Home heating

So far the weather this season has been mild. But with temperatures dipping down close to 10˚F last night, I have home heating on the brain. In September I moved into a beautiful apartment in the back of a late 18th century brick house. The brick certainly seems to act as a better insulator than clapboard–I noticed that it kept the apartment cool while the weather was still warm–but when temperatures plummet outside, this old house can get pretty chilly.

For the fist time since I’ve lived in Providence I have steam radiators, which I greatly prefer to stinky, inefficient baseboard heating. I also have a wonderful cast iron stove in the living room of my apartment. It emits a lot of heat and helps to take the edge off when the steam radiators aren’t blasting. As per my mom’s suggestion, I’ve been putting a big pot of water (sometimes with added herbs and spices) on the stovetop to humidify the room–the heat from burning wood can be really drying. To avoid buying firewood, my boyfriend and I have been gathering it in the woods and collecting discarded scraps from around the city. It’s a nice incentive to be outside in the cold weather. I’m learning how to choose dry pieces based on their weight and the sound the wood makes when you tap it on a surface. The pile of 4-log plastic shrink wrapped bundles outside the grocery store is a bizarre sight.

I’ve wondered about the environmental effects of wood burning so I did some research. With regard to carbon, the same amount is released from a burning log as would be if that log were to decompose on the forest floor. But of course the carbon from a burning log is released in an hour or less, as opposed to the several months or even years it may take for a log to rot. Oil and gas are used to harvest and transport wood, making the carbon impact greater. The particulate matter released into the air from wood burning is also a concern. I found out that my newer Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified stove heats more efficiently and produces less fine particulate emissions at about 2-7 grams/hour compared to old-fashioned wood stoves that can produce 15-30 grams/hour. Conventional fireplaces without inserts or closed combustion chambers may release as much as 50 grams/hour. Burning properly dried wood will minimize the particulate output and creosote buildup. From what I’ve read, it seems that an advanced wood burning appliance can be a reasonable addition to a home energy system. Wood burning is certainly my favorite source of heat. It is beautiful and comforting on raw days and bitter nights.

Weatherizing a home is the number one way to save energy required to regulate temperature in both cold and hot seasons. Luckily the original windows in my apartment have snug fitting storms and so far this season I haven’t thought about covering any in plastic. I would certainly consider insulating fabric window dressings before turning to plastic in the context of this project. I am however thinking about key places where caulk (which I’ve only ever found in plastic packaging) can be applied to stop air leaks–around the windows and where the floor meets the baseboard. Meanwhile, I also invested in some high quality silk and wool long underwear.

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