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Archive for July 2009

This is a phrase usually meant to indicate a person is irate or rather upset about something. Its exact origin is somewhat unknown. Some say it has to do with volcanoes, others point to a time in the industrial revolution. In any case it is a destructive event.

During the years of massive coal use and steam engines, smoke stacks were the sign of prosperity for most companies. Even railroads that had a yard full of steam puffing locomotives meant progress. But all of these mechanical marvels had one thing in common, when the pressure grew, or the fuel was incompletely burned, the stack would be the place to look for the first sign of trouble as it would blow off the building or the locomotive.

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The codes pertaining to hearth appliance installation and chimney repair have changed significantly in recent years and homeowners need to be aware of them.

Johnson County, Kansas implemented Contractor Licensing seven years ago, and now many cities on the Kansas and Missouri side are following their guidelines. The cities each have their own requirements, but most use the JoCo Licensing as the basis for the license. The cities choose whether to require licensing or not. Johnson County also provides educational classes twice per year with 8 CEUs required to maintain the license, along with proof of Worker's Comp, Liability Insurance and other requirements.

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Is your chimney not working correctly? Have you "tried everything" and nothing seems to help? Perhaps the problem lies in your Chimney Physics! At first, this might sound complicated. But really it isn't. Here are some simple scientific fundamentals to explain how and why a chimney works - or maybe why it doesn't.

Your House as a System Even though you can't see it, the air in your house is constantly in motion. In general, airflow tries to flow out of your house in the upper parts and make up air tries to flow into your house in the lower parts of your house. Thinking of your house as a system makes it easy to understand the reasons for that airflow. The actual flow of air into and out of any home is influenced by a number of constantly changing factors, including: stack effect; wind loading; interior mechanical systems and fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and water heaters.Homes built in the past 25 years, and older homes that have been retrofitted, have been made more and more airtight. This makes it much more difficult for makeup air to enter the home.

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To aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion and to help keep heating appliances and fireplaces functioning properly, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers the following safety tips.

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When most people think of chimneys, they think of fireplaces. Memories of cold winter evenings, relaxed and cozy in front of a crackling fire are hard to beat, and the ability of an open fire to soothe the wild beast within us all is legendary. Since the dawn of time, humans have gathered around the open fire for a sense of safety and community, and the fireplace is still the focus of family living in many homes, especially around the holidays.

But in spite of all the glowing aesthetics, there are some practical considerations. When you're dealing with an element as capricious and potentially dangerous as fire, knowledge really is power, so please read on to learn how to make your fireplace both safer and more enjoyable.

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It is far more important that the fuel be dry as compared to the species.

Do not burn any construction scraps of treated or painted wood, especially treated wood from decks or landscaping ties. The chemicals used can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other very toxic compounds into your house.

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Firewood is an area where you can have great influence over how well your system performs and how enjoyable your experience will be. Quality, well seasoned firewood will help your wood stove or fireplace burn cleaner and more efficiently, while green or wet wood can cause smoking problems, odor problems, rapid creosote buildup and possibly even dangerous chimney fires.

A few minutes spent understanding firewood will be time well spent, so please read on for general background information, as well as how to buy wood and store wood.

Seasoned Wood All firewood contains water. Freshly cut wood can be up to 45% water!, while well seasoned firewood generally has a 20-25% moisture content. Well seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water must be gone before the wood will burn. If your wood is cut 6 months to a year in advance and properly stored, the sun and wind will do the job for free. If you try to burn green wood, the heat produced by combustion must dry the wood before it will burn, using up a large percentage of the available energy in the process. This results in less heat delivered to your home, and literally gallons of acidic water in the form of creosote deposited in your chimney.

Wood is composed of bundles of microscopic tubes that were used to transport water from the roots of the tree to the leaves. These tubes will stay full of water for years even after a tree is dead. This is why it is so important to have your firewood cut to length for 6 months or more before you burn it, it gives this water a chance to evaporate since the tube ends are finally open and the water only has to migrate a foot or two to escape. Splitting the wood helps too by exposing more surface area to the sun and wind, but cutting the wood to shorter lengths is of primary importance.

