money management? The list can go on, not just about burning wood for heat.

Always look for the good one can do.
 
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Yeah I’m near Austin and had a multi day power outage chopping wood to try to heat our house with our ornamental fireplace.  I have very strong feelings toward that fireplace now...  not good ones

I’ve been studying the rocket mass heaters a lot and even bought one or the cores to play with some. We’ve got a house in the city, then a ranch outside the city with a couple small living spaces and a bigger “gathering barn” for events and things.

It would be amazing to have some big thermal mass heaters for some of the colder periods but as mentioned above, most of the time a thermal cooling mass would be more helpful.  

I’m still rolling some ideas around in my head for some of that but I’d love to hear “first thoughts” of an effective heating system for using the ~40 nights and ~10 days a year we really need supplemental heat here.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Justin Litchfield wrote:Yeah I’m near Austin and had a multi day power outage chopping wood to try to heat our house with our ornamental fireplace.  I have very strong feelings toward that fireplace now...  not good ones


I hear you. Ornamental fireplaces are designed for looks. When it comes down to heating, they are mostly useful for sucking the residual heat out of your house and blowing it up the flue. And chewing up your woodpile in the process.

For emergency use, a basic freestanding wood stove that you can plunk down on a big, approved fire resistant pad right in front of the ornamental fireplace makes all the difference. Make sure there's a big spark-safe zone in front of the door. It should be monitored at all times when operating, with fire control measures at hand.

If it becomes semi-permanent, though, clear it with insurance; they love any excuse to deny a claim.
 
Justin Davis
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:
I hear you. Ornamental fireplaces are designed for looks. When it comes down to heating, they are mostly useful for sucking the residual heat out of your house and blowing it up the flue. And chewing up your woodpile in the process.

For emergency use, a basic freestanding wood stove that you can plunk down on a big, approved fire resistant pad right in front of the ornamental fireplace makes all the difference. Make sure there's a big spark-safe zone in front of the door. It should be monitored at all times when operating, with fire control measures at hand.

If it becomes semi-permanent, though, clear it with insurance; they love any excuse to deny a claim.



That stove looks amazing -  thanks!  I'd been looking at getting a basic wood stove for this house's emergency heating scenarios, and doing some more big outdoor projects with RMH's.

And possibly also "regular" small wood stoves for the small living quarters at our ranch (~900 SF and ~600 SF).  The gilligan factor would need to be pretty high for them.  I just have a pretty big problem using electricity to generate heat...
 
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Justin Litchfield wrote:Yeah I’m near Austin and had a multi day power outage chopping wood to try to heat our house with our ornamental fireplace.  I have very strong feelings toward that fireplace now...  not good ones

I’ve been studying the rocket mass heaters a lot and even bought one or the cores to play with some. We’ve got a house in the city, then a ranch outside the city with a couple small living spaces and a bigger “gathering barn” for events and things.

It would be amazing to have some big thermal mass heaters for some of the colder periods but as mentioned above, most of the time a thermal cooling mass would be more helpful.  

I’m still rolling some ideas around in my head for some of that but I’d love to hear “first thoughts” of an effective heating system for using the ~40 nights and ~10 days a year we really need supplemental heat here.



Thermal mass can be used for both heating and cooling, so a well designed mass could help in both scenarios. In fact a german architect in the natural building space says that in cold climates more insulation is important and in warmer climates more thermal mass. Generally also if you look into books on passive solar heating, they usually talk about passive cooling also as they two systems can really complement each other. The general principle being, that correctly designed mass will even out the day-time temperature with the night-time temperature so you get lower peaks during the day. Not sure how one exactly would go about designing that as I do not live in such a warm climate, but in theory it should be possible.
 
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The general principle of using thermal mass for cooling as well as heating is to arrange the space and overhangs so that winter sun hits the mass for warmth, and summer sun is kept away from the mass (and the rest of the interior) so it doesn't gain heat during the day. At night, with a more active system, ducts or channels of some sort can guide cool night air through or past the mass to cool it considerably, and carry the coolth through to the daytime.
 
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I was just talking with a friend in Arizona about all this, using the TX example as a way to emphasize that having alternate systems ready and in place could be a really good idea.  RMH is great, but in AZ at least I would think some type of solar thermal, either hot air or hot water, system would be excellent too.  I'm speculating that such a system could significantly cover the normal heating they need during the winter months.  
 
Glenn Herbert
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In Arizona, or any sunny climate where days are reliably considerably warmer than nights, solar thermal heating is an excellent plan, preferably with a good amount of storage whether water or solid.
 
pollinator
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What I see is a major lack of preparedness. Rocket mass heaters require fuel... and in a climate where heating is a minor concern, I am imagining that having a RMH would be seen as a backup to a fossil/electric system by many (much like the "ornamental fireplace mentioned, and burning your furniture or warmth) AND therefore, not much thought placed in having a store of firewood on hand...AHEAD OF TIME.
Because the other factor is that once the snow hits, with no snow removal infrastructure in place, the roads and supply chains shut down.

So many cities in Texas exist because of the air conditioner. A huge missed opportunity is seasonal thermal storage, as a method of saving that excess summertime heat for the winter. In city centers and large apartment complexes (like one that burned to the ground) a district heating/cooling system with seasonal thermal storage would be "easy" to implement.
 
David Huang
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I feel like the Texas energy crisis should be a wake up call on many fronts.  Probably the best thing an individual could do is work to get systems in place that use less energy and to have what is needed supplied by sustainable means as much as possible, ie. RMH/firewood and solar thermal type things.  However reality for most will be maintaining a connection to the power grid, or natural gas supplies, even if you are using it less.  As this recent weather event was unfolding I first saw this article talking about the MASSIVE price spikes that were starting to happen in the wholesale electricity space as demand began to exceed supply.  The article lists one point were a megawatt was going for $11,950!  To translate that into something we might be more familiar with, if the power company passed that wholesale price along without any markup it would mean a rate of $11.95 per KWH, where most people are paying more like 10 to 11 cents per KWH!

Anyway, I wasn't surprised to see a few days later this follow up article about the horrendous power bills some customers were getting.  The article gives 3 examples of $3800, $8100, and $17,000!  Yikes!  All this had me wondering how most power bills are done.  I've been off grid myself for several years now, but I seemed to remember that my old power company couldn't just jack up the rates without getting some sort of approvals.  Clearly from that second article there are some plans where they can pass along whatever their costs are no matter how huge the price spike is.  This gets me back to the wake up call for us as individuals and how we can try to prepare for future similar situations.  I personally am expecting to see this happen more and more in my lifetime as fossil fuel resources decline, dramatic weather events increase, and economic turmoil leads to all sorts of issues (such as not maintaining infrastructure).  In the second article it notes that those seeing these insane power bills were on "variable or indexed plans".  So my thinking is, no matter where you live you might want to check and see if you too are on this sort of plan and reevaluate whether or not it is a good idea.  I don't know what all the variables are for such plans so maybe it is still a good idea, but it seems like they have an outsized risk to them right now.  We can complain that all this shouldn't be happening if only we would do things better, but this would seem to be the reality we have to deal with.
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