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Stephen Asay

Anyone heat their home with wood; garden, homestead? (off grid living)

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    It seems like more and more often wood burning is getting demonized as being bad for the environment, causing cancer, etc etc. Back in Sc we have a fireplace, but it looks like it has a gas burning insert. I am not sure if it has an actual hearth behind the appliance but my family is interested in tearing it out and burning wood for heat. We would probably build a grate type insert like this :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grate_heater. And/ or would also probably put an actual stove (maybe even one we could cook on) in the house somewhere. I have also met a couple of people in Arkansas who had external wood burning furnaces that heated their whole house.

   I am wondering about what your experience has been, both with people around you and with how well they work. It sounds like there are at least a small percentage of people who think all wood burning should be banned, and run inside and close their windows as soon as they smell a little bit of wood smoke. To give my honest opinion unless these people have an actual medical condition I think it is a bunch of fear mongering nonsense. Out in the south people literally will burn brush hundreds of square feet across all day, no one complains. People also give away whole trees for free, and their is more than enough unmanaged forest here that could benefit from thinning down quite a bit.

    To be honest there is also a bit of self-reliant off grid nostalgia to the idea of making do and even prospering without any outside lines of support. The same type of instinct that makes homemade canned salsa seem so much better than store bought, that makes people believe those backyard chicken eggs taste better and are much more healthy, the same feeling that makes "hand carved" seem so much more valuable and sells cast iron cookwear. And I can't deny that home grown produce tastes better than any store bought nine times out of ten. I think it is a feeling that blade smiths in particular can relate to, wanting to make our own tools and such, doing things the old way.

   Another facet is reducing the impact of big industry, our power is usually made with heavy equipment that mines up non-renewable resources, our food comes in petroleum packaging and most families nowadays make hundreds of pounds of trash on a monthly basis that will be poisoning the earth for centuries. If it goes directly from a backyard to the table you eliminate the gas for transport, and also for production equipment needed by large scale farming.

   Another facet is health, you know pesticides, gas emissions, pollution. I am not sure how much to really worry about it but I do like the idea of cleaner food and air.

   Another facet is money, I work a job, get paid and have income taxes, then when I go to buy something I need I have a sales tax on top of that, as well as the fact as I am paying other people's wage, the cost of transport, the markup for the grocery store. I end up with food that is not very fresh and very expensive. If I make something myself I am just paying for raw materials, and I get exactly what I want.

    Basically what I am saying is that I have shifted focus after thinking about these things, no I am not going to join the Amish or live on a reenactment farm, but what I am going to try to do is produce the basic needs of life on a scale that can be managed without huge equipment costs and impacts. Obviously the backyard homestead is not viable for everyone, but for me I find a lot more enjoyment working with my hands doing things that directly turn into useful items, rather than being a tiny cog in the massive worldwide economy.

   Sorry this post was a bit of a ramble, anyone have input on anything like this, do you grow or hunt any of your own food, do you cut back on power and gas usage using woodstoves and the like?

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   I am not anywhere close to being "off grid" but I have enough preparations made to transition if events beyond my control take me off grid. If you are a land owner and you don't have a well, get one. You do not want a submersible pump because if and when the motor goes out you wont be able to do anything about it without pulling up the whole stem, something most homeowners aren't equipped to de even if they know how. Surface mounted pumps cost a little more up front but if and when they go out you can replace it yourself in an hour with a few wrenches. Add a hand pump for when the power is down and you're in business.

   Wood heat is a viable option, especially in timber country. I heat with a combination of LP and wood but I live in a very temperate zone. I have lived in the mid west and I can tell you that heat is serious business up there. Bottom line, make decisions and provisions for your climate and availability of fuel.

   As for gardening, look into heirloom seeds if you really want to get seriously into sustainability. The seedlings you purchase at home centers and co ops have been genetically tinkered with so that a lot of them cant be re started from seed. Learn how to garden before you're hungry, it's a process;) You also should look into canning and preserving garden stuff.

   Educate yourself on as many primitive skills as you can. You don't have to spend any money, or very little, to make some big strides in becoming more self reliant. I'm not a "prepper" or whatever moniker that crowd is going by these days (in the 1980s they called themselves survivalists) but common sense knowledge never goes out of fashion. There is an old woodsmans adage that says "The more you know, the less you carry". What I have always taken from that is that you don't need a high dollar, over engineered, bulky cat skinning machine that weighs you down if you already know about forty seven different ways to skin a cat:D

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3 minutes ago, MichaelP said:

   I am not anywhere close to being "off grid" but I have enough preparations made to transition if events beyond my control take me off grid. If you are a land owner and you don't have a well, get one. You do not want a submersible pump because if and when the motor goes out you wont be able to do anything about it without pulling up the whole stem, something most homeowners aren't equipped to de even if they know how. Surface mounted pumps cost a little more up front but if and when they go out you can replace it yourself in an hour with a few wrenches. Add a hand pump for when the power is down and you're in business.