There are a few things you can look for to see if the wood you intend to purchase is seasoned or not. Well seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with cracks or splits visible, it is relatively lightweight, and makes a clear "clunk" when two pieces are beat together. Green wood on the other hand is very heavy, the ends look fresher, and it tends to make a dull "thud" when struck. These clues can fool you however, and by far the best way to be sure you have good wood when you need it is to buy your wood the spring before you intend to burn it and store it properly.

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Newswise - The stress of rising natural gas prices is leading many consumers to rethink how they heat their homes. For some this means moving towards modern alternative energy options, while others have been turning to a more traditional method for a solution to these rising costs. In Canada and the United States, wood burning stoves have been reevaluated as a potentially viable option for home heating.

The case for modern woodstoves has developed with the improvement of the products on the market, as wood heating technology has substantially advanced in recent years. With the advanced secondary combustion systems on Environmental Protection Agency certified woodstoves, they are now 95% more efficient than their predecessors.

Dr. Paul Grogan, a plant and ecosystem ecologist and Canadian Research Chair (II) at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario conducted a case study on the benefits of woodstoves with the help of final-year undergraduate and first year graduate students. He determined that adding a woodstove to the home can help both consumers heating costs as well as the environment. The results were published in the latest edition of the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

The environmental sustainability of woodstove use is dependent upon the consumption of wood from sustainably managed woodlots, as the carbon released is reused as the next generation of trees grows. Annual gross CO2 emissions did in fact increase from 12,610 kg (i.e., ~2.5 metric tons CO2/person per year) to 17,330 kg after the installation of the wood stove. But while this gross amount did increase, the net carbon released by the combustion is negligible, the only surplus coming from the harvest and transport. Based on an average growing time of 130 years before harvest for local Ontario tree species, a woodlot or forest 3.5 hectares in size would provide an indefinite supply of wood heat for a household without a net increase in carbon emissions.

In the case study, adding a woodstove to the ground floor of a 3200ft2 home reduced the mean annual gas cost by 60%; from $2260 to $880. The annual cost of the wood fuel for the woodstove amounted to $1330 for 5 full cords (a cord is 8 feet long by 4 feet high by 4 feet wide - 128ft3 ). This was a yearly savings of $50 at market fossil fuel prices of 2005-2007 without taking into account rising fossil fuel prices or the impending carbon tax. Should these variables come into play Dr. Grogan estimated that the domestic heating costs would be reduced by 25%. This translates into a potential savings of $920 in the first 3 years.

Looking for an alternative to natural gas or oil? Many Americans are giving wood stoves another look.

By Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate

Wood stove (© Chris Clinton/Getty Images)

Many Americans are looking for a cheaper alternative to natural gas or oil for heating their homes. And they're increasingly finding it with wood.

Shipments of wood stoves and wood-stove inserts, which fit into fireplaces, increased 54% in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period last year, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group. Shipments of pellet stoves, which use pellets of compressed sawdust, cardboard or other materials such as corn waste, have increased 137%.

It's worth noting that despite recent design improvements, burning wood causes significantly more pollution than burning natural gas or oil and could cause health issues in more populated areas. Even pellet stoves burn cleaner than wood stoves. (See the differences, here.) But wood is a renewable resource that, used in the right conditions, could save you money.

Several wood-burning options are available. Before the mercury plummets, we walk you through four of them - and some of the issues you should consider.

1. The wood stove What it is: Though they come in all shapes and sizes, a wood stove at heart is a box stoked with firewood that radiates heat, with the gases and smoke carried up a flue. "A wood stove is by far the most popular category (of wood-burning heaters) - and that's because it's the least expensive and most flexible," says John Gulland,a wood-heating expert and consultant in Ontario and author of the nonprofit Web site, Wood Heat Organization.

This isn't your grandfather's wood stove, however. About 20 years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made wood stoves clean up their belching; once stoves might have emitted 25 or 40 or even 100 grams of smoke per hour. "Now the average wood stove is down around 3 grams an hour," says Gulland. Compared with the old stoves, "EPA-certified stoves will deliver about 90% less smoke and about 30% more efficiency."

