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wood-burning furnaces and the ozarks


“In October, attorney generals for some of the most liberal states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and Oregon — filed suits against the EPA seeking restrictions on wood-burning heaters.”  From Cheryl K. Chumley’s 2/18/2014 Newsmax article called EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Deals Blow to Rural Homes.  For the record, the state of Washington had already done this.  

“This is but another example of EPA and other government agencies working with activist environmental groups to sue and settle on claims that afford leverage to enact new regulations which they lack statutory authority to otherwise accomplish.

“Sue and settle “ practices, sometimes referred to as “friendly lawsuits”, are cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein court-ordered “consent decrees” are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action both they and the litigants want. 

And who pays for this litigation? All-too-often we taxpayers are put on the hook for legal fees of both colluding parties.”   From Larry Bell’s 1/29/2014 article in Forbes called EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People

“Stoves will need retrofitted to burn unicorn flatulence.”  From EPA Bans Most Wood Burning Stoves In A Corrupt Scheme, Fireplaces Next on the Weasel Zippers website.

Although the Ozarks of southern Missouri are considered a “Temperate” climate (relatively easy winters and not too hot or dry summers), it can and sometimes does get freaky cold.  Particularly this year, when we were all longing for some of that good old-fashioned global warming to take the edge off.   Since we homeschool our FOUR CHILDREN, the whether did not affect us in that regard.  

But the local school district is halfway into their sixth week of cancellations, having already missed all of this week (including today) thanks to Sunday’s winter storm, Titan.  Couple this with the fact that propane (the way many people around here heat since natural gas has not come to our community yet) went to five plus bucks a gallon a month ago, and it makes a lot of sense to burn wood — a commodity that is unarguably “renewable”.

I grew up in an old Kansas farmhouse burning wood to stay warm (mostly hackberry, red elm, and hedge).  Although the house had a rusted out oil-based boiler system in the basement, and radiators throughout, we rarely if ever used them unless we were going to be gone for several days around Christmas. 

We heated the house with a large wood-burning stove in our living room, which was eventually switched out to a pellet stove after my brother and I left home.  Although that old stove kept us warm, wood-burning technologies have certainly improved. Today’s outdoor boilers are an incredible advance over what wood heat used to be.

The concept is simple.  A huge piece of extremely heavy gauge pipe (nearly half an inch thick) is welded into a large steel box with an opening (door) at one end.  The pipe acts as the firebox (ours will hold a number of 50″ pieces of wood, depending on how big around they are) and the steel box is filled with water which almost totally surrounds the firebox (ours holds 230 gallons — some are bigger, some are smaller). 

The fire in the firebox heats the water surrounding it to between 160 – 170 degrees F (it’s on a thermostat).  A small electric pump circulates the hot water underground through Pex pipe into our basement.  Once in the basement, it goes through a heat exchanger.  From there, some of the water goes to our hot water heater (yes, our outdoor furnace heats all our hot water) and part of it circulates to a radiator-like device set in the plenum so the furnace fan can blow the heat through our home’s existing duct work. 

Because a heat-exchanger is used, the hot water that circulates in from the furnace outside never mixes with the water in our hot water tank.  And because these furnaces are not considered to be “closed” or ‘high pressure’ systems, they cannot blow up.  You do have to add some water to the system periodically (simply flip a switch) as there is naturally some evaporation out at the furnace itself.

We can keep our entire house as warm as we care, burning nothing but wood that we add a couple times a day.  The furnace is about 80 feet from our house, with anywhere from one to two years worth of firewood stacked around it.  Wood never comes in the house so there is absolutely no mess.  Although many people chose to cut their own, I usually take my kids and raid the local mills in the summer time (there are several within a 15 minute drive from our house). 

We can get a load of their scrap and cutoffs (block ends) on our 16 foot trailer in about 20 – 30 minutes.  Because logging is big industry here in the Ozarks, there is lots of scrap wood available either free or for a nominal charge.  We usually get ours over the course of several early mornings during the month of May — before it really gets hot (I hate having to go out and cut or haul firewood when its nasty outside).

I bring this issue of wood furnaces up because the government (EPA) has, in the words of Larry Bell, “recently banned the production and sale of 80 percent of America’s current wood-burning stoves, the oldest heating method known to mankind and mainstay of rural homes and many of our nation’s poorest residents“.  If you are interested in looking at these regulations on the EPA’s website, HERE they are. 

The good news for the current owners of these furnaces is that you are grandfathered in.   But that doesn’t really help the people who are looking to switch over to a wood-fired boiler from electricity or propane (or a simple indoor wood stove) to save money (and save money they will).

Just the other day, I heard the owner of Earth Outdoor Wood Furnaces (down the road in Mountain Grove) on the radio talking about how these new regulations could very well put them out of business.  I would say it’s high time for Missouri’s legislature to pass some resolutions against these sorts of absurd Federal regulations —- particularly for those of us in the boonies of rural America. I realize that this would not stop the government from going after us, but it’s a start. 

It is this sort of governmental over-regulation in virtually every facet of life that is rotting this country from within, and largely what’s led over half of our nation’s doctors to want out of their chosen profession (HERE).   What do we have to do to reign in the stupidity?  Unfortunately, I’m not sure at this point.


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