   Wood heat is a viable option, especially in timber country. I heat with a combination of LP and wood but I live in a very temperate zone. I have lived in the mid west and I can tell you that heat is serious business up there. Bottom line, make decisions and provisions for your climate and availability of fuel.

   As for gardening, look into heirloom seeds if you really want to get seriously into sustainability. The seedlings you purchase at home centers and co ops have been genetically tinkered with so that a lot of them cant be re started from seed. Learn how to garden before you're hungry, it's a process;) You also should look into canning and preserving garden stuff.

   Educate yourself on as many primitive skills as you can. You don't have to spend any money, or very little, to make some big strides in becoming more self reliant. I'm not a "prepper" or whatever moniker that crowd is going by these days (in the 1980s they called themselves survivalists) but common sense knowledge never goes out of fashion. There is an old woodsmans adage that says "The more you know, the less you carry". What I have always taken from that is that you don't need a high dollar, over engineered, bulky cat skinning machine that weighs you down if you already know about forty seven different ways to skin a cat:D

That is some good advice, Particularly that last line.

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Here's the thing.  If you live in a rural area with few rules about such things, a quality wood stove is a good idea.  It costs time and effort and thought to maintain a good wood pile, but you're young (from your picture) and so have energy to spare.  If, on the other hand, you live in a built up area, there may be laws which prevent you from burning when you'd like and a wood burner becomes more of an affectation than a real source of heat.

In Seattle, for instance, we get temperature inversions, where cold air sits on top of the warmer air over the city.  This often happens in the winter.  When I was growing up, 60's and 70's it could get so bad that you could not see the mountains 25 miles away because of the wood smoke.  Last year, when the whole west coast was on fire, the measured air quality in the Puget Sound during most of the summer was worse than Bejing.  You pretty much can't heat with wood in King county without a certified stove with a catalytic converter on it.

A well maintained, well operated stove has almost no smoke except at startup.  OTOH, one of those old school cook stoves is not really that sort of thing.  Another thing to think about, an open fire place will just pump the warm air right up the chimney, it actually makes the house colder, except right in front of it.

Historically, people burned wood or charcoal or coal, because better fuels were too expensive, or too hard to get.  And we denuded huge swaths of land to do it, like in Northern England.

One answer is to build a system that uses trash wood, stick and twigs and mill ends and stuff, to make small but efficient burners.  Look up designs for rocket stoves.  In one system I was looking at they got 4 times the efficiency (measured in time to boil a measured amount of water per weight of fuel) over a traditional open grate system.  And, because they burn much hotter, they produce much less smoke.'

If you want to heat and cook over a wood fired system, I'm good with it.  But do it because it makes real sense, not because it seems all primitive and stuff.  I'll bet if you went back and offered your great grandfather the option not to spend half his life cutting and splitting and stacking  and hauling wood, he would have jumped at the chance.  Around here you needed 7-10 cords a year, cut, split, stacked and dry, every year.  And that is in a climate that doesn't snow or freezing temps every year.

Edited by Geoff Keyes

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There's a lot of ground to cover in this topic and I have an opinion on most of it. Mind you, I come from this with the perspective of my day job, which is a Building Code Official in Phoenix AZ. Maricopa County has some fairly tough wood burning laws, and "No Burn" days are more frequent than not. I have also done a bit of gardening, and it's not just that I did it in the desert, it ain't easy to grow enough food to live on. I won't even talk about hunting because it is usually regulated on a state level.

So, I am planning this lifestyle and taking my time to plan it out and get it right. We purchased the land some years ago and have started to develop it. The house will be built from scratch using some modern building techniques and materials. Very important to consider because energy conservation is really what the whole idea boils down to. Use less energy to heat and cool your home, use less energy to provide lighting and water, use less energy to do all the things that daily life requires. Most of this can be achieved through building science.

The plan is to heat it primarily with a wood stove. The catalytic converter types that Geoff mentioned are more efficient and cleaner burning than you might think. On a side note, I always laugh when people tell me that electric heat is much "greener" than wood burning, when most of the electric power plants are coal burning. Anyway, The EPA has a list of approved low emission wood stoves and fireplace inserts that clean the smoke and increase the heating capacity at the same time. 

As for electric power, well, look to solar. The advancements in solar power generation and storage systems have grown exponentially in the last decade. I plan on putting the essential circuits (food storage, well pump and LED lighting) on solar power back up with a Tesla Power wall for power storage.

Food. Right up there with water as far as importance. The growing season in my NM property is only about 90 days. So, I need a greenhouse of some sort to extend that some. Look at Greenhouse films, or hoop house construction materials available from most gardening suppliers (or youtube videos on how to DIY)  and look into Landrace Agriculture or buying heirloom seeds from crops grown in the area where you live. Most seeds sold in seed catalogs are from plants grown in the north-midwest and do not fair particularly well in hot dry climates or hot humid climates (ask me how I know). 

