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Winter 2005 - Part Two: Hot Burrito #1

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When it is sunny (in the winter) the house gets very warm. It has been sunny all day today and the inside temperature is 27C. It'll probably get up to 28C before the sun goes down. Now as uncomfortable as 28C is (to us) one big benefit is that most nights we can carry that heat through to the enxt morning. In other words the floor system (which consumes a lot of electricity) does not have to come on. That said, a shading strategy is under development and will hopefully be put in place by next winter.

Openning windows isn't really an option since that just brings cold air in along the floor. So your head stays hot and your feet get cold. Not to mention that we really don't want to bleed off too much of the heat, since it will last over night and even into the next day.

This certainly isn't the fault of the architect (though I don't think he realized how hot it might get in here), since we wanted the wall of windows, and the high ceilings, but if we were doing it again I'm not sure that we would do things any different, we like the windows that much.

Here's some pictures that show why.

Winter 2005 - Part One: She's So Cold

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It has been, so far, an odd winter. We spent most of December with the temperature hovering down around -20C to -30C at night. Daytime highs could get up to -15C or -10C if we were lucky. The second half of January was warmer, and February, so far (again with the so far!) has been positively balmy with temperatures hanging around the 0C mark. When it gets down to -30C the windows get frost on the inside, the dogs don't like to go out, the vehicles don't like to start and you can get frostbite on exposed skin in minutes.

October, November and December were also dark, so dark in fact that we went nearly 100 days without a full day of sun. Fortunately they were pretty windy months since the generator broke (the pull-cord snapped) on December 24th and I couldn't get it fixed until January 5th. We went more than 11 days with no generator in December that's a very very long time.

Once the temperature gets below -10C you can actually feel a very light cool breeze coming off the windows as the cool air falls down the inside of the front windows. And here we enter into one the problems with our house. We wanted the windows, we love the windows, we bought the best windows we could find. But in the winter we have a love/hate relationship with our windows. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we have too damn many of them. When it gets really cold the windows allow the house to cool too quickly - windows after all, even really good ones, have a pretty low R value. As a result our floor system (which consumes a great deal of electricty, and propane) runs all the time on very cold cloudy days. The floor is unable to radiate heat as fast as we lose heat through the windows. This problem, we think, is a function of volume. The square footage of our house isn't all that large (about 2000sq.ft. in the main house) but it is very tall, 17' at the front down to 10' at the back. We have a lot of volume. We use fans to push the hot air down, but the fans use electricity. What we need is a method of quickly adding some heat, without worrying about it radiating throughout the day. What we need is a wood stove.

When we designed the house we added a re-enforced pad in the centre of the living/dining room for a masonry stove. We have since learned that a masonry stove would likely have been a grave mistake. If you don't know a masonry stove burns a certain quantity of wood very fast and very very hot. It has a great deal of mass (they're made of stone or brick) that captures that heat, holds it, and radiates it throughout the day. In most cases this would be a splendid idea, however imagine in our house if you woke up in the morning and it was cold and cloudy, so you lit a fire and burned 50 pounds of wood in 30 minutes, the stove starts a radiating a lovely warm heat. And then the sun comes out. Initiate evacuation procedure!

So a wood stove. But now we get into some serious issues. Firstly we only like modern stoves. Modern stoves are almost all quite expensive. And European. Now expensive is unfortunate but we're willing to save for the right stove, because we are going to be looking at this thing for years. But European, now that's a problem. Canada is a pretty small market, and most European manufacturers don't have Canadian distributers let alone local dealers. So now we're looking at importing a stove, and moreover buying and importing a stove that we have never seen. All the stoves look real pretty in the pictures, but it's kind of hard to get a sense of scale from a brochure. I think I'm going to end up making cardboard mock-ups.

The stoves we've been looking at are:

In all cases these stoves are meant to heat a space of aproximately 1000sq.ft. and burn very efficiently. That's should be enough to heat the main common part of the house. We don't care so much about spot heating the bedrooms since Joanne and I both prefer sleeping in a room that is on the cooler side.

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