If you enter our home anytime between the end of October and whatever month winter feels like releasing it’s cold grip on us, here in Vermont, you will hear a faint but unmistakable sound. That is, it will forever be unmistakable after you no longer mistake the sound for something else. At first, the sound seems to have the strange echo-y tone of muted cow bells, heard between muted cow bellows out in some distant field. Then the sound may make you think of a tiny, tinny version of the ghost of Joseph Marley, rhythmically, (every sixteen seconds, to be precise) shaking and dragged his little bondage chains across our basement floor. Yes, the only thing you will know for certain is that the slightly haunting sound emanates up, to softly greet you, from the cellar below.
If you haven’t yet guessed, or noticed the title of this article, what you would be hearing upon entering our house at this tormenting, tundra-like time of year, is the soft pitter-patter (Not of little feet. Heaven forbid, and hold the suicide note.) but of little wood pellets that have been augured up from the hopper beside our furnace, as they fall, carefree and unknowing, to their sure demise in the small blast chamber attached to our boiler. How sad for them, but how good for us. At least I am reasonably sure they are good for us.
Our pellet burner was installed a year ago, and I do not regret the decision to buy it. In today’s economy it is cheaper to heat a home with any type of wood than with oil, but decidedly more work, also. In fact, I can’t think of any work involved with heating with oil, except for earning the money to pay for it. There is definitely work involved in pellet-burning, at least there is at our house. You see, pellets are heavy. As a red-blooded, (if slightly aging) American man, I will never admit that they are TOO heavy… but they are kinda’ heavy. Our house is big, and it takes a lot of whatever type of fuel you use, to heat it. We burned eleven tons of pellets last year, which doesn’t seem like a big deal if you say it quickly enough. But, what is a ton? In pellet talk it is not two thousand pounds, but just fifty forty-pound bags of the things, which, I guess, is no big deal.
I guess, also, that I didn’t quite think through the idea that I would have to multiply those fifty bags by eleven, which is pretty much five hundred and fifty of those nifty forty-pounders, to be unpallet-ed, wheelbarrow-ed to the closest cellar window, and stacked on that cellar floor. If I were trying to sell wood pellets, I might think that two hundred seventy five eighty-pound bags of the things might sound better to customers. Better still, how about being able to tell a home owner that they would ONLY burn about one hundred thirty eight, one hundred sixty pounders all winter? Of course, those bags would be very heavy, but would require fewer wheelbarrow trips. Of course, also, you might get a few friendly visits from your local police, after your neighbors notice you stuffing ‘filled’ body bag-sized sacks through your cellar window. I guess those forty-pound bags are about right after all.
The bright side of all of this is that, at least for us, pellet burning really is working out to be more economical than oil burning. I also get lots of quality time with my boiler as I fill the pellets and clean out the ashes several times a week. I am in the process of convincing myself that it is worth all the work, and I do feel good about burning New England-made wood pellets in my furnace, instead of black gold from Saudi Arabia or somewhere. I’m just waiting for someone to find a way to liquefy the pellets. Then they could begin straining my fuel tank instead of my back.
“George’s World,” a new 740 page collection of George’s columns from The World, is available at xlibris.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore. “The Smoke And Mirrors Effect,” George’s first novel, can be seen at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Happy Reading!