Thursday, August 8, 2013

Heating the Dacha

The Dacha lives on the side of a hill at 1400 feet MSL (mean sea level) near Front Royal, Virginia near the beautiful Shenandoah river and mountains.

I bought it in November of 2012 and in December received my first electric bill. It was $350. Talk about sticker shock. It was not particularly cold in November and the Dacha is all of 750 Square feet. BUT it is heated with electricity. The heaters are probably the original ones from 1980. Below you see one of the 6 electric heaters behind Marley. They are distributed like that around the cabin.

And I had the electric heaters turned way down when we were not there (during the week). Just enough to keep the pipes from freezing. Since we wanted to use the Dacha every weekend, did it make sense to winterize every Sunday evening and de-winterize everytime we came back?

I opted for no winterizing. I turned on the space heater in the utility room (oil filled) and only turned on two of the electric heaters and left them running on low. That seemed to keep the pipes from freezing during the week.

On the weekends, we used the effective Hearthstone woodstove to heat the dacha. It is so effective, that we actually had to open doors and windows a few times to dump excess heat.

Marley found a nice cozy spot
I learned from NPR how to use the woodstove. They reported a surge in Alaskan air pollution. The reason was, that due to the high price of  oil,  many Alaskans have switched to burning wood. And they were burning hot all the time. NPR reoprted on a campaign to teach Alaskans how to use their woodstove more efficiently.  I learned that you don't have to burn hot and fast to keep your house warm.  You can burn slowly by reducing the air flow. This burns the wood more slowly and thoroughly,  reduces the release of particulates into the air and  the woodpile that the former owner left me  lasted through the winter with wood to spare for next season.
As effective as the Hearthstone woodstove is, there are more effective systems out there. Particularly the European (and Russian) masonry stoves - in the USA they are called Finnish stoves. The emissions are almost cool and very clean. The masonry stoves achieve this by channeling the gases through a maze of masonry flues, where the heat is absorbed by the masonry. The masonry releases the heat through the house. If any deposits ignite in the flue, no problem, more heat is produced. These stoves also need much less wood to produce the same heat.  Unfortunately, the masonry stoves are expensive. They start at  $7000 and easily go up to $18,000 (I priced a small one).
Not all the wood in the woodpile at the dacha was small enough to fit into the stove.  So, Dave was kind enough to give me a lesson in splitting wood and lent me his maul, axe and wedges. I got the hang of it and now understand why people like to split wood. It is strangely satisfying and wonderfully tiring. :-)
Last weekend (August 6), my neighbor Mike gave me an additional lesson in wood splitting. There is a nifty gadget which is very effective in splitting small logs. As soon as mine arrives, I'll take a picture of it.
I probably should wait until the fall with splitting wood, but I have a woodpile project which I will  cover in another post.
Oh and yes, I got the electric bill down to about $150 per month for the winter. For next winter I will learn to partially winterize (no water in the pipes leading up to the dacha), so I do not need heat going in the living area during the week.
We staid nice and cozy, even in March when we had that big snow fall. Snow-starved Margarita and I took a trip to the dacha to enjoy the snow (there was only a dusting in DC). We had to walk up the driveway.

We worked from the dacha

A few days later most of the snow was gone
And if you are really desperate, you can use the stove to toast mini-marshmallows
One more heating the dacha trick; We  found out that synthetic green carpet has no insulating qualities. I bought a wool carpet and now the feet are nice and toasty as well.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Meet the Dacha

Meet the Dacha, purchased November 2012
The driveway
Less than an hour's drive from Arlington. Close enough to use it every weekend.

The Dacha at the end of the driveway.

Margarita helped me make the leap to buy this cabin. Since she's Russian and since there is a Russian tradition of weekend hovels,cabins,houses, palaces, all called Dacha, we named it "The Dacha".
Dachas date back to the 17th century under Peter the Great. "Dacha" means "something given". The first Dachas were gifts by Peter the Great. By the end of the 19th century, the dacha became a favorite summer retreat for middle and upper class Russians.  During soviet times and due to the increasing population crammed into the cities' apartments, the dacha experienced a revival. Soviet rules allowed for building small one story dwellings with no permanent heat under the gardening partnership. These became the summer retreats for at least 50% of the city population who also combated the chronic shortages of fresh fruits and vegetables by growing their own at their dachas.  1st of May, an important Russian holiday turned into long weekends, with employers giving their employees time off to plant their dacha gardens.  
Today, most of the dachas have been privatized, making Russia is the country with the highest percentage of second home owners. Today's elites are building heavily fortified palaces, a far cry from the humble soviet dachas. (source Wikipedia)

 This will be our weekend getaway.
It needs a lot of work. For one thing, most of the glass has condensation between the panes, making the view difficult to enjoy. As dachas go, this is an upscale Soviet era dacha. One story (not counting the base which houses the utilities), but it does have heat (no functioning air conditioning), plumbing and electricity.
The building has about 700 square feet (65 square meters) and has been built by Topsider in 1980. topsider is a North Carolina company - still in business - who specialize in building these houses, particularly for areas which suffer from high winds (at the beach, for example). This is one of their smaller models.
View from the parking area
To the left you can see High Knob another one of Front Royal's community. In the valley between Apple Mountain (this hill) and High Knob, runs I66 (unfortunately you can hear the traffic at the dacha) and the train tracks (you can hear the trains, but I find that sort of romantic)