Wood Stove Woes

When we bought our first home back in 1979, we soon installed a new wood stove.  It was a Lange brand made in Denmark. The stove kept our home toasty warm the next 30 winters.  When we moved to Winding Pathways, we had to leave our trusty Lange at the old place.

We enjoy wood heat and like cutting and curing wood, so shortly after we moved, we purchased a Heatilator wood stove. For seven winters it did the job of warming our home. On the first cool night in the fall of 2018, we fired up theHeatilator and were astonished to smell smoke in the house. Then, we discovered a large crack in the stove’s steel top. As smoke seeped into the room, we shoveled out the burning wood. Then, we contacted the store where we bought the stove.

We were told we were out of luck. The Heatilator had a five-year warranty and our stove was seven years old. It was frustrating to learn the warranty was so short and that the stove failed. The company offered us a discount on a new stove that was not a good discount.  We were wary and decided to look elsewhere.

For about a month our only home heat came from our gas furnace. Although the thermometer read 70 degrees, we constantly felt chilled. Forced air heat feels different from that emitted from a wood or gas stove. The furnace forces out low humidity air that feels cool. A wood stove, in contrast, emits heat directly. It’s very warm near the stove, so when chilled we love huddling close to it. There is an indescribable pleasure in the comfort given us by our woodstove.

On Friday, December 14,  Colony Heating in Cedar Rapids installed a new stove. It’s a Century Heating steel stove made in Quebec, Canada, and we’re already enjoying its cozy warmth. Here are some things we learned:

  • If a stove cracks or gives off smoke stop using it. Get it checked out. If it has failed the company that made or installed it might replace it.  Or not.  It’s a good idea to find this out before you purchase a stove.
  • Look for quality. A wood stove should last decades. 
  • Check the guarantee. Most quality stoves have at least a ten-year warranty on the firebox.  
  • Have a stove installed by a professional and connected to a safe chimney.  
  • Notify your homeowner insurance company that you have a professionally installed wood stove. They mig add a slight premium, but then the home is covered should a stove cause a fire.
  • Burn clean dry wood accordingto the stove manufacturer’s directions.
  • Keep the stove clean and havethe chimney cleaned and inspected annually.

We had removed the fire bricks from the old stove’s interior, and the two guys from Colony Heating who installed the new stove loaded the cracked Heatilator onto our pickup truck. An hour later a giant machine with a steel claw plucked it from the ground and dropped it on a pile of other scrap metal. Marion Iron Company paid us $16 for it. Not only are wood stoves recyclable, and they can be sold for scrap.

     We’re looking forward to our new stove’s gentle warmth as cold wintery Iowa air sweeps past our home at Winding Pathways.

WindingPathways LLC did not receive discounts or free services or merchandise from either Colony or SBI International, which makes and sells Century Heating stoves. We paid their normal fee. And, we’ve found their products and services to be outstanding.   www.colonyheating.com  and www.sbi-international.com.   We purchased the stove at the Marion, Iowa, Menard’s store.

Equinox

It’s turning time for wildlife, chickens, and people

As the Northern Hemisphere of the earth continues its ageless slow wobble away from the sun, days gradually shorten until a wondrous event happens.

The Autumnal Equinox happens around September 21st each year. It’s when daily hours of sunlight equal those of darkness. On only two days each year does every place on earth enjoy roughly 12 hours of sunshine. These are the fall and spring equinoxes.  So, whether someone lives near the tropics or poles they will experience the same amount of light on only those two days.

Light changes quickly around equinox time. Up here in the Northern Hemisphere days shorten quickly and darkness advances until the December 21st Winter Solstice, the year’s darkest day.  The Southern Hemisphere begins to enjoy its longest days through December.

Preparing

At Winding Pathways around the Equinox, we do these things:

  • Stimulate our chickens. We plug in the timer and light bulb in the coop. Chickens lay the most eggs when there are about 15 hours of daylight. So, the coop light is set up to come on about 4:30 a.m. and turn off about three hours later when the sun pokes over the horizon.
  • Drain, clean, and invert our rain barrels. We won’t need extra water until next spring, so we turn the barrels upside down, so they don’t collect winter water that freezes and can split the barrels. We weight them with stones to keep Arctic winds from blowing them away.
  • Watch this short video on how to Prepare Rain Barrels
  • Bring in pumpkins and winter squash. A frost is soon to come, and we don’t want it to bite our squash. We store

    Various Squashes

    Winter Squash vary in color, texture, shape and size.

    pumpkins and squash in a room we rarely use. It stays cool but above freezing. Butternut, Acorn, Hubbard, and most other winter squashes and pumpkins, which actually are a squash, keep for months and give us delicious and vitamin stoked food on cold days.

