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Wood burning - a very expensive "free" option

 
steward
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Oh man, I'm feeling this this year! I'm not terribly coordinated nor terribly strong, so wielding a chainsaw is not something I feel comfortable doing a lot of. And chopping wood literally takes me 3-10 times as long as it takes my husband to do. But, this year, my husband's Crohn's flared up, leaving him unable to walk...right when we really needed to bring in the trees my dad had--very kindly--came and chainsaws into rounds. I managed to get the wood under tarps...but it rained so much that the soil was a sodden and soaked the logs. By the time my husband was healed up enough to help move the heavy, wet logs, they were so soaked that they'd started growing mold and mushrooms. We got them in, but he didn't have time to chop them before he had another Crohn's flare-up. He's been unable to carry heavy things for over a month (or walk for about 2 weeks of that month).

Needless to say, I've been having to try to chop and haul all the firewood, piling it up in front of the woodstove to dry enough to light a fire, It's at least 30 minutes a day just doing that, and another 15-30 minutes maintaining the fire. Things I've learned:

(F) Even after a month of chopping firewood nearly every day, for 30 minutes, I still stink at it.
(G) I really hope my husband gets better soon, for all the reasons (one of which is that it's truly lame how much slower I am at these tasks than him!)


Getting behind on having dry wood really sucks, it just doesn't seem like you'll ever catch up.  Two things to say...

My goal is to have three years of wood split, stacked and drying.  That way it's very seasoned when I need to burn it.  Also, if I have a health problem and can't cut/process wood for a season I'm still in fine shape for the next winter.  So when time/ability does allow, I'd try to start getting ahead a year or two on the wood supply.

Splitting goes much easier with a good splitting set up.  I love using an old tire to hold the wood as I split.  It probably doubles my speed and I have to bend over about 1/4th as much.  Here's a video where a guy makes a really high class tire splitting block.  Some notes - I'd just screw it down with screws through hunks of 2x4 so that there's less metal to accidentally hit with the axe; I elevate my tire 3-4" off the block with hunks of 2x4 to let the splinters escape and hold the wood at a better height; you can split several rounds at the same time, just fill that tire up most of the way.



Having a good splitting axe is also really helpful.  I really love my Fiskars X27 splitting axe.  They're very light but still awesomely effective.  So for a smaller person they make it much easier to swing.  
 
Posts: 78
Location: North FL, in the high sandhills
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A few thoughts on time sensitive insulation tricks in rental properties with historical appearance restrictions...

I don't know if this holds true for the UK, but there are millions, maybe billions  of tons of books recycled or  landfilled in the US yearly that can be had for next to nothing, sometimes just delivery cost on books that don't recycle well due to low paper quality... like paperbacks.  Recyclers of paper were a major source for me.
If I had to pay the recycler it was usually a penny or two a pound, the going rate for recycled paper at the time.

I never knew it was this huge until I was in the bookselling biz and was buying huge gaylord containers of books for peanuts...some of which, amazingly,  had large value, but that's a whole other story for another day.

anyway, back on topic, I love old tech books so anything interesting in the tech vein got saved, end result, entire mobile home walls covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled to the max.

The surprise came when a cold winter came ( winter isn't always cold here, but can have runs in freezing temps) and the house held warmth all night from the sheer mass of books gradually releasing what they accumulated heat-wise during the day.

I bookshelved the ones I kept  because I wanted quick access to them for reference, but in something like a rental you could just pile them against the walls, particularly north facing ones for the same, or better result.
The south facing walls may have accumulated more heat than the north, due to low angle sun on the wall and the books piled inside it.

If you have a local source a few minutes on the way home from work could cover the pickups.

If you ever have to move, it's easily undone.

I had considered water barrels hooked to solar homemade collectors but the mobile home floor would not take the weight and a leak would have been fatal to the cheap particle board floors. The books revealed themselves as effective thermal mass  in the middle of the winter water barrel thoughts.

One catch to thermal mass, it's a one or two day deal. a few days  stretch of extremely cold weather stops the mass from accumulating/releasing heat very well, backup required at that point.

