Saturday, January 5, 2008

Providing our own heat

In December, we were running out of propane, so Mike called the gas company and left a message on Friday. No response. He called again on Monday, then Wednesday. Finally he spoke to someone who told him gas would be delivered in a day or two. That adds up to Friday, but by 5:00 Friday, we had not received a delivery. He called again and was routed to the emergency number, where he was told that if we wanted a weekend delivery, we'd have to pay an additional $212. I was furious. No, we would not be ripped off by the gas company, even if it meant we might lose heat over the weekend. We have six-inch exterior walls with excellent insulation, and the in-floor heating actually emits warmth for quite a period of time even after the gas turns off.

We came up with a plan. We need gas to heat water, which also heats our floor -- and our house. We also have a gas stove in the house, but in the barn, we have an electric stove. We also have an electric griddle, a crock pot, and a bread maker. We decided to do most of our cooking with the electric appliances -- pancakes on the griddle for breakfast, soup in the crock pot for lunch with bread from the breadmaker, and then for dinner we'd use the electric stove in the barn. We turned down the thermostats to 65 degrees and decided not to shower all weekend or use hot water in any other way.

By the end of the weekend, I realized that 65 degrees really is not that uncomfortable when one is wearing three layers (undershirt, turtle neck, and sweater), and in fact, when I was cleaning house, I got hot and had to take off the sweater. By the time the gas had been delivered on Monday, I had decided only to raise the temperature in the bedrooms to 68 degrees at night and 67 during the day. I saw no reason to raise the first floor temperature any higher than 65.

Then, I saw the bill. They had charged us $3.44 a gallon for the propane. My first reaction was to panic and think about how we would never be able to continue to use propane as a source of fuel if the price was that high. I didn't know what we had paid last time the tank was filled, but I knew that it was under $1 a gallon five years ago. I checked prices on the Internet, and the national average was a dollar less than we had been billed. When we called the propane company again, we discovered that we had been overcharged -- we should have been billed $2.11 per gallon. We were told that our bill would be adjusted, but this did not make us feel much better about the situation. If they wanted to charge us $3.44 per gallon, they could. And at some point, they will. Even with our super-insulated home and 95% efficient gas water heater, it will be too expensive to use propane.

We have 32 acres of mostly wooded property, and every year at least a couple of trees are blown down in a storm or fall down because of beavers chewing up their trunks. We have at least one living tree with solid wood go down every year. Last year, a huge tree fell down because it was growing on the bank of the creek, and erosion caused too much of the roots to become exposed, and the tree just fell down. We have a truly unlimited supply of free heating fuel. Using wood from your own property is also carbon neutral, so it's better for the environment. Although burning wood does emit greenhouse gases, the growing trees have been reducing them. Bringing the wood to our house uses zero fossil fuels, which emits zero greenhouse gases. And if we use wood to heat, we won't be using propane, which has to be trucked in to our house after it has been refined somewhere and brought in from some field possibly thousands of miles away.

As I type, Mike is installing a wood stove. The best thing about a wood stove is that we will always have wood. Mother Nature won't suddenly raise the price to something we can't afford. There are no weekend delivery charges. Chopping wood is great exercise. With our cast iron cookware, we'll even be able to use it for cooking in the winter.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I had to laugh at your "extreme" thermostat measures, as our thermostat set is at 63-64 degrees all the time! We do have a woodburning insert, and use that when it get really cold outside or our parents (who find our cool house downright cold) visit. I sleep so much better at night with a cool bedroom.

Deborah said...

There is a guy in Vermont who blogs, and he keeps his house at 55! We used to have ours at 70-71. Now that I've gotten used to 65, I think we could go lower. Maybe I'll sneak the temp down a degree every few days and see if anyone notices. I can't believe what a challenge it's been to get my kids to layer their clothes!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

My little boy is too busy to notice the temperature, but my husband likes a warmer house. I just put on a heavy polarfleece jacket, which is easy to remove if I do something like vacuuming that warms me up!

Nancy K. said...

Oh my! I guess I win the prize. My thermostat is set at 50 degrees and the only time I ever turn it up is if I have company. Needless to say, that doesn't happen very often! ;-)

I keep busy and find I pretty much only get cold if I sit down to watch TV at night. I just add a couple more layers and a throw (home-spun, hand-knit, Shetland wool, of course!) and I'm fine. I actually wake up too WARM, on occasion. I think it's just a matter of getting used to it. I am always hot at work and have to have a fan on me...


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