What’s it really like living in a concrete bunker? This is part two of a two part post on our ICF (insulated concrete form) home. In this post I’ll discuss how much energy is saved (for heating and cooling) by using ICF construction, costs, whether is suitable for the do-it-yourselfer, and how an ICF home performs during emergencies. Read part 1 here.
With gas prices rising, it’s only a matter of time before the cost of petroleum home heat fuels follows suit. If you’ve been considering wood heat but didn’t know where to get started, here are a few basics you should consider
Wood Heating Basics -
Getting Started with Wood Heat for Your Home
You Must have an Ample Supply of Clean, Dry Wood
A wood lot can produce from 1 to 2 face cords of fire wood per acres a year. The best trees for harvesting fire wood include sugar and red maple, hickory, any of the oaks, beech, and hornbeam (ironwood). These are hardwood species that will give you the best return on your investment of labor by burning over a longer and producing a lot of heat.
I burn everything that dies in the woods at my house including elm, aspen and birch, but not much softwood such as pine. Softwoods burn quickly and produce less heat, meaning that you need to refuel frequently and use a lot more wood overall. (Note: Pine does make good kindling for a quick start to your fires.) For a detailed listing of the BTU content of various woods, visit Firewood resource.com.
Firewood should be “seasoned” or dried for at least six months to a year before you burn to reduce creosote in the chimney and air pollution. Green (unseasoned) wood will burn slowly and produce a lot of smoke and particulates. When these build up in your chimney, it increases the risk of a chimney fire. This means you should be planning for next winter now.
Plan for proper storage
To cure (dry), wood needs good air circulation. This means a shed without sides or rows with tarps. Personally, I’m not a fan of tarps or plastic because the wind and the sun will tear holes in them in short order, and water will leak in. You should also find something to stack the wood on to keep it off the ground. Old treated 4x4s are a favorite of mine. Above is a picture of my wood shed. You might recognize it from the post about natural back pain relief.
Heating with wood is labor intensive
One thing that most people don’t think about is how much time you will have to invest in cutting and splitting wood to heat your home. If you cut a cord or two of wood, split, and stack it, you will be doing a full day’s work. If you have back problems or other health problem you might want to consider buying your wood from a logger. There is also the task of keeping a fire. Most wood burners will require attention every 6 to 8 hours, maybe longer if you have a good furnace or outdoor boiler.
Wood stoves are not cheap
The initial cost of a wood furnace that will be about $3000 plus installation. Resale value drops quickly so if you don’t think you are in it for the long term any savings will be negated by the initial cost. (You *might* be able to get a deal on a used unit, but don’t count on it.) Quality wood cutting tools cost money, too, and with tools, you generally get what you pay for – it’s worth the extra money to get tools that last.
Pellet stoves may be a better choice for urban areas, because you don’t need to dry and store a year’s worth of fuel. Outdoor boilers are another option. You will loose some BTU’s because of the stove is outside the home, the water has to travel underground to the home and in the heat is transferred to the home via a heat exchanger. If you choose an outdoor boiler, radiant heating is preferable to a forced air system, which would reduce your efficiency even further.
There is additional risk involved in heating your home with wood
Make sure your home owner’s insurance will cover you if you have wood heat, and what restrictions they have on heating with wood. Clean your chimney every year and check for problems. Improper ventilation can lead to carbon monoxide build up, which can be deadly. (A carbon monoxide detector is a good investment for nearly every home, but especially those with combustion appliances.)
Creosote build up is another concern. Mastersweep.com explains:
What most people think of as “smoke” is better termed “flue gas.” This “smoke”, or flue gas is released by the initial fire: the “primary combustion.” Flue gas consists of steam, and vaporized but unburned carbon based by-products (vaporized creosote). As the flue gas exits the fireplace or wood stove, it drafts upward into the relatively cool flue where condensation occurs. Like hot breath on a cold mirror, the cool surface temperature of the flue causes the carbon particles in the warm vapor to solidify.
The actual cause of creosote condensation, is the surface temperature of the flue in which the flue gas comes in contact. This resulting carbon based condensation which materializes inside the flue is creosote. It’s usually black in appearance. It can be the fine black dust called soot, (1st stage creosote); or porous and crunchy, (2nd stage: see photo on left); or it can be tar-like: drippy and sticky, until it hardens into a shiny glaze, (3rd stage). All forms of creosote can occur in one chimney system. Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities – and ignites inside the chimney flue: the result is a volcanic chimney fire.
Several conditions encourage the buildup of creosote:
- A flue too large for the wood burning appliance, (e.g.. unlined insert)
- A restricted air supply
- Unseasoned or rain-logged wood
- Cooler-than-normal surface flue temperatures, (e.g.. metal fireplace chimney)
Please note the phrase “volcanic chimney fire” – ‘nuf said – clean the chimney.
Chain saws and other wood cutting tools are dangerous. Anything strong and sharp enough to take down a tree can also go right through you. The chain saw is a tool the demands the utmost respect – poor judgement can leave scars that last a lifetime. You should also invest in steel toed boots, logger’s chaps, safety glasses and a hard hat. Every year professional loggers are killed in the woods – it is definitely not something to do with the boys and a few beers.
