Heating with History

All my heat is passive solar. I use south-facing glass and the sun as much as possible, but I also use vertically oriented, passive solar storage units. These simple, natural solar batteries have thrilled me with their beauty and bounty since I moved to New Hampshire 38 years ago.

I heat with wood.

Without wood for heat, I probably wouldn’t still be living here. First, I immediately liked the relationship between a plentiful natural resource, my physical effort and warmth. Heating with wood, one immediately becomes richer, warmer and more independent. Second, free heat was the only thing I could afford in the early years of our business, when dreams were much bigger than actual projects and ideas were more plentiful than customers. With or without projects and customers, I could throw another log on the fire and feel pretty good about myself.

Over the years, the business has grown, my family has grown, the size of my house has grown, but all of our expanded buildings are still heated with wood. Our original cabin (500 sq. ft.) has a small wood stove, our current house has a wood stove, a fireplace and an outside wood furnace; our woodworking facilities (6000 sq. ft) and our primary campus (45,000 sq. ft.) are both heated with wood gasifiers.

At home, my heat comes from the woods around my house and some of the scraps and rejects from our woodworking and timberframe shops. Our business facilities are heated with waste wood from our production. We grind the wood waste to create a fuel for the gasifiers, which generate very hot temperatures to fire boilers that, in turn, supply the heat to our offices and shops.

In addition to warmth and hot water, the wood keeps me connected to the forest around me, helps me keep tabs on the passage of time, and will often tell some pretty good stories. I like to count the growth rings and think about what was happening in our country at that time: Who was the President? What things that we take for granted now didn’t exist then? Occasionally, I’ll cut a very old dead tree. A few maples were over 250 years old. I discovered at least 50-year-old abandoned maple sugar taps when I was splitting one of the butt logs. I wondered if the guys who drilled and tapped that tree loved this land as much as I do.

Lately, I’ve had the uneasy discovery that I’m cutting trees that grew entirely in the time I’ve been on the land; I’ve even cut some trees I planted. The growth rings are not so hard to count, and I remember well the thick and thin seasons and years.

One ash tree I cut this year was a 2 inch sapling when I first arrived. I was intrigued by the fact that it had grown through a 2 ft. diameter iron wheel hoop, making the new tree and the old hoop inseparable. The hoop was almost certainly a part of an old agricultural implement, as it wasn’t far from the stone foundation remains of a barn that had been there many years ago. The ash died last year (an infestation is killing my ash), so I cut the tree, by then 20 inches in diameter and nearly filling the hoop. Now the tree is firewood, cut and split, and the hoop is liberated. It hangs on a wall in my barn, reminding me of those who worked and lived on the land before me, and my time on the
land too.

Does your heat tell you stories?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *