On mornings like this, I can easily see why ancient man worshiped fire.
I was tending the fire in the predawn hours and had a sudden sense of how far we have come and yet how close we live to the fine edge between comfort and misery.
A lot of engineering and design work went into designing the house and heating system I was enjoying. I could put a few logs on the fire and the heat would evenly spread throughout the house where my wife and our cats were blissfully sleeping.
A few feet away, beyond double paned windows, the wintry winds sucked the warmth out of any creature that was out and about.
I looked at the stove's little firebox, hardly bigger than a breadbox, and marveled that it could heat the entire structure that encompassed us with hours upon hours of steady heat.
At the same time, I got the sense of how fragile our current existence is when it relies on the care and tending of burning wood in an indoor fire chamber.
If temperatures continue to fall over the next twenty years, as has been predicted, we will all have to look at alternative sources of heat and how best to insulate ourselves and our homes to conserve the heat that we generate by burning fossil fuels.
We have now had a month of below freezing weather. What will life be like when that month turns into two or more months? Will we remodel houses to up the insulating value still further? Will we build real greenhouses attached to our homes so that we can still enjoy fresh vegetables in a cooling climate?
Our woodstoves have been doing a beautiful job of keeping us warm and productive. We have one stove in the house and one in the shop. We use ceiling fans to distribute the heat so that we can work anywhere in the house.
If the climate continues to cool off, I would seriously consider adding a high efficiency outdoor wood furnace which adds the convenience of thermostatically controlled central heating with the economy of burning readily available wood.
Regular Outdoor Wood Furnaces smoke and produce creosote smells even if you can locate them at a distance from the home because they burn at a low heat. A high efficiency version burns at high heat and stores the heat in a hot water tank for use. With an appropriate outdoor wood furnace, you can pipe heat to several buildings and can heat green houses if you wish.
Until they develop small nuclear plants for community or home use, we will probably have to make do with home heating plants that burn wood or fossil fuels. It looks like mixed fuel systems might be most useful in the near term.