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.

1 comment:

  1. WRT the masonry European stoves: there are high tech woodstoves in this country with heat exchangers and...catalytic convertors. All that soot and resin going up in smoke can be turned into heat. A friend told me his fancy stove used just 2-3 pieces of wood to heat the whole house for a day...