The other quick things would be heavy insulation on the windows, mine being made from the bubble wrap packing that came in things delivered here. tons more similar  ideas here:   https://permies.com/t/62284/ways-save-winter-heating

That thread also reminded me of something I had forgotten and that will solve my backup heat for the greenhouse problem, modern, efficient kerosene heaters that emit no CO.
 
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This issue is actually one of the factors I'm considering when deciding where to buy property. Where I live is mild, I could probably spend 1/4 the time gathering, transporting and chopping wood as colder places. I'm fine doing that work now but in 20-30 years, less so. I have friends looking at properties in the Yukon for the cheap prices. I look at it and see much of my time being gobbled up with both heating and food preservation, instead of being able to eat fresh from the garden almost year-round. That is worth money to me.
 
pollinator
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C Murphy wrote:This issue is actually one of the factors I'm considering when deciding where to buy property. Where I live is mild, I could probably spend 1/4 the time gathering, transporting and chopping wood as colder places. I'm fine doing that work now but in 20-30 years, less so. I have friends looking at properties in the Yukon for the cheap prices. I look at it and see much of my time being gobbled up with both heating and food preservation, instead of being able to eat fresh from the garden almost year-round. That is worth money to me.



This is exactly why I decided not to move back to Alaska, where I'm from, after my grandmother died eleven years ago.  At the time, I could probably have managed the firewood issue, but I was already in my fifties and knew it wouldn't get any easier.  I still have family up there, but they have their own wood to get in (and aren't getting any younger themselves), so I didn't want to need to depend on them.  As it is, we still need heat half the year in Kentucky, but once we are through insulating the old house, that will improve quite a bit.  And where my family is in Alaska, there's usually snow on the ground for close to seven months of the year.  Here, if it sticks for three weeks, that's more than usual.

Location is definitely something that people need to take into account -- climate, elevation, availability of firewood, are all important things to think about.
 
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I am a firm believer in, "where there is no solution there cannot be a problem."  Of course, we may not always like the solution.

Years ago, I rented first one then another house. Both were hard to heat. When I considered the cost, it made spending my own money on some one else's house seem a good idea, so I did. The first one, I had insulation blown in the walls. That was a score. It paid for itself in a couple years. Same with the second, but I'd only got to insulating the ceiling. Even that made a notable difference.

One of my first rules is, if I can hear someone talk on the other side of the wall or window, I'm dealing with major leaks, since sound is just movement of air (rarefactions and compressions). Sealing walls before insulation is a big deal. Think of it like wearing a Polar Plus shirt in the winter. If the wind is not blowing, you'll keep warm. Even a slight wind will result in a HUGE drop in garment efficiency. Just putting a nylon shell over the Polar Plus turns it into a winter, wind proof garment.  So too it goes with our buildings.
 
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Lina Joana wrote: Just a thought - if you can seal the leaks in the ceiling and floor it can make a big difference and make what wood you do have time to chop go that much further!



To add to this do you have porches where cold air comes in under the doors, or just the doors in the house? If so, use easy to make cloth tubes stuffed with other cloth to move up against the doors. Also, are they sealed otherwise?

Windows can be covered with purchased kits of plastic sheeting -stick-on type that might also reduce the drafts. Some people even use bubble wrap but these days that is expensive. IF you buy plastic try and get at least a 6 Mil Clear plastic and tape it up with painters tape over the windows.

Buy flannel pajamas and sheets! They work!

I grew up in a similar house. The kids' bedrooms were upstairs and we could literally see the curtains moving from the drafts in winter. But, this was in the 50's and nothing was put over those windows. In fact, a blanket was put over the downstairs door to keep the heat down there and there was ONE only 1 ft. square grate into the bedroom area.

We used an old buzz saw with a 30+ Dia blade. Today small chain saws are low cost enough to buy and use. Instead of an axe for cutting everything, or even splitting, use the saw. Just be EXTREMELY careful of where you're stepping and HOW you've cutting. A bad cut can roll a limb or log over the wrong way.

WOW! just thinking back about winter in those upstairs bedrooms chills me to the bone!!!
 
