6:53 AM, Tuesday, October 6th
Yesterday was a big day: we turned the heat on for the winter! We knew it was time because, Sunday night, Tom and I (who normally sleep in the, well, ummmm . . . buff) both wore long sleeve shirts (Polarfleece for Tom) and wool sox to bed . . . and that’s sleeping between flannel sheets and underneath a down comforter layered beneath a heavy, heavy faux lambswool quilt. Oh, and I even wore a knit hat to top it all off! AND, an hour’s worth of heating pads for both of us! So, to say that “it was time” would be an understatement.
Now, for many of you, turning on the heat means that you simply push a button or move a little arm on your wall-mounted thermostat. Maybe you even check some part of the mechanization in the basement. But, for us? It’s a little bit more involved.
First off, Tom preps the outdoor wood furnace by scraping the past year’s accumulation of soot and creosote off the interior walls (a big, ugly, messy job). Then, he climbs a ladder to the top of the boiler and pulls the cover off the water reservoir, hose in hand. Manning the faucet on the ground and continually checking the wall-mounted indicator, I tell him when the reservoir has been filled to the proper level and then run to turn off the hose. Then, Tom loaded up the massive firebox with tinder and small pieces of wood (the top of a standing dead birch recently felled) in preparation for ignition. We did this on Sunday.
We were going to continue with the process then, but realized that since it was a cloudy day, it might make more sense to wait until yesterday to see if the sun would peek through, thereby charging the batteries that we knew we’d be draining by running the pumps (that circulate the water heated by the Central Boiler into the house) for the first time this fall.
Around noon yesterday, seeing that no more sun was going to peek through the cloud cover than already had, I began the final process.
First, I started the fire that Tom had set in the furnace. It took a couple of times checking on it, getting just the right amount of draft to get it really rip-roarin’. Then I threw larger pieces of wood onto the burning pile of twigs & wood scrap. (We can load the Central Boiler with lengths of nearly 4’ . . . but those can get to be really heavy if the wood is a large diameter, so we try to stick to lengths between 30” and 36”.)
Then I trooped into the house where I turned the water heater off, turned its LP gas line off, unplugged it (electric start), and opened the valve between the it and the heat exchanger. In the summertime, when the Central Boiler is off, the water heater works as . . . a normal water heater! But, when the wood furnace is in use and provides us with both the water for the in-floor heat AND our personal use / house hot water, the hot water heater serves as a holding tank. Clear as mud?
After double-checking that I’d done the above correctly, it was back outside to throw even more & larger wood into the furnace. It was also at this time that I popped the cover off the side of the furnace and turned on the electricity to it. This activated the temperature display that shows us how hot the boiler is. Optimal temp is about 180 – 184 degrees, and the LP back-up (more on that later) kicks on between 150 – 154. Turning the electricity on also activated the pumps that run 24/7, moving the water in the closed system of the in-floor Wirsbo tubes. (These pumps are our hugest power drain in the cold months and a BIG negative that we, unknowingly, didn’t anticipate when selecting in-floor heat.) Finally, I opened the LP gas valve that feeds into the boiler.
Most boilers have different settings, and we run ours on the Dual Fuel (wood & LP) setting. This means that when we don’t have a hot (enough) wood fire (generally due to wet wood) or if we are gone and can’t physically feed the fire, once the temperature drops to a certain level, an ignition switch will both open the internal LP valve and then light a HUGE blow-torch type assembly in the furnace . . . thereby keeping the system up to temperature. Once the mercury rises above a certain point, the LP automatically shuts off. Pretty slick, huh?!
At this point, everything is All Systems Go for the wood furnace. Now I hurry back into the house to tend the fires that I’ve started in the kitchen wood stove, middle room
“But, why build fires in the house when the in-floor heat system is on,” you ask?
Because of the energy drain of the pumps.
I’ve said that the Central Boiler’s two pumps run 24/7. With this kind of system, that is unavoidable. But, then there are also two pumps inside the house: one for the one thermostat downstairs, and one for the two thermostats upstairs. If I can get the house temperature up or nearly to the thermostat settings, then these two pumps won’t be continuously running in order to get the ice-cold house slab (cold from the summer months when there was no heat running through it) up to the thermostat’s setting. Make sense?
So, once I have the house temperature up, I take my screwdriver and go to each of the three thermostats in the house, opening them up, turning them on, and setting them at their appropriate settings (60 for the guest bedroom & that side of the upstairs, 64 for the upstairs bathroom & that end of the 2nd story, and between 62 and 64 for the downstairs . . . depending on whether or not it’s nighttime  or if I have fires going in any of the stoves).
And, voila! Done!
Now that the water from the Central Boiler’s reservoir has been circulating in the system for a day or so, we’ll take a sample to do a nitrate test (among other levels). Then, following the results, we’ll add whatever chemicals the system needs (in order to prevent rusting, etc.).
Tom was VERY happy to have a warm, comfortable house last night, and I was . . . HOT!!!!