Here in Maine, a state with vast quantities of firewood, people are struggling to heat their homes. I read a heart-wrenching article in the New York Times about it this past weekend, and have been hearing similar stories in the local media the past few months.
Maine’s older housing stock is fitted mainly with oil-burning furnaces. Many of those residing in these homes are older, others are simply poor, and very few have the financial wherewithal to change systems. Meanwhile, oil prices continue to rise, and cuts at the state & federal levels in heating-assistance subsidies mean the very neediest Mainers are having to make terrible choices. Like whether to buy food or fuel.
There but for the grace of God, go I.
My family and I live in a very old home in Maine. Although our 250-year old colonial was originally heated with wood, we now have a heating system with an oil-fueled furnace.
When we bought our house in 2009, we were told that the former owner had burned through 1800 gallons of fuel in the previous year. At current prices, 1800 x $3.50 = almost $6300. That’s a boatload of money for most people, but for a single-income family already stretched to the breaking point?
We made the decision to install a wood stove within days of buying our home. If we hadn’t made this choice, we would very well be in the same predicament as many of our struggling neighbors.
Our wood stove, the Heartstone Equinox is designed to heat 3500 square feet, roughly the size of our house. The past two winters we have used it as our main heating source, supplementing with oil only in the early mornings before relighting the stove.
Last spring we made the decision to purchase a second, smaller wood stove for our kitchen. Whether it’s the kitchen’s placement over an unheated & uninsulated crawl space, a lack of wall insulation, the constant stream of in-and-out though the door to the yard, or more likely all of the above, the kitchen has always been far colder than the rest of the house. We installed the second wood stove this fall and continued with our preparations for winter, buying and stacking 6 cords of firewood.
My husband & I went into winter wondering how much better our “dual” heating system would be than the two previous winters. Would the second wood stove make a noticeable difference? Most importantly, would we be able to further reduce our oil consumption?
The answers? Yes and yes.
Today is February 6th. The last time we had our oil-fueled heat on was last year. And I don’t mean this winter, I mean LAST WINTER. April 2011. We’ve gone all these weeks & months heating our 3500+ square foot home solely with wood. The craziest thing about this? Our current home – 150 years older and 400 miles north of Philadelphia – is SO MUCH WARMER than our old house used to be! Our Victorian back in Philly had forced-air heat. Truly the worst heating system in the history of mankind. The heat would kick on, out the hot air would blow.. it’d feel great for 10 minutes, then BAM! the cold would smack you again in the face. All winter long I’d wear two sweaters and a hat – in the house!
Here in Maine, where winter is harsh and hangs on long, it’s so warm in my olde house, we have to wear tank tops and shorts to sit in the living room where our big granddaddy of a stove resides. The upstairs stays warmer than it ever did when the oil heat was on. We’d be lucky if it was in the low 60s before, now it’s often in the upper 60s or even 70 degrees.
I say none of this to complain or gloat. On the contrary, I use our experience to suggest there is a better way of handling the heating crisis in Maine. In a state with vast forests and seemingly limitless quantities of firewood, why should anyone be reliant on heating oil? Why should anyone be forced to make a life-and-death decision to starve or freeze to death? And why is our government not investing in stoves, rather than fuel subsidies? When an ample, clean and renewable energy source is staring us in the face, why is it not being acted upon?
My husband and I must work hard to heat our home with wood. During winter, we tend our fires and haul in wheelbarrels of wood almost daily. In the off-months, we must purchase and stack cords of wood, 6 on average, to allow it to dry. We trade labor for convenience, but what a benefit we receive! Real warmth, clean fuel, and for $5250 less than oil. That’s right; the 6 cords of firewood we purchased @ $175 a cord comes to $1050. Still a lot of money, but spread out over months, quite manageable, even for our single-income household.
I know that this work is untenable for some. Anyone too feeble to do the work, however, could successfully utilize a wood pellet stove. The cost-benefit would still far exceed that of fuel oil. What we need here in Maine is real assistance. A government with the sense to invest its money wisely, to aide and improve the quality of life of its citizens, and private business to accommodate that need.