As I sit here all cozy next to my wood stove with the snow falling ferociously outside, it is easy to forget that our house was not always as warm as it is today. I recently received an email from Rebecca P. in Ottawa asking about how we heat our home. When we finally did get heat, I was so distracted by my lack of shivering, my indoor toque, and my indoor winter coat that perhaps I failed to inform you as to how it all gets done around here in the heating realm. I’m taking this snowy winter’s day to redeem myself and fully apprise you of our toasty situation.
One of the drawbacks of buying our school was it’s current heating system. It had been outfitted with an oversized oil boiler with an annual heating bill of $38,000. Couple that price tag with the $10,000 electrical bill, and most buyers were rightly scared off this massive building. Then a couple of suckers from the city came by and bought it. To be perfectly honest, we really didn’t give our purchase the right amount of consideration. We were so excited and scared that we forgot to properly assess the practical side of owning a 65 year old institutional building with no insulation. Each time Jess and I broached the subject, we would dismiss it with a simple “I’m sure we can figure it out”.
And so we did. Each room was reframed, insulated, and new windows were installed. The oil boiler was disconnected, and our new pellet boiler from China was installed. We bought our boiler directly from China as the price was $2500, opposed to $25,000 for a North American version. There is a reason for the price discrepancy. In it’s first year of operation, our Chinese boiler stopped working a number of times as it’s steel parts would break down due to the high heat. Since then, Jess has had most of the boilers parts recut in North American steel. He has also welded several new additions to make the whole machine more user friendly.
We have a 40’x8′ shipping container behind the back of our building that houses our pellet boiler and most of our pellets. We buy our pellets by the ton bags and tend to use about 14 tons per year. Pellets are made from wood waste so are fairly environmentally sound. We can also burn other woods as well, and have heard apple wood burns great. We do hope to one day coordinate with local orchards to collect their wood after they prune their trees to feed our boiler. It is on our long list of future plans.
Our bed and breakfast is in the front of the building and we keep that side unheated in the winter. We live in the back half, and we heat with radiant floor heat. Our floors are 6″ thick concrete. We ran PEX tubing on the floor joist in our 4′ high crawl space under our floor. The tubing is then run back to the shipping container. The temperature of each room can be adjusted in the Control Room, a.k.a. my laundry room, a.k.a. the former janitor’s room. Because our floors are so thick, we weren’t sure if our floors would heat properly. Luckily they did, and we have been warm ever since. Our gym is heated with our wood stove as there is no crawl space under the gym.
We have been talking about going off the grid, and producing our own energy. We are considering buying slightly damaged solar panels and repairing them ourselves. Jess has been designing and welding a new boiler to accommodate larger wood waste as fuel. Our list of future plans tends to get longer each day. We want to leave less of a foot print, and live more sustainably. For right now, I am going leave that long list by the wayside and enjoy the warmth of my wood stove.