How we keep warm

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We are well into our third winter here at the Village Homestead. Our house is 200 years old and it’s a big old house. The windows are old and leaky (beautiful and historically accurate, too). Though we have doors in each room to hold in warm air and keep out cool air, the drafts blow through. Our oil-powered boiler heats up the massive hot water radiators that are found in each room. When the radiators are full of warm water the rooms do feel nice and warm. There is something about the heat from the radiator that is so comforting. Much more so than the forced hot air we had at our former home.

The oil isn’t cheap though. To keep this house at a livable temperature, it would cost about $4,000 per year in oil. By livable, I mean no warmer than 68 degrees in the main living area, and 61 degrees in the bedrooms and hallways. Warm enough so the pipes don’t freeze, but not warm enough for us to completely thaw out and relax. Last winter we bundled up in the house on cold days, our fingers growing stiff as the day went on.

Over the summer we thought about the wonders of heating with wood. We mapped it out, priced it out, and shopped around. Our Jotul wood stove was installed into the existing fireplace in the parlor. It has made such a difference in our quality of life. The parlor easily heats up to 70+ degrees when the stove is running (which is almost always in the winter). With the help of fans, the heat is distributed throughout the house. The kitchen remains chilly (it’s usually 63 degrees in there), but the rest of the house feels comfortable. Even on days when the mercury stays close to 0 outside.

I ran a quick comparison of fuel consumption between last year and this year. By this time last year we had used 840 gallons of oil to heat the home. This year we have used 300 gallons and several cords of wood (about 4). That adds up to a $1,000 savings these past few months. That’s a lot of dough.

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The chickens stay warm too, even without heat in the coop. I snapped this quick photo of Mary coming out of the hen house this morning. On nights that are 10 degrees or colder, I close the door at the top of the ramp (the door Mary is walking out of). It keeps the cold air out. As you can see, there is a piece of plastic in the doorway. I hang it up every winter. It takes the chickens a day to get brave enough to walk through it, but once they do it the first time, they’re all set. The plastic acts as a barrier to keep the cool drafts out.

When you live in a cold climate, it’s important to continuously reassess the heating situation and make sure it’s working for you. Adding the wood stove was a big improvement for us. Sure, the wood is messy and maintaining the supply is a lot more work. We see tangible benefits. Not only are we warmer this winter, we’re spending less money too.

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