Heating the Home with Renewable Resources

In the United States, energy use accounts for 82 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking for shale gas brings with it a host of environmental concerns (shale gas is expected to comprise 50 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035, by the way), while our continued reliance on coal and oil are killing the planet (if you want to ruin your day, check out this ever-timely article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone). But there are renewable resources we could be tapping into in order to heat our homes this winter.

To get Better Farm off its fuel-oil furnace, we're now sporting a wood stove (utilizing standing-dead trees on the property and logs from a woodlot three miles away) and pellet stove. We of course realize these options aren't available to everyone. So depending on where you live and what's available to you, consider looking into one of these options for producing heat in your home this year.

Geothermal
Image from Canadian Geothermal.
Geothermal solutions are prized for their efficiency. These all-in-one 'forced-air' or 'water-to-air' systems can provide comfort to your home more efficiently than any other type of ordinary system. Put simply, geothermal is a method for heating and cooling a structure using the constant ground temperature. In reality the Earth is the world’s largest solar collector and at depths of roughly 5 feet below grade the Earth has stored enough energy to maintain about a 50 degree temperature ( in our area of Pennsylvania) year round. Geothermal heating and cooling utilizes a ‘ground source’ heat pump to either extract heat from the ground during the winter or reject heat into the ground during the summer. While the geothermal setup will pull additional electric, a solar kit can change all that. (Western Pennsylvania Geothermal Heating and Cooling, Inc.)

Solar-Powered Heat Pump
Image from Accent Comfort Services.
Modern ductless, mini-split air source heat pumps (ASHPs) run 2-3x as efficiently as traditional 'resistive' electric heat, making the cost to run the units equivalent to buying oil at $1.68/gallon.
Simultaneously, they provide air conditioning using half the energy as traditional window or central air conditioning systems. Best yet—by installing a solar electric array to power the electric consumption of the heat pumps, you effectively have a solar space-heating system. Your solar array will generate credits in the summertime (when it is sunniest) which allow you to run the heat pumps in the wintertime (when it is coldest). Your system will effortlessly generate all the 'fuel' it ever needs from clean, abundant sunshine! (From ReVision Energy)

Pellet Stoves
The new pellet stove coming soon to Better Farm's library.
For those who like wood stoves but don't love handling firewood and tending the fire, pellet stoves are great options and utilize totally renewable resources. Pellets for these stoves are made from  compressed wood byproducts and other biomass. The appliances vary from designs that are lit manually, with heat output controlled directly by the homeowner using a dial or buttons, to those units that ignite electrically, with pellet supply and heat output controlled automatically by a wall-mounted thermostat. Wood pellets produce almost no net climate-changing carbon dioxide if they are used as fuel — although some fossil fuels typically are used in the manufacture and transportation of pellets. The technology for modern residential pellet heating systems was invented back in 1983. This technology is now reliable, mature, and effective. The main question left to answer is whether the pellet lifestyle makes sense for you. And to answer this question you need a glimpse inside the process. (Mother Earth News)

Wood Heat
Wood is a totally renewable resource. If you live on a lot of property, there are seemingly endless reserves of standing-dead trees that can be harvested in a responsible way. We scored more than eight cords this year by doing responsible tree-felling in the woods at Better Farm alone, and there is plenty more where that came from. A few wood heat facts:
  • Wood-burning stoves are better in environmental terms as the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
  • Trees are a renewable resource (particularly when derived from plantations and cultivated woodland; or in our case, when you plant new trees and only cut down standing-dead ones). 
  • Wood ashes can be used very successfully in the vegetable garden (except in the area where you plan to grow potatoes). Mix the ash thoroughly with your soil. Tomatoes seem to benefit especially from soil that has been mixed with a small quantity of wood ash.
  • Nothing is cozier than sitting around inside on a frigid day in front of a toasty-warm wood stove. Nothing.

Care to share your methods of alternative heat? Email info@betterfarm.org.

Blazing a Trail

The Boys of Better Farm have been downright inspiring in their commitment to culling standing-dead trees on the property for firewood. While trudging through some back brush, they were struck by a long-idling idea: Why not carve out some trails in the woods for four-wheeling, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and good-old fashioned hiking?


They've been hard at work in the last few weeks laying out an initial series of trails. Here are a few shots of the network; more to come soon!