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    I can apprehend the sense of frustration and conflicting desires inherent in your initial post. And I have read the replies from others, many containing wondefully helpful suggestions and ideas that might make life easier in your situation. This community is always filled with a positive spirit of communally wanting to help solve problems and ease burdens. And I, too, have tried to confront conflicts such as yours in living my own life. I am 75 and I have heated with wood since I was 24, for more than 50 years now. And I have come to some conclusions about this.
    At the root of your dilemma seems to be a shortage of time to accomplish all the tasks you have set for yourself. Maybe you find yourself in a "lifestyle" that does not suit you well.
    I have at times been a wage or salary "slave," often doing such work for others to meet financial needs. And the shortage of time to do things I enjoyed was a big source of frustration then. My times at home or on Holiday were very precious and ended much too soon. Going to work was an unpleasant chore.
    If this sounds familiar, read on. If not, don't bother with the rest. If this is wide of the mark then the assumption I have made is not relevant, so skip the rest of my post.
    For me, heating our home with wood that I gather and prepare myself, and having bonfires on the patio, gives great satisfaction to me and others. I thusly have control of an important requirement in life - warmth, sometimes also cooking outside, and the very real but hard-to-describe sense of continuity with those throughout the ages who have engaged in this activity. I feel connected with the life around me and within me. Not only human life, but all life. We are all part of Something Great (call It what you will) and fire is one of the primal forces at our disposal.
    Looking back, I have been able to shift my life and work activities toward a more satisfying and less stressful direction. Maybe your sense of conflict stems from a similar desire as I felt. Permaculture should, by definition, lead toward sustainable and satisfying life activities.
    Heating with wood uses a sustainable, growth-based resource that is simple to manage.
    Heating with gas uses a resource derived from unsustainable practices; from any angle of consideration - environmental, economic, social, political, historical, using petroleum in this way leads to dead ends.
    Heating with wood can be under one's direct control. This takes physical effort and some planning, yes; but so also does everything we do in our lives. How does one want to use the time one has?
    Using petroleum puts one at the mercy and under the control of merciless and apparently unscrupulous persons and corporate structures that seem unable to perceive human needs or environmental problems.
    Finally comes a very practical and immediate consideration for me, and I feel certain for others in this Permie community also - physical activity. I have embraced the age-old principle "use it or lose it." At 75 I can still cut, split, and wheelbarrow my wood to the shed. True, I now use a wheelbarrow powered by an electric hub motor for uphill runs. I believe my good health depends greatly on physical activity.
    And managing my small piece of paradise lets me feel that I will be able to finally leave my land "better than I found it." This also is very important to me.
    "Ya pays yer money and ya makes yer choices."

    Be well, be strong, be careful, be kind. Peace.
    Michael in Wonder
    Southern Oregon
     
 
gardener
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I really like Kathleen's notes for those of us that DON'T have a way to heat with wood.

Having an omnivorous approach to domestic heat seems like a good way to be resilient.
Last winter our gas furnace failed.
We survived for almost a month on electric space heat and a 1930 gas stove.
We borrowed money to buy a new furnace, but the time we stalled on that decision saved us thousands, by shopping around.
If we has had a wood heating alternative in place, we probably would have come up with an even cheaper long term solution.

Heat on demand is considered a necessity of life by my family, so wood heat will not ever be ourr sole source as long as we have a choice.
Like skinning a rabbit, heating with wood should probably be practiced before any  lives depend on it.
 
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I get your dilemma, we moved yo our wooded property in the summer. Ordered 2500 in wood not knowing what we would need. Turns out we won’t have enough. Moving forward we will order logs and split them ourselves to cut the costs by 3/4. We have our own wood and lots to do in maintenance, but that said by summer the wood we will process wont be ready for winter. To clarify we burn wood from mid-late October to mid-late April. Our growing season is very short. We have two propane heating units in the home but we haven’t figured out how to work them, nor do we find the motivation to do so. We are just adapting to a new kind of life.
If it isn’t worth it for you, it seems you have your decision right there. Many suggestions and feedback have been provided by your peers but only you know what is best for yourself and your family.
We are a family of 4 so my kids aged 8-10 help us a lot with wood chores. I wouldn’t recommend making a baby for extra hands as they take a while to mature to a usable size 😂.
You do what is best for you! There shouldn’t be any shame in that.
 
pollinator
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Hi,

If you are looking into your fridge and it's stuffed with  goodies and it is not foreseeable that this Situation will change in the future (permanent job, good income or secured pension)
then a wood fire might be a cozy and time consuming luxury that keeps you away from well paid hours.