  • Exclude, or try to, insects and mice. Somehow mice, box elder bugs and Asian beetles sense coming cold and find tiny cracks to enter the house and enjoy winter warmed by our furnace and wood stove. Each fall we caulk up cracks and weather strip doors to encourage them to stay outside where we prefer to see them. It’s never perfect. Some always find their way inside.
  • Enjoy leaves. Each’s fall’s spectacular leaf color peaks in October but some leaves start turning sooner. Our backyard black walnut starts coloring up in early September. The real show is the deep orange, red, and yellows of our sugar maples. They peak in early to mid-October followed by russet oak leaves.
  • Butterfly on Aster

    Fall wildflowers are an important food source for insects and birds.

    Enjoy wildflowers. Asters, Goldenrods, and Maximilian Sunflowers are the very last blooms of the season. Their colors brighten the yard and provide nectar for insects and then seeds for migrating and overwintering birds. But all this comes with sadness as we know we’ll not see wildflowers again until next spring.

  • Watch wildlife. It’s migration time and one of the best seasons for seeing unusual birds. We often look upward and sometimes spot pelicans and waterfowl winging high overhead. By now deer in their subdued winter coats are sleek and well fed on a diet of acorns. Bucks have polished their antlers. Chipmunks and squirrels scurry about caching winter food.

We’d like to hear what you enjoy about the Equinox time.  Please email us your joys and projects in this wondrous season.

EGO Cordless Lawn Mower

Tested by Winding Pathways LLC
An independent review of the EGO Cordless Lawn Mower
A WOMAN’S PERSPECTIVE

Winding Pathways recently received a loan of an EGO Cordless Lawn Mower. For several weeks both Rich and Marion used it in the various ways we’ve used our gas power mower. These include conventional and some non-conventional ways we mow.

Just What Is a Cordless Mower

Lights on EGO lawnmower.

The EGO cordless lawnmower even has lights!

Electric mowers have been on the market for years, but they’ve been corded, meaning they have a long wire and need to be plugged into an outlet to function. They are quiet and low maintenance but have two disadvantages. First, they are only useful as far as the cord will reach. Second, the cord itself is both a trip hazard and a shock hazard. There’s the possibility that the mower could accidentally cut the cord, exposing the user to a hefty shock.

In contrast, the EGO mower is cordless. It operates on a 56-volt battery that is placed in a compartment on the mower deck. This modern lithium-ion battery packs plenty of power and runs for about 45 minutes before its depleted and needs recharging. There is no cord to tangle or cut. And, it even has headlights!

CORDLESS VS GASOLINE MOWERS

Gas and EGO cordless lawnmower

Comparison of a gas mower and the EGO cordless lawnmower.

For years we’ve used a conventional gas-powered mower on our 10,000 square foot conventional lawn. That’s about a quarter of an acre. We also use it to create pathways in our prairie labyrinth and through the prairie behind the house.  Each fall we use the mower to grind up large prairie grasses and flowers.

We found the EGO as effective, or more so than the gas model for all our needs.  It is truly amazing. Here are some positives to the cordless mower:

 

 

 

EGO batteries and charger

Batteries charge quickly.

RUNTIME:   We ran it at least 45 minutes and it was still going strong. It took 40 minutes to completely charge a battery. That means if an owner has two batteries, one in the mower and one on the charger, mowing can be continuous. Or, when the battery is discharged but there’s more lawn to mow it’s a great time to enjoy a glass of ice tea while it charges!

 

NOISE:   We are conscious of hearing loss from power tools and household equipment like blenders and vacuum cleaners.  So, we use an app to measure noise. We compared the noise of the operating EGO mower with the gas mower. The EGO ran at 75 decibels. This is below the threshold where noise can create hearing loss. In contrast, the gas mower ran at 95 decibels, putting it in the hearing loss danger zone.  We always wear hearing protection when using the gas mower but didn’t need it with the EGO.

There’s another great advantage to a quiet mower. Noise doesn’t respect property lines, and mowers create neighborhood noise pollution. Not the EGO. We doubt our neighbors would even know we’re using it.