Advantages: The cost savings of heating a home with wood, versus oil, can be enormous. Gulland estimates that heating his home in cold Ontario with oil would cost $4,000; with a wood stove, it costs him several hours chopping wood for several cords of wood. (On the market, the price of a cord of wood - a stack 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet - has risen with recent demand, however, and now can range from $150 to $250 nationwide.)

One wood-heat convert is Bill Hurlburt, a software engineer in eastern North Dakota who works from his 1,200-square-foot home. Last year, Hurlburt decided to get a wood stove. He spent about $1,650 in all - $600 for a basic, medium-sized Drolet Austral stove, $650 for chimney segments and kits, and $400 for a carpenter to install it.

For fuel, he can cut nearly three cords of firewood with a $30 permit from the local national forest, and he bought another later in the winter. In contrast, it costs anywhere from $2,100 to $3,000 to heat his home with oil (assuming a cost range of $3 to $4.25 per gallon). In other words, the stove has more than paid for itself. "It's such a ridiculously good deal," Hurlburt says.

But how does it heat? The living room, where the stove sits, is about 76 degrees; the dining room is 72 degrees. Hurlburt says that in his office, which is "really away from the wood stove," he sometimes uses a space heater - when it gets to be 30 degrees below zero or colder outside.

What's more, Hurlburt loves it. Even his wife, once a skeptic, has become a believer. "It's hard to convey how this thing kind of takes over the central focus of the house," he says happily. With the licking flames, "the whole ambience of the house changes. Even our family dog is sort of just drawn to the wood stove."

Disadvantages: Wood-burning stoves have their heating limits. "You can't heat a big house very effectively with a single wood stove," says consultant Gulland, "and anybody who's ever tried to operate two wood stoves at the same time" knows that it will drive you crazy, he says. Wood stoves also don't work well in homes with vaulted ceilings. The heat rises and stays there."Here's the formula: If you've got a house that is, say, 2,000 square feet or less, and you located a wood stove in the room where the family spends most of its time - the living room/dining room/kitchen area - you can do something like 90% of your total heating requirements with wood," Gulland says. Other rooms will be cooler, of course.

Other disadvantages: "You've got to be there for it to work," Gulland notes.

2. Masonry heater What it is: Sometimes called Russian stoves or Finnish masonry stoves, there are many styles from many cultures, but the principle is the same: A firebox is contained within lots of masonry. A series of very hot fires of short duration are set in the firebox. The heat is captured by the masonry, which radiates it for hours and hours, explains Thomas.Advantages: Because a masonry heater burns so hot, it's perhaps the cleanest way to burn cordwood, Thomas says - which means both less pollution and less gunk building up in a flue that can cause problems. The heaters also warm so well - sometimes for 12 hours or much more on a single firing - that wood consumption is cut a great deal, he says.Drawbacks: One of their biggest disadvantages is cost. The heaters can run $10,000 to $20,000, Gulland says. They are large and heavy, so that they often work best if a home is designed around them with specially reinforced floors, Thomas says.

And while the heat they emit is wonderful, they lack one of the aesthetics of a wood-burning stove, Gulland argues. "They only burn for 90 minutes. The thing's a freakin' blowtorch. There's nothing pretty to look at.

"I love masonry heaters," he says, "but I only love them for other people's houses."

3. Pellet stove What it is: Pellets are a fuel choice, not a stove per se - though a variety of heaters and stoves have been adapted to burn this particular fuel. The pellets, about half the length of a finger, can be made of many things: compressed wood scrap, corn waste or cardboard.Advantages: "They're getting to be very popular," author Thomas says of pellet stoves. Why? They're very efficient, and they're more convenient than a wood stove: Fill the hopper and an electronic auger feeds the pellets into the stove, so you don't have to load them as often as wood stoves. They also tend to be less messy. (Think 40-pound bags of pellets in the basement instead of firewood in the living room.)Disadvantages: "There are places where pellets are not that easy to get," Thomas says. Pellet prices also have risen recently. (Prices vary nationwide.) Other things being equal, it costs roughly the same, or a little less, to heat an average-sized American home with wood pellets than with natural gas today - about $1,550, according to statistics from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association in a recent issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine, though that's still much cheaper than heating with oil.