If you are struggling with the daily upkeep, have mouths to feed as many people in a poor country, then collecting, cutting and storing fire wood is worth every chip.

in the 60's my Grandparents and Parents had still fields of peat and every summer all members had to help.
Ditching peat, pile if in the summer and bring the dried peat blocks home to use as fuel for heating and cooking.

The amount of peat was not measured in Kilos or Tons, but in "Dagwark" = 12000 peat blocks...

It still have this specific smell in my nose when on a winter morning all houses were starting their ovens with peat.
 
pollinator
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I gave up heating my house with wood because our climate is mild and it overheats the house. The wood stove that came with the house also plugs in to run some converter, that unfortunately uses way too much power to be useful on our off grid property, and it's located in a stupid corner of the house. I plan on putting a wood stove without the electrical component in the center of the house surrounded by thermal mass as a back up to the central heating. As others have said you never know what might happen. Our property is heavily forested and in great need of thinning and fuels reduction, so that's our wood input, but I don't feel comfortable with removing anything other than small trees by myself. So we hire tree removers that cut the trunks into rounds and chip the rest. So all we have to do is the splitting.

We are losing a great deal of our Ponderosa pines to bark beetles. Does the fact that these trees are dead cut down on how long we need to cure them?
 
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I am a little old, and have had two major surgeries in '21, so have been unabe to gather firewood this past year.  My woodshed holds about 9 cords of wood, and it was half full at the beginning of this heating season.  We have a well insulated house and in winter use the wood for cooking and heating.  I have my propane tanks turned off and they have been off for sevaral years.  They are almost full.  I am about 3 days away from using the remainder of our wood.  It is cold as a cod outside and we are expecting snow, sleet, and more cold weather in the coming days and months.   I've been supplementing the seasoned wood with some of the pine i cut up last year by splitting it and mixing it with the seasoned wood.  The 18 inch pieces when split are too wet to really work well so I will not continue that for the next days until I run out of seasoned wood.  I'll split the logs and stack them and start using propane and induction for cooking.  Luckily, I have lots of standing pine and some still standing ash that I can start to harvest, cut into pieces, split and stack for next year.  I do not usually season for more than about 8-10 months which seems to yield wood that is about 15% moisture level, and burns well.  Yes, I burn pine!  It works well and leaves a lot less ash than oak, it seems.  I heated all last year with pine until this year,  the remainder of my woodshed is hardwoods of various species.  I was able to accumulate the needed tools to accomplish heating with wood.  I hydraulically split wood sort of as a meditation and treat stacking it in a similar fashion.  It allows me to feel my body move with power and energy, which is very helpful in keeping fit.  We grow a lot of our own food, can our fruit, make hot pepper jelly, and have lamb galore and a lot of beautiful shorn finnsheep wool to keep us fed, busy and warm.  I look at the ancillary hidden costs of using fossil fuel to heat our house, and try to balance the labor I pay for fire wood against the destruction that fossil fuels have had on our planet.  Nothing is free, and life is an expense whatever we do!  Luckily the sun provides almost all of our electrical grid based power, and grows our food!  The food we eat is sourced from our composted, no till, garden beds; using organic compost from our local area supplemented by sheep manure and leaves.  I know where the seed comes from, and what goes into the food we eat. Sure we supplement that with fresh lettuce and veggies in season, and salad stuff, and are by no means self sufficient until spring when we can grow our own greens again.  So, burning wood is just part of our lives and has been for the past 12 years.  I will continue that practice until I am no longer able to do it.
 
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The main reason I chose wood heat (to supplement our propane furnace now, and serve as sole heat source in the future if needed,) is the possibility of supply chains being disrupted and propane becoming unavailable or too costly to buy.  My secondary reason is that during a power outage, the furnace won't run anyway since it uses electricity for the thermostat, blower, and whatnot.  We can buy cut firewood from a neighbor for $150 for a large trailer load (two loads last us a whole winter.)  Propane is slightly more expensive, but much easier, so while we have it and can afford it, we use it during transition weeks when it is cold enough to need heat, but warm enough that the woodstove would be overkill.  We also keep it set to ensure that my elderly mother's room temperature does not fluctuate with the woodstove's burn cycles.  I planted some coppice trees on a half acre of our property, so if society breaks down and our neighbor can no longer provide our firewood, we will have at least a survival level of heat for our small house.  I bought a nifty battery-powered chainsaw that can be recharged off the solar generator.