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Good stuff Geoff. That kind of led me down a rabbit hole in search of a better system. Alas, the problem I have with mass heating systems like these is the same thing that makes them work so well, they make use of a large mass in the living space, to absorb and radiate the heat. That mass weighs a lot and is best supported by a concrete slab on grade. Slab on grade is probably the worst way to build an energy efficient house (IMNSHO) as you are resting the entire house on a giant heat sink. I plan on building the house with a raised floor system on piers (think post and beam) with no continuous stem wall. So the "crawl space" is open and the structure has very limited contact with any foundation. Think of living in an insulated water jug standing on a couple of spools of thread. Completely sealed envelope.

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You could build the mass heater with a foundation through the floor to the ground, the way a chimney in a post and beam construction works.  The structure under the floor could be insulated from the burner, it just needs to support the weight.

This sort of thing might be workable as well  

 

 

Geoff

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Thanks for the input! 

20 hours ago, Geoff Keyes said:

 

If you want to heat and cook over a wood fired system, I'm good with it.  But do it because it makes real sense, not because it seems all primitive and stuff.  I'll bet if you went back and offered your great grandfather the option not to spend half his life cutting and splitting and stacking  and hauling wood, he would have jumped at the chance.  Around here you needed 7-10 cords a year, cut, split, stacked and dry, every year.  And that is in a climate that doesn't snow or freezing temps every year.

Some of the best advice I have ever got, The idea really is to be more efficient, not just to be a primitive. In our case most of our heating would probably still be on electricity, but I would personally like to maintain a winters worth of firewood, that maybe we only use 1/4 of a year and just keep rotating. "just in case".

8 hours ago, Joshua States said:

There's a lot of ground to cover in this topic and I have an opinion on most of it. Mind you, I come from this with the perspective of my day job, which is a Building Code Official in Phoenix AZ. Maricopa County has some fairly tough wood burning laws, and "No Burn" days are more frequent than not. I have also done a bit of gardening, and it's not just that I did it in the desert, it ain't easy to grow enough food to live on. I won't even talk about hunting because it is usually regulated on a state level.

So, I am planning this lifestyle and taking my time to plan it out and get it right. We purchased the land some years ago and have started to develop it. The house will be built from scratch using some modern building techniques and materials. Very important to consider because energy conservation is really what the whole idea boils down to. Use less energy to heat and cool your home, use less energy to provide lighting and water, use less energy to do all the things that daily life requires. Most of this can be achieved through building science.

The plan is to heat it primarily with a wood stove. The catalytic converter types that Geoff mentioned are more efficient and cleaner burning than you might think. On a side note, I always laugh when people tell me that electric heat is much "greener" than wood burning, when most of the electric power plants are coal burning. Anyway, The EPA has a list of approved low emission wood stoves and fireplace inserts that clean the smoke and increase the heating capacity at the same time. 

 As for electric power, well, look to solar. The advancements in solar power generation and storage systems have grown exponentially in the last decade. I plan on putting the essential circuits (food storage, well pump and LED lighting) on solar power back up with a Tesla Power wall for power storage.

Food. Right up there with water as far as importance. The growing season in my NM property is only about 90 days. So, I need a greenhouse of some sort to extend that some. Look at Greenhouse films, or hoop house construction materials available from most gardening suppliers (or youtube videos on how to DIY)  and look into Landrace Agriculture or buying heirloom seeds from crops grown in the area where you live. Most seeds sold in seed catalogs are from plants grown in the north-midwest and do not fair particularly well in hot dry climates or hot humid climates (ask me how I know). 

That is pretty cool, there are about 17 acres I am going to be asking about near our house, maybe to build another home on to live in. 

As far as the greenhouse goes, have you seen this? It pumps air sunk into the ground through pipes, keeps the temperature above freezing year round. I guess the same concept could be used to cool a house for almost free (or heat to about 55F)

 Solar is definitely on my list to look into as well, as well as beekeeping, though that is a whole 'nother topic.

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I haven't watched your video, but it sounds like a geothermal heating/cooling system. Those are pretty nifty, but look at doing them in an area with a 36 inch frost depth......

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Just takes a lot deeper of a trench, one guy grows tropical fruit in Nebraska, this one is in ID with -17F winters. You are right though, not the easiest system to set up. I luckily don't have to worry about it in SC because we can probably grow most stuff without a greenhouse anyways. 

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So, this brings up another aspect of building science. Not all systems work the same in all climates/regions. I am building at 7300 feet elevation in climate zone 5B. The one thing that does work equally well in all areas is the concept of tight construction. Defeat the infiltration/exfiltration factor and you will make your heating/cooling system (whatever it is) much more efficient.

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On 2/4/2019 at 5:23 PM, MichaelP said:

I'm not a "prepper" or whatever moniker that crowd is going by these days (in the 1980s they called themselves survivalists)

Back in the 60's it was called life. :P

Edited by Jeremy Blohm

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