MAINTENANCE: The Ego is a maintenance dream. Our gas mower requires us to store and add gasoline, check the oil periodically and change it annually, change the spark plug and air cleaner element annually, and clean the carburetor every couple of years.   Because the EGO does not need gas and has no oil, air cleaner element, or carburetor it eliminates the maintenance need of a gas mower. Both gas and the Ego need two types of maintenance that include cleaning the mower after use and sharpening the blade occasionally.

USER-FRIENDLY:   The Ego is user-friendly.   Even with the fairly heavy battery installed it is lighter than our gas mower. Adjusting the length and angle of the bar the operator holds is a snap. So is adjusting the mowing height.  Perhaps even better, the mower handle folds up reducing storage space needs. It could even be hung on a wall for winter storage as there are no liquids to drain out.

MARION’S PERSPECTIVE

Last year I injured my right shoulder pulling the gas mower cord trying to get it started.  With the EGO, starting is a breeze:  push and hold the button, lift up on the bar, listen for the soft whir of the blade and off you go! Goodbye rotator cuff problems!

Mowing the labyrinth with its several turns is a task and I was concerned initially about not having a self-propelled mower. It is not an issue because the EGO mower is lightweight and easy to maneuver. Also, the grass discharger or mulcher is within the width of the mower itself.  No more concern about accidentally knocking off the attachment and breaking the small prongs that hold it in place.  An additional advantage to the EGO is that it has one large, encased cord instead of several small ones that get snagged easily on shrubs. A very nice feature.

EGO cordless lawnmower at work.

Women appreciate the ease of starting and moving the EGO cordless lawnmower.

After we were satisfied with the EGO, we invited neighbors to give it a try. They loved it for all the above reasons and, especially, the ease of starting the mower. Tom has shoulder issues and appreciated the easy start. He prefers the push mower as he has several retaining walls to negotiate around.

After tentatively starting off, a big smile spread across Sherrie’s face as she pushed the mower easily through the grass. She was impressed with the mulcher feature and how easy adjusting the height of the mower was.

We have found the EGO cordless mower more than satisfactory for personal, environmental and neighborhood relations reasons.  Give it a whirl!

 

Efficiency Yields Cost Savings

(This story first appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.)

A few months ago, my wife called me to her computer to view our electric bill.  Although the weather had been mild the previous month we were still proud to see a $13.18 bill, or about 45 cents a day.

That’s a low bill for us but even when we figure in higher use during hot and cold seasons our monthly average bill is $38, or about 32% of the average $114 residential bill. Our medium size home has typical appliances and lights yet we annually pay Alliant Energy about $936 less than other families.

We’ve done nothing magical, and nearly any home following our strategy is certain to reduce their costs without sacrificing comfort or convenience.  Here are gradual steps we took to save money and electricity.

First, we exercise the power of the human index finger. If it’s not in use, we turn it off. The sun provides free light and heat yet never sends a bill. In winter, we open south facing blinds to welcome the sun’s light and warmth and close them at sunset.

Second, we embrace technology. Incandescent bulbs are bygone era dinosaurs.  Modern LED bulbs provide better light while consuming much less electricity. Although costly just a few years ago, now LED’s are competitively priced. We didn’t gradually replace incandescents. Instead we tossed out those still working to convert the whole house to efficient lighting. It was a bit of an “ouch” for Marion, who is a “Yankee of the “use it up, wear it out, make do our do without” philosophy.  However, almost immediately our electric bill shrank enough to cover bulb costs. Savings will continue for years.

Third, when buying a new appliance, we purchase the most energy efficient model available, which generally wears the Energy Star logo. Old appliances are costly thieves. Efficient replacements normally cost slightly more than less efficient models, but utility savings quickly erase the difference. Efficiency is a wise financial investment.

With high efficiency in place our bill shrank to $55 a month, or just under half the average home’s cost.  We wanted to do better so contracted with Site Gen Solar in Cedar Rapids to install a solar electric, or photovoltaic, system.

Just before the 2016 June summer solstice they installed a modest system  and six months months later we received tax credits that dropped its cost nearly in half. Every day our photovoltaics convert sunlight into electricity. When we’re making more power than we’re using electricity runs our meter backward, enters the grid, and helps power neighboring homes. The photovoltaic system dropped our average bill to $36, and we’re enjoying an 11% return on our solar electric investment.

Efficiency and photovoltaics do more than reduce cost. They help us avoid burning coal and gas used to generate electricity. We have taken a positive step toward reducing climate change. It feels good.

