Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall continues to do its thang

I feel like we are having an extended fall this year. It started early and is lingering late. Migratory birds have been spreading their takeoff time over nearly a month now. Yesterday I was doing yard work and saw two enormous flocks of swans take off (numbering hundreds each):

I also went to Rosie Creek Farm's annual Fall blowout sale and bought some beautiful squashes and stocked up on garlic and onions:

Also on offer, which I declined: brussels sprouts (no room left in hands), tomatoes (ditto), giant cabbages (thanks, but no thanks), eggplants, and some other miscellaneous stuff.

Yesterday I attended a workshop hosted by UAF's Cooperative Extension Service on how to build a Rocket Stove. It was led and taught by one Lasse Holmes, an impressively bare-footed, almond-butter-packing, legitimate hippie from Homer (he gets the stamp of legitimacy from this Berkeley girl).

The premise of a rocket stove is that instead of lighting a fire and then damping it down by choking the air intake, as I and other conventional wood stove users do, you light a hot fire, burn the heck out of it (which results in a cleaner burn), insulate the burner itself, and feed the heat to a large thermal mass, which then heats your home slowly and retains its warmth long after the fire has gone out. What's innovative about the rocket stoves is that instead of having the thermal mass in a giant stone hearth around and on top of the combustion chamber, as traditional masonry stoves have, they build the thermal mass off to the side, in a long bench. This enables easier servicing of the combustion chamber as parts inevitably wear out, and also gives you a nice warm bench to sit on.

We build some demo stove cores after the classroom part of the workshop. This is the design developed by Lasse himself:

I have to say, I was impressed and had fun learning about masonry, but I'm pretty happy with my little wood stove just as it is. I go through about 60-70 gallons of heating oil and 3-4 cords of wood a year. My power bill fluctuates between 30-50 dollars a month. That's crazy impressive by Fairbanks standards, even when compared against other little cabins comparable in size to mine. I attribute most of this to a simple, open building design (no separate rooms for me!), quality construction (thanks, Mr. Farmen!), and, finally, my own (as well as Autumn's and Linden's) low-temperature comfort level. I am most comfortable when I maintain my home temperature at 65F/18C when I'm awake, and let it fall to 50F/10C when I'm sleeping. (I love my pile o' blankets and my doggie cuddles, and I hate waking up sweaty and gross). To others, this is a mite chilly. When I have friends for dinner, I build up the fire a bit, and as soon as they leave, I fling the door and windows wide open to cool it down as much as possible before I go to bed.

So I can't really get on board the thermal mass heater thang. Lasse said that his room temperature lags his fire control by about 2 days. If I had a giant thermal mass, and it were -40 outside, and I built up a big fire, and then two days later, a warm Chinook blew in and swung temperatures up to, say 30F/-1C (which happens not infrequently hereabouts), the dogs and I would be pretty danged miserable. Probably sleeping on the porch. Also, also--I have no interest in sitting on a a warm bench. I am perfectly capable of warming up my own butt. Plus! I get to eat more bacon when I am warming my own butt!


soaringfish said...

Even if you never use a rocket stove, it's so cool that you got to learn about them and help make one! I love the concept of the rocket stove, I'd love to take that class. However... 65 is a nice warm house for me too.

mdr said...

Mhs beats the cabin, believe it or not. Mhs got down to 45F between Dec-Jan, sometimes. layers of blankets when asleep and lot of tea when awake.

Bacon will show its effect when turning into 40's. Family had history of choletrol problmes. How about moose instead?

Rena said...

What about a rocket stove to power a hot water heater? from a fav Aussie blog...

Arvay said...

@mdr, when I lived in Sili Valley, and I was a vegetarian, I had cholesterol on the high side of normal, and blood pressure on the high side of normal.

Now I have cholesterol on the low side of normal, and blood pressure on the low side of normal. My HDL/LDL ratio is off the charts (phenomenally good). The guy at the clinic said I had the best he'd seen in a year!

Even though I am older and in theory should have higher cholesterol now. :)

Arvay said...

@Rena, interesting! Thanks!

mdr said...

Glad to know your cholesterol and blood pressure are both better than before, although I never heard you had a slight problem before, nor knew you are better until now. I hope all the good continues on.