Care to volunteer on this or any other project? Get in touch with us at (315) 482-2536 or info@betterfarm.org.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Better Farm's Wood-Cutting Crew

We've expounded in the past on all the perks of using wood to heat your home. Cheat sheet:
  • Wood-burning stoves are better in environmental terms as the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
  • Trees are a renewable resource (particularly when derived from plantations and cultivated woodland; or in our case, when you plant new trees and only cut down standing-dead ones). 
  • Wood ashes can be used very successfully in the vegetable garden (except in the area where you plan to grow potatoes). Mix the ash thoroughly with your soil. Tomatoes seem to benefit especially from soil that has been mixed with a small quantity of wood ash.
  • Nothing is cozier than sitting around inside on a frigid day in front of a toasty-warm wood stove. Nothing. 
In the last three years, we've gone from amateurish to semi-experienced to almost-expert on wood-preparedness for the season. This fall, we jumped into overdrive. First, we organized wood left over from last year that is already perfectly seasoned. Next, we bought 8 cords of local wood. Then, we hit the property to take down standing dead trees, cut up the logs, and split and stack what we had. Here's a pictorial tour of the wood-workers in action:






In addition to all the standing-dead we've taken down, we're in the process of replenishing. In the last year, we planted more than 100 black walnut trees, 25 white spruces, two peach trees, and a weeping willow—and we're just starting! The boys cut a nice pathway out back the other day, which will be used for additional milling and planting (and eventual hiking trails... more about that later!). Stay tuned for more woodsy lore!
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Rocket Mass Heaters Boast High Efficiency in the Blustery North



While we still have some cool weather ahead, here's a great look at the unbelievable efficiency of rocket mass heaters even against an icy, frigid backdrop. A lot of people assume these wood stoves are only Southwest appropriate—not so!

Important note: Building departments in most towns still don't recognize rocket mass heaters—which presents  a bit of a blockade for a lot of applications where you'd need a building permit or, for insurance purposes, would want everything built in your home or office to be up to code and compliant. Still, this heating model is gaining ground in a big way throughout the United States and world... maybe it's only a matter of time? We like to think efficiency would be rewarded. Let's just hope the heating fuel companies don't buy up some rocket mass heater patent, a la Big Oil and the electric car.

Source: Permies.com
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Ushering in the Holiday Season at Better Farm

A cozy fire stoked with harvested dead trees on the property at Better Farm.
The holidays are upon us at Better Farm!

We took advantage of the absolutely beautiful, wintry day yesterday to do a walkabout on the property in search of a Christmas tree. Unfortunately for us (fortunately for the trees, we suppose), there weren't any that were the right size or shape for the library at the Farm. We did manage to find a bunch of standing dead wood, however—perfect for the woodstove:

Tyler Howe and Brian Hines harvest some fire wood.

Next step was to find a local tree farmer. Which we did, right next door to the Theresa Bowling Center.


The guy who sold us the tree was kind enough to offer us free delivery. Our Christmas tree arrived just as we were sitting down to a delicious family dinner feast to welcome in the holiday season. How's that for service?

After dinner, we decorated the tree and marveled at the nice job May did with stringing lights around the library as decoration:





Check out the tree! 

 


With all the decorations in place, it was time to stage our 2011 Better Farm Holiday card. Can't show you any previews here—just make sure you're on our mailing list if you want to see the amazingness that is photographer (and former betterArts resident) Erin Fulton's prowess.

From all of us here at Better Farm, we wish you a superfantastic holiday season. Hope to see you at the New Year's Eve party!

To get on our mailing list, e-mail info@betterfarm.org with your snail mail and e-mail address.
For great holiday gift ideas, visit www.betterfarm.org/merchandise.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Spotlight On: Rocket Mass Heaters

Photo from ErnieandErica.info
What if there was a way to heat your home that uses up to 90 percent less wood than conventional wood stoves, with a system that could be built in a day and a half, for less than $20?

Yes, seriously.

A rocket mass heater is an innovative and efficient space-heating system developed from the rocket stove and the masonry heater, and one that is gaining popularity in natural buildings and within permaculture designs.


This schematic details the inner dimensions of a Rocket Mass Heater (from the book Rocket Mass Heaters: super efficient woodstoves you can build (and snuggle up to) by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson)
These systems incorporate a simple J-tube rocket stove, a metal drum to direct the flue gases down and into a system of ductwork, and finally a great deal of thermal mass (usually a cob bench) to soak up all the heat. Wood is fed into B (the feed tube), it is burned in C (the combustion chamber), re-burned (smoke and all) in E, then the hot gases move into a low pressure area (G, H and J), and travel through K (the duct work) and finally out C (the chimney). All the while, the hot gas moving through the system is being sucked into the thermal mass—usually a cob bench, warming the area with beautiful radiant heat.

This could be the cleanest and most sustainable way to heat a conventional home. Some people have reported that they heat their home with nothing more than the dead branches that fall off the trees in their yard. And they burn so clean, that a lot of sneaky people are using them illegally, in cities, without detection. Click here to get the full rundown.