I hope this post hasn’t scared you off of using wood heat. I’ve used it as my primary heat source for years, as have many friends and family members. It’s a good feeling to look out at a well-stocked woodpile and know that whatever happens to oil prices, your home will be warm without breaking the bank.
This is a guest post by my brother, Richard Poplawski, who lives in northwest Wisconsin in the old farmhouse that used to be owned by my grandparents.
Featured on Simple Lives Thursday #111.
|My favorite shower cleaner|
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different “natural” shower cleaners, and most of them just haven’t worked very well, or have required large amounts of elbow grease. As luck would have it, I tried another cleaner when it was on sale through our local buying club and finally found a winner.
A Natural Shower Cleaner That Works Quickly and Easily
Ecover Ecological Limescale Remover is easy to use and works great. It’s formulated out of plant and mineral based ingredients (full product information here) and is packaged in a recyclable container.
For demonstration purposes, I let my shower get really dirty. Actually, I have two boys, a garden, and hard, rusty water, so it doesn’t take all that long for the shower to look like this.
As soon as I spray on the cleaner, it starts to go to work. You can see the stains starting to blur.
After spraying, I use a small scrub brush to spread the liquid evenly across the surface, and allow it to sit for 5 -15 minutes (or occasionally forget about it and remember it later in the day when I go to use the bathroom…). When it’s time to clean, you just wipe off with a soft cloth (old socks work well).
In a matter of minutes, the shower is sparkling clean – no more scrubbing, rubbing or noxious fumes.
It looked almost like new – I was really impressed (which is why I thought I would tell you about it). I still use vinegar and a little lemon essential oil in the toilet and let it soak overnight, but the shower required a cleaner with more “oomph”. Rust stains, soap scum, hard water deposits and just plain old grime – this cleaner cleans them all.
I hope you find this handy for clean up, especially during the upcoming holiday season when you’re pressed for time.
|Plants, less clutter and abundant natural light are all parts of feng shui.|
I use feng shui in my home and had been planning to write a post on it for some time. As luck would have it, I was contacted by Michael Schnippering of Feng Shui at Work, who asked about writing a guest post. So, for those who aren’t familiar with feng shui, here’s a little taste to get your started with practical feng shui for your home.
What’s “feng shui”?
Maybe you’ve heard of the term “feng shui” – maybe not.
The online dictionary defines feng shui as “the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and placement of a grave, building, room, etc., so that the maximum harmony is achieved between the flow of chi of the environment and that of the user, believed to bring good fortune.”
Some snub this practice as nothing more than mystical hocus pocus. The fact that it has been consistently used for so many generations validates it as a viable life tool. Choosing to make use of this will benefit your home, family, mind, and wellbeing in numerous practical ways.
How does feng shui work?
There are several levels of feng shui, from simple to complex. It is these advanced forms of feng shui that tend to scare people away from every attempting to make use of the ancient practice. But there are multiple tenets that are easy to perform from which a homeowner can benefit greatly. Most of these simply consist of wholesome, healthy living.
First – Clear the Clutter
The first rule of feng shui involves purging the home of unloved things. This is simply getting rid of clutter you never use or do not need. The fact is that this is a chore most people desperately need to get done anyway. Getting rid of clutter functions both literally and symbolically. Think of it as therapy. Letting go of things that remind you of painful or negative experiences will liberate your mind as well as your space. In feng shui, clearing clutter prepares the way for harmonious energy to enter.
Second – Surround Yourself with Positive Things
Another aspect of feng shui involves surrounding oneself with pleasing and beautiful things. This does not mean filling your home with expensive décor. Rather this element of feng shui is concerned with finding the things you value regardless of their monetary worth. This might include special gifts you received from loved ones or souvenirs from a family trip you associate good memories with. These are the beautiful, positive things of life that should inhabit your living space that will help bring good chi (the universal energy that permeates everything in the world).
Third – Bring in Air and Light
Next, a homeowner must fill the de-cluttered space with good air and good light. In feng shui this step is essential to chi as it prepares a place for this energy. Open the curtains to allow natural light in versus lamps. Make a habit of opening windows to regularly allow fresh air into the home.
You might even consider acquiring air purifying plants (like the Lady Palm or Bamboo Palm) to the space or using an air-purifier. Practically speaking, this step provides a healthier habitat for you and your family that includes fresh air and the vitamin D in sunlight. In these ways, feng shui marries tradition and practicality for better living.
This is a guest post by Michael Schnippering. Michael is the founder of Feng Shui at Work. He is committed to the true art and science of Feng Shui. Over the years his Feng Shui practice has taken him to various parts of the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Colombia and Argentina. If you’d like to learn more about Feng Shui, read Michael’s blog and follow him on Twitter @fengshuiatwork
Last spring, I finally asked my friend, Bob, who does handyman work, to help build some rain barrels. I had actually acquired two food grade 55 gallon drums from the meat shop just a couple miles down the road shortly after we moved here, but they had been living in my greenhouse waiting patiently for installation. Make sure you use FOOD GRADE BARRELS, not barrels that may have contained toxic substances.
We decided to located the rain barrels under the stairs so they would be out of the way, but still close to the greenhouse and garden. Say “Hi”, Bob.