Friday, October 5, 2007

Lignin Dreams

Plagued by a drive toward self reliance? No? Well I am. And I've got a massive pile of wood to prove it. But not massive enough apparently.

This year we're heating our house with wood. The Lady and I got an attractive and efficient fireplace insert installed where our regular fireplace used to be. Loaded up, it keeps our home comfy.

How much wood do you need to heat your house all winter? As it turns out, a LOT. A lot of damn wood. At least five cords. What's a cord? I didn't really know until I started this whole adventure. A cord is a HUGE amount of wood. It's a legal volume, a neat stack of wood measuring 128 cubic feet, or 8' x 4' x 4'. Or about 3000 pounds of wood. Five cords then would be a wall of split wood 40' long x 4' high x 4' wide and 15,000 pounds.

It really gives me perspective on why everybody turned to natural gas. You can move it from here to there. You don't have to carry it into the house every night. And you don't have to chop it into smaller pieces.

But still...a rotting tree gives off as much CO2 as a burned tree, so I'm not adding any extra CO2 into the atmosphere with this, while CO2 from natural gas is dredged up from a bazillion years ago. Some folks say the particles in wood make it a bad pollutant...I'm going to settle in the middle and guess it's at least not worse, and it's a far sight cheaper than natural gas...and it's renewable. A acre of well managed woodland can produce up to a cord of renewable wood each year, so with 90 million acres of Michigan woodland there's plenty to go around without forest shrinkage.

So far I'm up to a little over two cords stacked up in the garage with smaller piles dotting our yard. Our neighbors seem amused and ask how the wood is coming along. They offer up the wood or dead trees in their yards. They actually offer to let me clean up their yard waste. And the worst part is...I actually WANT to. I've learned quite a bit about tree identification and their various fuel values. When I see a fallen tree in somebody's yard I start sizing it up in terms of British Thermal Units. Some say my wood adventure is obsessive, I prefer the term "Herculean."

Here is where I process, or "beat the hell out of" wood. It's very theraputic, and Julie helps me cut by teaching me the basics of Samurai swordplay. WHACK! Oscar likes to heckle me while I cut as he watches me from afar "Oh! You missed!"

I store my precious wood pile in the garage to keep her dry. This is about a cord and a half. I need five cords.


esp said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one plagued by a drive towards self reliance....I'm jealous of your fireplace insert. I'd love to put a wood stove in our big, cold kitchen one of these days.

If you run out of wood, I've got a about a cords worth of saplings I need to chop down in my backyard....

samantha said...

Holy crap THAT is a lot of wood.

And I, too, am jealous that you have that awesome fireplace. When we don't rent anymore I'm going to go nuts with Green Ways To Live.