We also started with some layer hens this year, and have been doing a little basic perennial gardening and food preserving while working on infrastructure as we are able.  We still buy from a local CSA since until our own homestead infrastructure is in place, our time is better spent building than gardening.  Four+ years ago I became a full-time on-call caregiver, unpaid, so I no longer have the conundrum of time spent on self-sufficiency vs. time spent to earn money.  I cannot be away from home to work, but I can be out in the yard working.

Decades ago when I bought my first property and had a low-paying job, I put in a cheap used woodstove and heated with free wood I collected by the pickup load from areas where downed trees had been cut up by the county and were free for the taking.  Then I lucked into a great-paying job that soon demanded a lot of overtime.  So I paid to have a furnace installed, and heated with propane there, since I not only had the money, but my work hours also did not allow me to be home in time to reload the inefficient woodstove to keep the place heated enough for the houseplants to not die!  Not to mention going out to find and load free firewood on my few days off was no longer appealing.

So, by all means, go to work and make money if that fulfills you more than doing the significant daily chores of a self-sufficient homesteader.  Pay for the convenience of public utilities while you can and while they are available (if you can stand the thought of supporting the providers.)  BUT.... please be prepared in case things go south and public utilities become spotty or altogether shut down.  Have that rocket mass heater or wood stove ready to go if/when the time comes, and plenty of seasoned wood on site or easily procurable without outside help.  Know neighbors who could provide certain necessities (cattle, hay fields, a doctor or vet, etc.) and complement those with skills/supplies/tools/production capacity of your own that you can offer to trade.  Even if you only do a few dry runs now to work the bugs out of your systems before once again buying what you need for the sake of convenience, that will ensure you are more ready for the "what-ifs" of life than most folks.

An intermediate, and perhaps more win-win, suggestion would be to pay some local person you trust who can process your firewood for you and who needs the money.  You would still be able to heat with wood while working your job, plus you would help the local chap who needs the income and can do the work.

I guess there are as many different answers to this situation as there are motivations to do whatever it is that we have the options to do in life.  My motivations for homesteading are to be as prepared as possible for any potential collapse (partial or total) of current society; to live as close to nature as I can; and to do as little harm to other life forms as possible (directly or indirectly) while keeping myself and my loved ones alive, comfortable, and content.
 
pollinator
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Thanks for all the positive comments. There have been quite a few along the lines of "why don't you just insulate".

The building is just not made to allow that. It has solid brick walls, and the interior has wood panelling. Both are "listed" which means that they are protected features.

We have taken other steps, where possible. The roof void has been filled with blown cellulose insulation, and we have draft proofed various spots as necessary. But old buildings like this NEED to breathe, or they suffer from damp problems. We face a continual battle in winter to balance the need for warmth with the need to prevent condensation build up in some of the cold spots. In practice we are getting better at managing our use of the space. We don't attempt to keep the whole house warm, just the key living spaces, which makes life a lot easier.

Comments about the floor are interesting. The house has a large underfloor area, and carpet throughout the downstairs. I'm pretty sure that the underside of the floorboards is not sealed/insulated. This would probably be helpful. There aren't noticeable gaps and drafts, but it is something we could probably do without interfering with the integrity of the building.

Certainly part of the issue is balancing hugely demanding workloads against family commitments. Our kids are still a bit too young to be genuinely helpful, and have anxiety issues coming out of covid. They are growing through these, but it is difficult to find a couple of hours to work on heavy outdoor jobs because one of us needs to be with them at all times. We'll get there.

We run so close to the wire balancing workloads that a small disruption to the routine - like my multiple punctures in a week - throws a whole bunch of other things out of line.
 
pollinator
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John F Dean wrote:In homesteading, I have found the equation frequently comes down to time or money.  I would never call wood heat free. I have been in situations where I have acres of wood, including blow downs, and minimal financial income. In those situations, wood seems to be the best alternative for me.   I have always had my houses well insulated.  It doesn’t matter what the source of the heat is, insulation pays off.  

When I have found myself working full time, I have used our LP furnace  more than the wood.   As I said, for me it seems to always come down to time or money.



I agree with this 100%. Everything in this life either costs time or money. And honestly, money itself costs time and so anything that costs money is a double loss in my mind. This is one of several reasons that I prefer to do things myself as opposed to pay someone else. And one of the reasons I’d rather repair something myself than buy a replacement.
 
pollinator
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Michael Cox wrote:Sadly the fabric of the building cannot be touched. It is a historic listed building, and retrofitting insulation and double glazing would not get past planning. This prevents the obvious steps that I would love to take - RMH, secondary glazing, insulating the walls etc... The windows are absolutely huge and single glazed. Plus we rent, which adds another layer of difficulty.

Our current compromise is working reasonably well - when we have the time we use teh stove, but when time poor we will revert to the central heating.


The hidden cost of historic preservation. Uhg. As someone who has spent a great deal of their building career renovating leaky drafty homes I can sympathize; and that is in Canada not the UK which take preservation to crazy degrees. My personal belief is that preserving inefficient buildings other then those truly important to a culture is a product of energy rich thinking. Most of those older buildings would have been kept at lower temperatures then we would accept today when they were built. Simple steps we would do here would be Caulking around all window moldings door casings and baseboards to limit air leaks. Check all the penetrations for air intake and exhaust and make sure they have good air flaps on them. If it is aesthetically acceptable to you a layer of tape on shrink plastic can do wonders on single pane windows; non permanent and invisible but visually blah from the inside. Better insulated curtains but as a renter probably not an option.  I think for the most part you are stuck with what you have. As a builder of smaller efficient homes I'm hopeful the rise in energy costs will finally make people value efficiency over square footage.
Cheers, and keep warm
David
 
pollinator
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In old stone castles, they would hang tapestries all over the walls in order to insulate. Would that be an option? You could use quilts or blankets, hanging them like curtains but without the window.

As for wood heat, I'm a big fan of the kind that use twigs. That way you can cut your firewood with pruning shears instead of a chainsaw. These also work well with alternatives like corn cobs. I have a bad back and a messed-up shoulder, so splitting and hauling normal firewood just isn't going to happen.

With enough thermal mass, you can make the heat last a long time. If you can't modify the woodstove itself, try stacking bricks or cinder blocks or something around it to help soak up the heat.
 
Kelly Craig
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The pathetic thing about listed heritage houses is, you have the ignorant and even the stupid running that show.

In the end, not allowing many things causes damages that threaten the structure, or lessen its use and value.  For example, here is the Byrd House, the oldest Queen Ann in Olympia. I know a LOT about it, because I was the painter.  That's my paint job and I know it because the detail woodwork is not missing, the year indicated in the photo, and that the shingles and trim do not show signs of rot.

Anytime there was a woodworking problem, the other contractors could be heard saying "get the painter."  When I went to paint the front, I noted several pieces of the fancy woodwork mission, so I replaced it, on my dime.  When floor registers were removed from the solid cedar floor (EVERYTHING in the house was cedar, including the nominal dimension 2x's of the walls, the trusses and so on), they'd call the painter, me, to make the holes invisible, which was, actually, pretty easy. The finish was amber shellac, so all you had to do was clean the area and go for the finish coat (i.e., DON'T try to feather, put a coat on and walk away, to let it harden, before adding the next).  Because the floors were finished in shellac, the new coat would burn into previous coats.  All I had to do was cut existing pieces out to make the patch random, insure support, and apply a finish.

They hired a heritage home "expert" to re-build their windows at a huge price. He was an idiot. He convinced them they needed the finish to be flat paint, because it's more durable. It isn't. The glossier the paint, the more durable.  

When the "expert was done, minimal pressure against the inside of a window would let light in around the edges.  Obviously, properly restored windows in a house a hundred years old would still not compete with windows of today.  As an example, the door in the photo was in bad shape. I not only repaired it, I turned it into a double pane window.  Before, you could hear every car drive by. After, you could barely hear a conversation taking place just outside the door.  

