Monday, November 7, 2011

Into winter: the heat routine

It's wintertime now.  Just the outer layer of that season, being November.  Leaves are gone, but snow hasn't taken over.  The ground is freezing, but ice has yet to coat every other surface.  Driving is free of black ice's curse.

Temperatures are low enough that we need to start a fire: below freezing at night, in the 30s or 40s during daytime.

So the daily routine looks like this: I (Bryan) rise around 6 or so, and tromp down to the basement in the dark.  That's where our main stove is, an old iron thing plugged into the house's central chimney.  I spin open two iron valves, which admits two trickles of air into the firebox.  Opening the box's front door (an iron slab, about 10 inches on a side), I poke last night's embers and dessicated sticks, provoking tiny fires and glows.

A few minutes later heat rises from the box.  It might need some more fuel, so I can turn to various basement supply sources:

  • Pieces of wood, stacked against the south wall.  These work if the fire is hot enough.
  • Dried bark, standing in several boxes.  I stored these over summer, and they make for fine kindling.
  • Paper, found in our recycling containers.  This is for when the fire is very low, and needs easy fuel.

Fed, the heat usually builds.  I scan the temperature gauge on the exhaust pipe... and this is crucial.  We read that thermometer all day long, keeping a sometimes nervous check on just how hot the fire is.  Too hot and the chimney catches on fire.  Too low and the house chills.  We steadily check the thing, adding wood or subtracting air, in an ongoing feedback loop.

At night we tamp down the firebox.  Spinning the valves shut chokes off the airflow.  We fill the box up with wood, so the thing has something to chew on overnight.

Come 6 am the next day, we resume the burning cycle.

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