Friday, January 8, 2010

The radiance of wood heat

Heat coming from a woodstove feels nicer, warmer, more comforting than heat from other sources except, perhaps, the sun on a pleasantly warm day. Wood is also much less expensive. Other sources have just about everything else going for them: convenience, ease of use, evenness of heat, set it and forget it. The modern way.

The woodstove is a great improvement over the campfire and the fireplace: no smoke, more concentrated heat, and an airtight woodstove burns all night, while a fireplace draws cool air into the house at night. After that it's a tradeoff. Even the modern passive solar house with radiant heat in the floors offers convenience as well as using much less carbon than wood, even, although unlike gas, oil, and coal, wood is a renewable resource. But the radiant floor heat doesn't have the radiance of the woodstove, the feel on the skin.

After the snow last weekend we had a fairly warm week and for a variety of reasons I let the oil furnace do the work of heating the house for a few days. Now that it's turning colder--it will be around ten degrees F tonight--it was time to go back to the wood, and it's so much more comfortable. Important to realize this as wood requires so much work, even now, after felling and bucking and splitting and stacking, moving to storage and then moving into the house and then into the stove. And so much attention: in this cold weather, every few hours the stove needs re-loading, except of course at night while sleeping.

But these are good interruptions, conducive to breaks in other work: reading, writing, cooking, and the daily mail and record keeping. And the pleasures of walking and playing music betweentimes. Newell Cotton's diaries show he was able to do much more writing in the winter times, when he wasn't working with wood. His northern New Hampshire house burned wood in fireplaces and a cook stove, some thirteen cords per year, year after year. He'd have been happier with a few woodstoves.

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