I was able to keep the appearance of the door what it was back in the day, but improved hits efficiency several fold.  If heritage boards wanted to be technical, the house should be a miserable piece of garbage sane people would fix or destroy, to insure its original integrity.  My stance is, if you can make it look like what it was AND make it worth living in, it's all fair game.  From the street, you couldn't tell if the windows were vinyl or original, if the right windows were selected.

As to paneling, good grief.   It can be duplicated too. The hard part might be making it look like chairs were drug against it for eight years, pictures were hung and removed a thousand times and so on.

It's one thing to try to preserve ornate woodwork, another thing to watch something slowly disappear because of technicalities.  For example, sooner or later that brick is going to have to be touched up. If not, water will get in the brick, freeze and start lowing tiny chunks off.

Thankfully, that's not my problem.
 
Michael Cox
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Just to be clear, living in this place definitely has its perks.

Simple, cheap heating is not one of them.

We lost our regular handyman last year, who used to do a day a week of “heavy” work for my father. I think that loss is going to catch up with us in the coming 12 months. Dad is slowing down, and I’m less available than I want to be.
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Donna Lynn
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Michael Cox:   I was going to ask if you have Rhino Shield ceramic coatings there in the UK.  They insulate and can be painted over brick.  But all those huge single pane windows in your photo!  Unless you do what I did before I could afford new windows, and tape a sheet of clear plastic just inside the windows for the heating season, sealing them off.  it doesn't sound like it would help much, but it does, and it makes no permanent alterations.  As a renter, probably painting with Rhino Shield would be a big expense with little return unless you plan to rent there long-term and can lock in the lease.  Some historic buildings in the US have used the Rhino Shield, even over brick, but if your brick is natural it might not be allowed.  And of course the rate of return would be significantly reduced by the sheer area of uninsulated windows.  

Meanwhile, my suggestion would be to hang heavily insulated curtains (think moving blankets!) that can be removed later (covering not just the windows but the walls too) of your living space rooms that you heat.  That and the plastic inside the windows would help.  If you don't mind the way it all looks!

Would the powers that be allow you to remove the interior paneling carefully, insulate/vapor barrier inside the brick, then reinstall the paneling inside that?
 
master steward
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Kelly Craig wrote:I am a firm believer in, "where there is no solution there cannot be a problem."  Of course, we may not always like the solution.



This very well might be a solution:

Using ROCKET MASS HEATERS to burn 1/10th the Firewood



https://permies.com/t/172971/ROCKET-MASS-HEATERS-burn-Firewood

 
Mike Haasl
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Michael, is your house is the brick one on the right side of that picture?  With all the windows?

If so, I think you'd need about 8 RMHs to heat it...

Looks like that house was designed to be run by a crew of people at a time when labor was even more affordable compared to the means of the owner of the house.
 
pollinator
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It is very time consuming for sure. However we used to keep our thermostat at 60-65 because of the high cost of propane. Now our house is regularly 75. It's WONDERFUL! My husband drives about 30 minutes to a local tree cutting business, they load up the flatbed and then her drives the wood home where the tractor helps unload it. Then he has all summer to cut and chop it. We are currently 2 winters ahead. I'd like to be more ahead. One trailer load is estimated to have 3 chords. He listens to podcasts while he cuts. It is time consuming for him, obviously, but neither of us are willing to go back to forced air.

At some point he will not have the energy or strength to chop, at which point we'll buy it pre-done and that will cost a wee bit more.
 
Michael Cox
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Our place is part of that larger property, yes. It was divided up in the 60s, having been derelict for a couple of decades in the post war era. And yes, a crew of staff would be useful. In that photo you can see about 1/3rd of the overall property. It would have been totally bonkers originally.

We have mulled before on buying the other residents out and turning it into a commune with our mates. Never going to happen, but it would be a lot of fun.

In practice in our section, which isn't quite visible in the shot, we run the conventional woodstove 6 to 12 hours per day in winter, depending how much we are home and how cold it is. And then still have to run the gas central heating upstairs for an hour each evening to take the chill off the air when we put the kids to bed. Fortunately we all prefer to sleep is cool/cold bedrooms! The main downstairs living space does get comfortably warm, but you become very aware of cold drafts when doors get left open etc...