Recommended Reading: Rocket Mass Heaters: Super Efficient Woodstoves You Can Build (and Snuggle Up To)
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

The Lumberjacks of Better Farm

Kip McNeill tears into a dead, dried out tree with his chainsaw.
It's wood season in the North Country; and that means the hum of chainsaws, the swinging of mauls and axes, the dragging of logs, the wheelbarrowing of sticks, and the stacking (and stacking, and stacking) of trimmed-up pieces ripe for the woodstove.

We took advantage of having a full house over the weekend by spending part of Saturday afternoon making a big dent in our efforts to cut down the standing-dead trees on the property, trim them up, and get them over to our wood piles. Big thanks to Kip McNeill, Tyler Howe, and Mike Brown for their hard work!

Fast facts about the benefits of heating with wood:
  • Wood-burning stoves are better in environmental terms as the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
  • Trees are a renewable resource (particularly when derived from plantations and cultivated woodland; or in our case, when you plant new trees and only cut down standing-dead ones). 
  • Wood ashes can be used very successfully in the vegetable garden (except in the area where you plan to grow potatoes). Mix the ash thoroughly with your soil. Tomatoes seem to benefit especially from soil that has been mixed with a small quantity of wood ash.
  • Nothing is cozier than sitting around inside on a frigid day in front of a toasty-warm wood stove. Nothing.






Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Inspiration: Wood Storage

Log storage solution found at Furnitureanddesign.
Whether you've scored a pre-war studio in Manhattan with original fireplace intact or have recently installed a woodstove in your 19th-century farmhouse-turned-hippie-commune-turned-sustainability-education-center in the middle of nowhere,  you might be brainstorming about creative, clean ways to store wood on your property and/or in your home.

(Yes, it's spring; but to get properly seasoned wood for next winter, wood-cutting season is just about here and those logs have to go somewhere...)

Here are some great ideas gleaned online and found locally in Jefferson County, N.Y. Please contact us at info@betterfarm.org to share your own ideas!

Custom wood storage by Lundberg Design.

Log racks found on ReNest.

Log ring from Fopple.com
Metal bins used as wood storage at Walt Dutcher's camp on Butterfield Lake, Redwood, N.Y.









Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

And Man Made Fire...

In the 40 years since Better Farm has come into being, heating methods for the house have varied wildly.

Gone are the days of splitting logs right on the kitchen floor and keeping drip buckets under the ramshackle stovepipe that ran along the kitchen ceiling and up through three levels of floor. Over is the time of stockpiling wood in the basement for the split oil/wood furnace. With geothermal an attractive but painfully expensive option to defray the use of the fuel-fed furnace currently in Better Farm's basement, I started investigating other ways to reduce our carbon footprint and make the house a little toastier this winter season.

One thought was to go solar and switch to electric heat; but the price tag for that overhaul is far too great. And in speaking to solar households around this area, there are many times throughout winter up in Jefferson County that a gas-fed generator is necessary to keep the power going. Ditto for wind power.

Meanwhile, the environmental benefits of heating with wood are very well-documented. The carbon dioxide released by wood fuel is equivalent to the C02 that same tree absorbed from the atmosphere over the course of its lifetime: an even tradeoff. Do your part to replant trees wherever possible, and you are replenishing this resource completely; and even improving atmospheric oxygen levels.

I took a look at the stove pipe sticking out of the wall in the kitchen, a remnant from a former incarnation of Better Farm when the kitchen stove was wood-fired. And so I asked around to see if anyone knew of a wood stove for sale. Not for cooking, persay (though options abound for all sorts of wood stove-based baking and cooking), but to give us additional, cozy heat in the house and keep that nasty fuel furnace on at a minimum.

Our friend Milt Davis, owner of Davis Construction, had a stove on-hand that he graciously donated to the farm. That left us in need of a lot of wood, and a new stovepipe. So I brought in the dream team: Better Farm resident and ax-wielding extraordinaire Joel DiCaprio, and master carpenter Gary Stevenson to get the stove situated.

Joel set out into the marshes of the property and felled a dozen or so dead trees. He split the wood, brought it to the yard, and I wheelbarrowed it onto the decks and stacked. And stacked. And stacked (thanks to Joel, David Garlock, Brian Purwin, and Cory Flack for helping to stack; and to Walt Dutcher and Jody Szepeski for doing so much work on the wood splitter in a snowstorm!). Meanwhile, Gary and his accomplice Steve stacked a beautiful stove pipe up along the side of the house, constructed a stone wall in the kitchen, a hearth for the stove, and hooked everything together safely.

All that's left to do is install a big hot tub and sauna somewhere on the premises, and you won't hear another peep out of me about the harsh North Coutnry Winter. Happy fireside snuggling, everyone.
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.