Some more traditional wood-heat advocates also don't favor the stoves' reliance on electricity to turn the augur, or the reliance on pellets. "I can cut wood, I can't make pellets," Thomas points out.

4. Wood-fired boiler What it is: Basically, it's just a very, very large wood stove, sometimes placed outside (though others are placed in a basement like a normal furnace), that heats water and is plumbed. The heated water courses through a home's radiators or baseboard heaters before returning to be rewarmed. It can be hooked to tanks that store hot water like batteries, after the fire is out.

After getting a very bad reputation, boilers are rehabilitating themselves. "They famously would fill valleys with smoke," (because they burned so inefficiently) Thomas says. As recently as a few years ago, Vermont even considered banning them. But some boilers can burn quite efficiently.

Advantages: With the latest technology, "Not only are they no worse but they literally are better than the highest-technology oil or gas furnace" at regulating temperatures in a house, and the best boilers can burn with 90% efficiency, says Scott Nichols, president of BioHeat USA, which imports high-tech boilers from three Northern European companies. By contrast, the old wood boilers saw 40% to 60% efficiency, Nichols says.

That means less wood use: An average customer such as Nichols uses about six cords of wood a year to heat a well-insulated, 3,000-square-foot house in New Hampshire and heat the hot water, he says. Nichols says he has to stoke the boiler only once a day because he has well-insulated storage tanks - sort of like heat batteries - that water can continue to be pulled out of and used even when the fire is off.

A system like this, which goes into every room in the house, is probably the most effective for heating larger houses, experts say.

Disadvantages: Some wood-stove lovers such as Thomas decry the loss of the aesthetics when the flame is in the basement or outside.

And there are other issues. "There is still no EPA regulation on what we're selling, which is a great frustration because there are some states that require EPA certification on all wood-burning appliances," Nichols says. So BioHeat and others can't sell their products in states such as Washington, for instance.

Price is another obstacle. The high-tech boilers can range from $7,000 to $12,500. With installation, a setup can run $10,000 to $15,000, not counting storage tanks.

Making a choice among wood-burning options If you're seriously considering making a switch, the experts have some advice:

  • Buy the right size. "If you get too small a stove, the obvious thing is that you won't get enough heat, and you might damage it running it too hot, trying to create enough heat," Thomas says. "The much more common problem is that people buy too big a stove." They get a dirty chimney because they don't run a hot enough fire, and creosote-filled chimneys can cause fatal house fires.
  • Trading up? Look for a rebate. By one estimate, 80% of wood-burning stoves out there were bought before EPA rules went into effect. State and local governments will sometimes offer rebates to encourage homeowners to trade up to cleaner technology. Ask around. For example, in some areas around greater Seattle-Tacoma that have had air-pollution problems, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is offering rebates ranging from $750 to $3,000.
  • Go for models without a catalytic converter.When the EPA called for better stoves 25 years ago, stove makers' solution included adding a catalytic converter to stoves. But now there's a noncatalytic design that's carrying the day. It generally requires less attention by the operator, Thomas says. "That would be one of the first questions I'd ask: 'Is it a catalytic stove or a noncatalytic stove?'"
  • Check with your insurer. Adding a wood stove could require different or additional home insurance coverage. Call your company before making any purchases.

Once you buy:Keep the pipes clean. "You really should have it looked at once a year," Thomas says. If you're going through two or three cords or more annually, then "it makes sense to check it a second time because conditions can change so dramatically" and cause trouble.Keep your heater happy. Keep two to three inches of ash in the bottom of a wood-burning stove. Shovel it all out and the bottom is unprotected, Thomas says, and "the coals don't survive well if they're not protected by the ashes.

"But far more often I see people leaving too many in" - especially in the newer stoves where an air intake is near the bottom of the firebox and needs to breathe, he says.

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