During our quest to reduce cost we had a surprising partner – Alliant Energy. Alliant gave us information and financial incentives to buy less of their product. It’s an ironic position for a company. Imagine Exxon Mobile or Walmart doing the same!  We are neither employees nor stockholders of the utility but appreciate their help.

Nearly every family can protect itself from increased cost and help the environment by using energy efficiently. Some can add photovoltaics to further cut cost. For information on how to receive a free energy assessment, rebates for efficient equipment, and several other ways of easily reducing cost contact Alliant.  For anyone interested in adding photovoltaics the City of Cedar Rapids and Linn County are partnering a Solar Group Buy this year to reduce installation costs. To learn more access www.SolarizeLinnCounty.com.

 

Learning from Photovoltaics

Solar panels

Sunlight hits our solar panels at a different angle in the fall and winter.

To:  Robert Dix, Brad Duggan, and Lisa Henderson  (all helped us with photovolotaic)

What we’ve learned from our PV System

 This week our photovoltaic system has given us a great learning opportunity.   We’ve now had several crystal clear days and the envision monitoring system clearly shows the electric production hour per hour.   It’s fascinating to me to learn that our peak power comes at 12:30 p.m. and when I go out and look at where the sun is this is when it is precisely pointing at the PV system.
The PV system and the monitor have encouraged me to observe how the sun moves throughout the day and over the seasons.   This education is a strong positive side benefit of PV.

Fall Season of Transition

One late October afternoon Rich brought only three eggs into the kitchen. In spring and summer our 15 hens normally give us a dozen beautiful eggs every day. Like so many signs in nature our chickens are telling us it is transition time.

We have lucky chickens. They enjoy good food, safe living space, and daily fresh air, sunshine, exercise and natural food. Seasons shape their lives, but even their unfortunate counterparts living in cramped cages in factory farms are not completely immune to seasonal changes of nature.

Dust Bath

When molting chickens lounge, take dust baths, and re-grow new feathers.

A hen starts laying when she’s four to five months old and stays laving for 12 to 14 months. Egg laying is tough on bodies and after a year chickens need a vacation. So hens call time out.  They shed old worn out feathers and grow new ones, rest and eat as they build back strength. After a month or two they look great in their new feathers and begin laying again – if they are fortunate enough to live in a backyard flock.

Commercial egg operations kill hens as they begin to molt and replace them with young birds. Not us. We keep our birds for at least two years. In their second lay cycle our hens give us slightly fewer eggs but they are huge with bright yellow/orange yolks in shells of various hues.

Molting is caused, in part, by the age of the bird, but declining daylight is a major factor. Nature has programmed chickens to lay the most eggs in spring. As fall’s days shorten production drops. We let our chickens enjoy seasonality. Commercial eggeries don’t.  Their unfortunate hens live in windowless buildings with lighting that simulates spring to stimulate peak production.

Declining day length triggers thousands of reactions in our world outside the living room windows.  Here are just a few things we notice:

  • Hillsboro Pond, NH

    A still day of reflection on Turtle Stump.

    Leaves of our sugar maples turn vibrant red/orange before drifting to the ground like snow. Our black, white, and red oak leaves wait a bit later until turning rust colored and shedding, although some oaks keep dead leaves all winter.

  • White footed mice, box elder bugs, and Asian beetles try their best to get into the house before cold weather settles in.
  • There are comings and goings in the yard. We’ve said “goodbye” to house wrens, orioles, grosbeaks, warblers and many other birds but are delighted to welcome back juncos from their nesting grounds up north. Hawks, geese, and even pelicans pass overhead on their way south.
  • The world sounds and looks different as humid summer air transitions into fall’s dryness. Colors are more vibrant in low humidity air, sound transmits more clearly, and late afternoon sunlight dances across tree trunks and drying prairie grasses.
  • Solar panels

    Sunlight hits our solar panels at a different angle in the fall and winter.

    We produce a bit less electricity from our photovoltaics because the sun isn’t shining as long each day, but peak production is earlier in the day than in midsummer

  • Sitting outside on a bright autumn day lets us soak in the sun’s delicious warmth but it cools quickly as the sun drops. Then, we go inside to enjoy the warmth our wood stove provides.
  • Clouds drift by and sunrises and sunsets are particularly colorful.
  • Autumn and winter constellations enchant viewers and linger into the darker mornings. Because the temperatures are mild, star gazing is pleasant.

Fall is a beauty filled season.   We encourage you to “Go outside and play!”