Sunday, January 23, 2011

Biomass Energy

I had people over recently and they actually did remark, "Wow, it's so warm in here!" I replied, "That's because I have a Vermont Castings Defiant model parlor furnace." The stove has the date 1975 imprinted on an interior piece. Vermont Castings has since been bought by a foreign company (Scandinavian, I think). They still make a model called the Defiant, which looks superficially similar, but is completely different inside.

I don't know why they changed it -- this one works just fine. It is indeed defiant, of the cold. It heats my whole house, although tonight we will meet the biggest challenge yet, that serious arctic air and temperatures well below 0 Fahrenheit. I can't be here during the day tomorrow either, so I'll also see how well the house can hold on to heat while the fire is banked.

Most people out here burn wood because, well, why not, there's plenty of it. But wood heat is no answer to our bigger problems as a society. Where there are a lot of wood stoves in a concentrated area, the pollution is unacceptable. (They had big problems in Aspen, but they deserve it.) It obviously won't work for the vast majority of people, who live in cities. And it was the demand for fuel, not timber, that left New England deforested 100 years ago. For a sustainable yield, you need more than 10 acres per household, and that doesn't work for very many folks.

Also, it's a lot of work, which not everyone has the time or physical capacity to perform. Somebody has to be around much of the day.

It's a rewarding hobby for me, saves on what would otherwise be one or another form of fossil fuel and a gym membership, and let's me make use of dead fall and dying trees that would otherwise go to waste. But we need to find other ways to save the world.


  1. Nice stove! We just had a Jotul woodstove installed ten days ago. Since then the temps have been in the very balmy 50s and 60s, so we haven't had to use it yet. It needs a bit of tweaking to get a better draw, since we had to put the flue out the back and up the fireplace chimney. That's happening this week. Then, we're actually hoping for a bit more wintry weather to give it a good workout.

    I think solar would be a very good way larger metropolitan areas to provide cleaner energy. I just wish it were a little less expensive, so more of us regular people could actually install some panels.

  2. Y'all come on over to the LittleHouses listserv! There was a protracted discussion about wood stoves vs masonry stoves, the kinds of stoves to use in well-insulated homes (LITTLE well-insulated homes), etc. I'm having a similar discussion with my house designer. There's also been a discussion about draw and eliminating smoke in the house.

    Further on the subject of biomass, several communities in western Mass are in pitched battles against companies that want to build giant biomass electric plants in the area. The state is now considering more stringent pollution controls on such plants and the companies are screaming that they can't make a enough profit if they can't pollute more.

    Cervantes, is your stove EPA-approved? I believe that Massachusetts now requires that all new stoves sold must be EPA-approved in order to reduce particulate pollution. That might explain the changed innards of new Defiant.

  3. the different inside is supposed to burn all the wood gas produced by heating wood, instead of letting it go up the chimney.

    there are passive solar houses which seem to require zero energy to stay comfy even in cold climates. google "passive solar." of course it would be a huge task to convert our current houses to use passive solar energy

  4. Well, the manual for my 1975 Defiant claims that the reason for its convoluted innards is that it burns all the gases instead of letting them go up the chimney. But maybe the new model is even more efficient. Or perhaps cheaper to manufacture.

    My house is ostensibly a passive solar design, but that doesn't work if the sun doesn't shine. I think "passive solar" is a matter of degree, not really a category.

  5. It's -23F this am.

    30+ years ago I worked on a research team that performed thermal modeling studies on a variety of solar and superinsulated designs. Short story, insulation trumps solar (wasn't proven back then). You can't rely on passive solar in this country, but it helps if you have sufficient insulation.

    I built a superinsulated passive solar home 16 years ago (I'm still working on it... house finished life over is my motto). This am it was 57F inside, an 80 degree delta T. I accomplished that with a 2000 watt baseboard heater. Fired up the woodstove at 6am.

    My advice on indoor air quality (C Corax). Have a very tight air seals on stove and vent combustion air from outside. Its a bit more complicated than that, but that will help considerably.

    I've heated with wood most my life, but would not do it if I lived in a town or city.