Cabin Life – #58

Cherry logs
It’s twenty-four degrees below zero outside, and even though it’s warm in the cabin, I’m still going to be wearing longjohns under my jeans all day.  I had a problem with the wood stove last night.  One of the metal grates that keeps the fire and coals up above the ash trap got knocked off kilter.  Not wanting what was sure to be a very hot fire sitting in the ash pit all night, I attempted to put the grate back into its proper place.  Even with a big metal poker and heavy leather welding gloves, I still managed to burn my thumb pretty bad.  The smell of burnt leather and flesh made for an aroma that was… unpleasant.

Last week, I wrote about my plans to build a new wood shed this summer.  I estimated that I will burn a little more than four cords of wood this year, and so I would like to cut, split and stack at least five cords of wood for next winter.  My supply this year is getting pathetically low.  I have a lot of extra soft wood that I can burn when the hardwood runs out, but on nights like the last couple, I want nice big hunks of cherry and maple roasting in the stove, not pine and poplar.

A lot of people commented that my estimate of five cords of wood seemed awfully high for a small, one-room, four-hundred square foot cabin.  They are correct in that I am over-estimating for next year.  I think it’s better to have too much than not enough.  Especially since I am facing the dilemma of not having enough this year and the fact that fire wood doesn’t really go bad if it’s stored properly.

There are a number of reasons that I think I need so much wood.  The first and foremost on my mind is that my stove is a piece of junk.  I may upgrade this summer in an effort to get more efficiency.  The stove I have now is actually a coal stove which gets horrible draft.  The one upside to this stove is that fire box is huge, allowing me to load up the stove and keep the fire going for as much as twelve hours.

But there are a few other reasons I’m going to need so much wood, and they can all be boiled down to one big statement:  My cabin was not built for someone to live in.  It was built to keep a few guys warm on weekends during hunting season.  From the half dozen single-paned windows to the complete lack of insulation in the walls, this place is more than a little drafty; it’s basically a tent made of wood.

From what I can tell, my cabin is the second or third structure to be built on this particular site.  There’s an old stone foundation that is larger than my place, and under my cabin is a big slab of concrete.  The cabin I live in was built sometime in the nineteen sixties or seventies, and it shows.  My bed is in the corner against the outside walls and there is a noticeable difference in temperature from one side of the bed to the other.  The walls are cold to the touch.

I keep one of the windows open a crack all the time to let in fresh air.  This is an inconvenient safety feature since I burn wood, candles, oil lamps and propane inside.  Without the fresh air feed, I’m not sure how long myself and the animals would have lasted.  But even if I didn’t crack that one window, I think there is enough of a draft coming in through the others that we would probably be ok.  The front door swells and shrinks dramatically with temperature changes.  When it is warm, the door barely closes.  When it’s cold, I have to latch it just to make sure a light breeze doesn’t blow it open.

And then on top of all of that, there is the floor.  I hate the floor in here.  The cabin is built up on cinder blocks placed on top of the old slab.  Then someone just piled field stones all around the base of the cabin to create a wind-break of sorts.  It is ineffective to say the least.  The floor is not insulated underneath, and even with the field stones, there is a steady breeze blowing only about an inch and a half directly under my feet.  This is the kind of place where you will be very unhappy without some good slippers.

The lack of insulation, the bad windows, the poor stove, and breezy floor are all factors in why I burn so much wood.  I’ve added weather stripping and a few other things, and I could do some remedy work like getting better windows or adding insulation, but that seems like a lot of expense.  And with the way the floor already slopes, I think it’s probably not a good idea to do too much work to this place.  It’s not worth the cost or the effort.  I guess I’d just rather build a big woodshed than a new cabin.

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5 thoughts on “Cabin Life – #58

  1. On the other hand, insulation upgrades usually pay for themselves within 1 or 2 heating seasons. And going from zero to “some” for a very small place would result in an extremely attractive payback compared to most of the buildings from which the above general statement usually applies.

  2. Jason, if the woodshed is recovered from existing timber, and chopping the wood is free – then why bother? Especially if the timescales for this particular building are short-term and not long-term?

    • I don’t know, it seems lazy, represents a waste of resources, fails to take material lifecycles into account, and emits needless pollution from what seems like a terrible burn.. The timescale is not relevant on such a straight-forward insulation job; it will literally pay itself back imminently. In fact I calculate $300 bucks for throwing up R15 of blown cellulose plus an internal stick/plywood frame to hold it in place for 400 sq feet. That’s about the cost of 2 cord of good wood where I come from. I’d be surprised if it saved you less fuel than that, which leads to a profit sometime during the first heating season. That’s from the home depot; a crafty fellow wouldn’t even have to pay anything as the material necessary for a small cabin could easily be found within the waste of a normal project.

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