Monday, January 04, 2010

Warm and Cozy!

We've had some pretty cold weather since my last update on the wood stove and thermal mass. I'm happy to report that the thermal mass has continued to make a huge difference in the moderation of indoor temperatures. In the past week we've had several days in a row with overnight lows at or below 10 and highs of 20 or less. Inside the cabin I've been waking up to 52 or warmer with a daytime average of about 75 inside once the morning fire is going. In these frigid first days of January I've burned an average of 7 logs in the morning and 7 in the evening. Last winter without the blocks I would have woken up to 38 degrees or so on mornings this cold even if I kept a hot fire going till 1 in the morning! While 52 is chilly it's quite a difference from 38 and remember I'm only burning half the wood which means much less work for me and much less carbon in the atmosphere.

Here are some stats from December: Morning average 28 outside, 59 inside. Evening average 34 outside, 66 inside. Noon inside average 72. Overall outside average 31, inside average 65.7. That inside average is a bit misleading as it is based on a morning temp with no fire. I get the morning fire going as soon as I get up so the temp quickly rises so in terms of the time that I'm actually awake and doing things in the cabin the average is more like 75. On average the cabin is staying at least 32 degrees warmer that outside.

One last observation. New Years day I went to a community hike and potluck and observed during the drive over that most of the houses that had chimneys were spewing pretty heavy amounts of smoke. I'm happy to report that even with my old wood stove I'm only getting visible smoke during the start-up of my fires. Within just a few minutes that smoke is replaced by nearly invisible smoke/vapor and heat waves. I doubt it is as clean burning as the newer double burn stoves but even those will burn dirty if not burned properly with well seasoned wood.


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Homestead Critters and the Cold

The winter has been cold thus far and in fact feels like a real winter, the first time in a long while. I'm hoping the bees are good and will survive. I fed them almost daily for two or three weeks in the fall. I also used four straw bales to build a wind break on the north and west side of the hive. They are in a fairly sheltered area with great southern exposure so hopefully they are fine. This is my first year keeping bees so I'm a bit nervous. Going into early fall I did an inspection and the hive looked pretty strong with lots of honey being produced in the second super I put on. Time will tell.

The chickens and guineas seem to be doing very well even with these bitter cold days. I've got a daytime 150 watt heat lamp running in the coop and at at night I switch to a red colored 200 watt heat lamp which as I understand it allows them to sleep better than a regular light would. Even with that there was a thin layer of ice on their water this morning which was easily remedied with some hot water from the wood stove. Last night was down to about 7 degrees so I'm not too surprised. Everyone seems healthy and I continue to let them out to free range every day. They don't seem to behave any differently. I'm not sure what I expected. I suppose I thought they might stay closer to the heat of the coop but so far they've been much more interested in getting out. It's been sunny so that might be a factor. It is supposed to snow a good bit Thursday so it will be interesting to see if that changes their behavior.

Petunia the deer has been showing up 5 or so days a week to eat an apple and a bit of corn. Little Bob, the resident cat, is doing well and seems to stay plenty warm in the solar cat house I built using a straw bale, re-used windows, cardboard and bubble wrap. I supplement the sunlight with a 75 watt light at night.



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Chicken Coop Greenhouse Update

This past spring I wrote about our building of a chicken coop greenhouse. Anyone that has read through any of the permaculture literature has probably seen this combination structure mentioned. The idea is that the chickens share their night-time warmth and carbon dioxide with the greenhouse and during the day the warmth of the greenhouse helps to heat the coop. Another benefit would be the proximity of coop to greenhouse during chores.

I've seen doubts posted about the actual, real-world benefits of this design so was curious to see what results we would have. There is no doubt that there are benefits in proximity in terms of chores. For example, a compost pile inside the greenhouse or just outside greatly benefits from the manure of the chickens as well as the scratching of the chickens. Having it in or near the greenhouse makes using the compost that much easier. Also when disposing of plant material from the greenhouse is easier as it can be thrown to the compost with little effort and the chickens will munch and scratch-whatever they don't eat is tilled into the compost.

So far I'd say the heat and gas benefits are hard to pinpoint. Part of the problem is that I need to increase the size of the current vent as well as add a bottom vent and probably a small fan to aid in the exchange. I will say that the greenhouse is definitely warming up nicely. On a sunny day it is easily 30 degrees warmer than outside temperatures. With proper venting and a small fan I'm pretty sure this warmth would help keep the coop warmer during the day. The question is whether the warmth of the chickens would keep the coop any warmer at night. I've read that each chicken produces about 40 watts worth of heat but have come to doubt this. We've got 15 chickens and 4 guineas which would add up to at least 600 watts. I'm not real sure how to accurately measure the effect in terms of heat but it does not seem that we're getting that much heat from them. Short of kicking them outside for a night (which I'm obviously not going to do!) and taking temperature to measure I don't know how I could get any kind of accurate reading to compare.

That said, I've had the water freeze up if I don't run a light at night if temps are below 20. Anything above that and the water tends to stay water so that might indicate about 12 degrees of generated warmth. I'm thinking the real benefit in terms of temperature exchange is from greenhouse to chicken coop. If I could get a bit more thermal mass in the greenhouse via a few more straw bales I might see more night time heat retention that could be shared with the chickens to eliminate the need for heat lamps. I was planning on putting in at least two more bales anyway to form a work table for spring seedlings. Perhaps I can fit in 4 more which would be a total of 8. The straw bales seem to collect and hold more heat than anything else in the greenhouse. In fact, I'm thinking that next fall I might use straw bales as the base of the planting bed which would not only add thermal mass but would keep the lettuce and other winter greens up off the colder ground. In early summer all of these straw bales could then by cycled out to the garden and food forests for mulching or to the chicken coop for bedding.


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