Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The weather earlier this holiday week may have been warm enough that I could strip down our small tractor and weld part of the sub-frame on Sunday and get it all back together on Monday, but that situation changed with a vengeance yesterday, as an arctic front swept in.

This year's winter weather in Maine is controlled by a substantial La Nina episode in the Pacific, and it's interesting to follow the jet stream pattern that results. After several weeks of being on the safe, warm side of this atmospheric phenomenon, we've slipped to the other side, and the wicked witch of the north now has us firmly in her grasp. I tried to finish up a few small tasks on the tractor yesterday, but was quickly rewarded with frozen fingers, and had to abandon the last fiddliest job of fitting a split pin (AKA cotter pin in American) to the kingpin.

Instead I came indoors for a very welcome cup of hot coffee.

This morning it's zero degrees F out there, which is minus eighteen degrees C. That isn't too cold for Maine, but it is unpleasant to be outside, and has me worried about frozen pipes.

All proper Maine husbands need to worry about pipes.

In our case, the cellar and crawl spaces where all our pipes are located are heated by the exhaust vent from our propane hot water tank, and by the wood stove which radiates directly to the floor on the underside of which the pipes are attached. I used to heat both cellar and crawl space directly with a special vent tapped from the forced air oil furnace, but I disconnected this vent this fall when I sealed the furnace system and insulated all the ducts. The furnace went unused 95 percent of the time, and the leaky ducts, and especially that cellar vent, ensured that this system became the greatest source of cold air infiltration to the house. The wood stove would suck essentially suck cold combustion air up from the basement through the duct work, making the house feel drafty and uncomfortable. By discontinuing the cellar heating, and sealing and insulating the duct work, most of the remaining cold air infiltration was cut off, but I was worried that the pipes might not get enough heat.

It seems I shouldn't have worried.

The prime result is, we were able to quit using the large outside wood furnace. All we have heating this home right now, even while it's zero degrees F outside, is about 40,000 BTUs/hour of wood heat from an 80,000 BTU/hour Norwegian wood stove running at about half capacity, and a 1.5 KW oil-filled electric heater running at two thirds capacity. I doubt we'll use even three cords of wood this year, when we have about five on hand, and usually use about four.

That's only 43,000 BTUs/hour total, when the degree days needed are something like 100, and a massive victory for energy efficiency. In earlier posts, I was worried about the outside wood furnace, and how we would be able to afford to replace a faulty chimney, but it seems like I don't need to worry. We could even sell that furnace off.

Or, more likely, save it to use for heating the new workshop building we have planned.

1 comment:

  1. My goats didn't like the cold spell much either but I have coats for them. Running in the cold is fine but it takes just as long to get myself and my dog suited up as it does to go for the run!


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