Part II. How to Stay warm and have Electricity without making the Utility Companies rich.
Wood heaters, Infra red Radiation, thermal mass, electricity and other bla bla
A truly efficient and long burning wood heater is in many ways superior to any type of gas, central or other form of heating including an open fire or fireplace. When it is fired with untreated, unpainted and dry wood such a wood heater is a reliable and quite an environmentally friendly heat source. In combination with a butane gas cooker it can allow you to no longer pay for gas or petroleum. If you live in a region were wood is free from skips or inexpensive to get this combination is truly a great option.
Some excellent heaters that are still semi-portable are
Jotul and Bekkasinen, you should expect to spend between E200 and E
for such a heater if you buy one new. There is also some great deals to
be had if you are willing to be patient. If you buy second hand you may
get a good wood heater for as little as E50. In my opinion the
the best wood heater all around. Unfortunately unlike Jotuls there are
not many Bekkasinens around. I see one only now and then. Bekkasinens
are amazing in their simplicity and
Bekkasinen Dealer for the Netherlands:
Almost every western country has a dealer that sells one or both of these brands. These great heaters can be used to cook on and heat water as well as to heat your home. If used properly and occasionally maintained they should last you a lifetime. They are so efficient and burn at such high temperatures that you won’t need that much wood. And they will actually be quite environmentally friendly since they don’t release many bad gasses at all.
The most efficient of all heaters are tile heaters or
Finn-ovens (“tegelkachels”). These are very large and massive heaters.
They can be made on site using some quite cheap materials if you obtain
the building plans. In the Netherlands the organization “De Twaalf
have a lot of great information about both these tileheaters
and underground housing. The downside is that these heaters should not
be considered portable unless you have four strong people and a large
van available every time you move. Also they are fairly expensive if
you make them at the Twaalf Ambachten workshop. Not that the 12
ambachten don't offer a good deal! It is just that the ambachten are a
small outfit and these heaters require a lot of materials and such.
An even nicer/better variant of the heater the 12 Ambachten
popularized is the one made at/by "De ruimte"
Both outfits have extremely nice people working at them and
are well worthy of your patronage.
Butane/camping cookers are cheap and can often be bought second hand. A large butane gas bottle can be bought for about E30 and then refilled every time for about E25. If you use this bottle for cooking and heating up water (not for showering) it will last you a long time indeed, for one person anywhere between 3 and 6 months.
Having fossil fuels such as electricity in your house is ultimately quite expensive in many countries and is getting more expensive all the time. In the Netherlands being connected means you have to pay a lot of money, this is mostly due to taxes and other high monthly costs. These costs are fixed and independent of how much or little you actually use. Only if you are on a minimum income or on the dole (uitkering) do you have a possibility to avoid paying these taxes.
Being connected is especially expensive if you don’t share the monthly costs with some other people. If you do have gas (or electricity for that matter) one way to save on costs is to make/lay some gas pipes and extension cables so that you can share the monthly expenses with direct neighbors or housemates. In practice this means you only have and pay for one connection rather than 2, 3 or more.
Laying gas and electricity is actually not very hard or expensive, but should only be done by people who know what they are doing. In the library anyone can learn all one needs to know.
The only problem with the combination of wood heater and
butane cooker is that you can no longer shower. You will need to learn
how to wash in the way all people used to do before everyone had
showers. I have done this for a couple of months and believe me in
combination with a wood heater, it can be quite comfortable and even
enjoyable. All you need is a washcloth and three containers. One fairly
large cooking pot with lid for the warm water, one deep and large dish
for the water you wash a bit of your body with every time and one
bucket for the dirty water. As long as you don’t mix the waters and you
change the ‘washing water’ after every part of your body you can get
Another option is a butane water heater, this will allow you to shower but unless you take very short showers the butane gas bottle will run out very quickly.
Thermal mass and infra-red radiation
Water has the very best thermal capacity of all common materials. This means it can store more heat than any other type of naturally occurring dense mass material such as stone or metal). Also it releases this stored heat at a fairly slow rate. As a result it can be very effective to fill an old oil drum with water after which you place it above your wood heater. When you fire your heater the water will act as mass, retaining and then slowly releasing much heat that would otherwise be lost through the walls, windows and roof of the room. You can compare this idea with a large pan of boiling water with a lid. If you leave this pan after you have boiled the water and turned of the cooker it will give off it’s heat to the surroundings and it will take a long time for the water to be cold again.
This oil-drum trick was used extensivly in energy efficient homes in many parts of the world, sometimes with heaters sometimes with the sun’s energy. Several of these drums were painted black and then stacked in a place we’re the suns rays would heat them during the day. A drum can theoretically work with any heat source but it is much better suited to work with a wood heater and sun than with any other type of heating system since wood heaters and the sun give off a lot of infra-red heat. Infra-red heat is absorbed very well by water. It is also the nicest and healthiest way of warming yourself, this heat gets your body and room warm very quick and relaxes your muscles.
In the future i'll try to add a diagram which shows how you
could set up you oil drum and wood heater combination.
A welded frame that is both strong and spreads out the weight of the barrel can be made for free if you can get some scrap metal and a welder for a day. The ends are A-Shaped because this is a strong and stable form.
The oil-drum is on it’s side so that the drum is positioned over both the heater and the horizontal flue. That way the maximum of heat will be transferred to the water in the barrel. The cooking area is left uncovered so that it can still be used.
The barrel opening should be positioned at the bottom so that you can easily drain and remove the emptied barrel if it should be necessary.
In the Netherlands, if you are willing to live only a simple music system, one or two energy efficient lights and you have about E 1000 to spend you can already live independantly from the electricity grid. For E 1000 you can -if you look around for offers and apply for both local and national subsidies- buy a simple 12 Volt solar energy set. This set would have about 4 panels, 2 batteries and a few more things. You would then generate about 320 kilowatt hours per year. Which equals about 0.8 kilowatt hours of electricity per day..
If you want to get be able to use a 12 Volt TV or even 220 Volt aplliances such as a washing machine, a laptop or a vacuum cleaner you would need a significantly bigger and more expensive set, at least three times more expensive I would guess.
Of course in more Southern countries where there is way more sun you can generate much more electricity and need a lot less electrical lighting. In these places solar is really worthwhile.
There are also quite some places in the Netherlands where solar panels can be “liberated” from major companies or government bodies. Along highways or rural areas that do not have grid electricity are good places to look.
Some of the things I write about above if have had some practical experience with. Many of them however I have mostly read about. If people have their own experiences with them I would love to hear about it.