The upkeep on this place is a lot. I'm looking at potentially being here 20 years or more, so thinking carefully about the systems that we use/put in place is worth doing. I'm happy to invest in infrastructure now, if it will save me effort in future. We haven't brought firewood in from offsite in the past 5 years. Everything has been processed by us, on site, from dead or fallen trees. Doing everything yourselves from start to finish really emphasises the work involved.
 
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40 years ago, we finally had it with rent and landlords. Mortgages were nuts. Think 12 to 18 percent. All we could afford was 400 sq ft, tar paper sided. But after an apartment a 1/2 acre  with fruit trees felt generous. It only had wood heat.(in cold Wisconsin) eventually we replaced it with a gas boiler, and paid less for gas than we had for wood. Even when we scrounged every bit we could. Didn't miss the extra dirt and mess and coming home to icy house with 2 little ones.But during power outages and that boiler dying in a -20* January. We sure missed the wood heat. And eventually put one back in. Different house, different wood stove, and oil filled electric base boards. Having options let's us adapt. Seeing a full wood pile feels like security. When wood heat is an option..lots more fun. I enjoy the fire, enjoy putting a nice meal in the Dutch oven.using energy double duty feels good. Knowing we'll be fine if they pull the plug..priceless!
 
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I use a RMH to heat my basement which in turn helps supplement the upstairs. The biggest investment is insulation. My house was very uninsulated especially in the ceiling. I have did all the insulation fixes myself. This has added the most value to our house. As for the wood heat, it can be a fair amount of work. For instance, my dad has most of his wood delivered and he has a log splitter. The rest of it I help him harvest by manual labor. The way he is set up, it saves him a fair amount of money compared to the propane furnace. My house uses propane also and cost are rising every year. The wood cuts our bill at least in half. Plus I found out our furnace was only burning on 2 out of the 4 ports ( fixed this year). I have not had to run our furnace downstairs this year. I collect almost all the wood off my own land. I had to invest in a proper saw and the other odds and ends. For me, getting out in the woods, cutting and hauling it out and hand splitting is an experience. I use it for my mental health and physical health. Do what works best for you. There is no wrong way! Good luck!
 
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I think the trick is having a good stove. A good modern (last 5 years) stove will be roughly twice as efficient as one from the 80s (77% is the minimum to qualify for a tax credit now vs 30-35% for the pre-EPA stoves) - not quite as good as a masonry heater (generally 90%), but pretty close (and quite a bit easier to install). The breakdown for me:
1 cord of wood theoretically replaces 141 gallons of heating oil (my furnace and my stove are about equally efficient). For me, in practice 1 cord replaces about 200 gallons, because the thermal gradient across the house is different with the two sources, and a lower average temp is just as comfortable with the stove (the living room and office, where I'm sitting still, stay in the mid-70s, ranging to a hallway that's in the low 60s). At current prices, that's $450/cord theoretically, or $660/cord in practice. I could buy that split and delivered for $300/cord, but I cut my own instead:
- rent a 22-ton splitter for a day for $120, split 2 cords in 8 hours
- 30 minutes/day bringing in wood and reloading the stove for 4 months out of the year
- roughly 30 hours throughout the year finding downed trees, cutting them, and hauling them back

Total: 90 hours and $120 spent to save $900 - $1300. That's $8.50 - $13.10/hr ($10 - $15 if you account for not paying taxes on money saved) - while it's not enough for me to make a career out of delivering firewood, it's a pretty good wage for doing things like starting a fire (fun) and walking in the woods (relaxing, fun), and not bad for stacking/splitting (meditative, good low level exercise). I'll be honest, I would probably pay money to have a good fire going when coming inside in the winter, so the fact that I make money instead is pretty great.

And for what it's worth, I'm a short middle-aged woman, not some buff lumberjack - I make full use of my utility cart in the summer and small sled in the winter so that I'm not physically carrying much, I rent a hydraulic splitter because my attitude towards axes is roughly 'lolnope this is why we have power tools', and I don't deal with trees that I can't cut up with my 14" chainsaw, so I'm not messing with incredibly heavy rounds of wood.

Now, if I was heating with an old smoke dragon, that would be more like $3 - $5/hr, which is a different situation.
 
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