Keeping Warm

reprintphotoby Freddie Templeton
photograph by Hubert Schriebl

Reprinted by permission of Stratton Magazine,
Winter 1993/94. Copyright © 1993 Stratton Corp.

LIVING IN A cold climate has never been for the faint of heart. Once the brightly colored leaves of autumn have become a brown carpet beneath drifting snowflakes and the deep chill of winter sets in, thin-blooded folks take off for the south.

The challenge of keeping warm during the cold winter months has always required a great deal of both physical and mental energy. From the time our ancestors first wrapped themselves in what was left after dinner, we have been seeking solutions to the problem of how to insulate our hairless human bodies from freezing temperatures.

Modern technology has made it unnecessary for the majority of us to spend our days splitting logs, trapping animals, spinning wool or patiently passing needle and thread through cloth. What we’re beginning to find, however, is that progress and technology are not always all they’re cracked up to be. Many of the old ways are still the best. The soul-satisfying dimensions of a wood-burning fire, a lovingly made quilt, and the unique beauty of a handknit sweater or shawl make winter worth the effort. Here are three solutions to the age-old problem of how to keep warm being practiced in the Northshire today.

Finnish-designed wood-burning stove built by Peter Moore burns with very little pollution. Northern Europeans have been meeting the challenge of keeping warm in winter for centuries with beautiful tile-covered wood-burning stoves. In the early 1970s, prompted by the additional challenges of oil shortages and air pollution, government officials in Finland met with representatives of the brick-and-mortar industries to develop a new type of stove that would meet modern economic and emission requirements. Master mason Peter Moore of Pawlet has been building this unique Finnish-designed fireplace since 1976. He describes it as “somewhat like a wood-burning stove made out of bricks and mortar rather than cast iron” but more sophisticated. The difference is in the advantage it takes of thermal principles. What looks like a large, square brick chimney is actually a very carefully- thought-out and thoroughly tested scientific answer to the question of how to stay warm economically and safely. “The heat rises from the firebox and is directed in a fountain effect down into channels on either side,” Moore explains. “There the heat ‘washes’ the exterior bricks before exiting out a separate chimney.”

In the two-cubic-foot firebox (conveniently placed about waist height) wood burns at temperatures approaching 1,100 F so there is very little pollution and no creosote. The temperature in the upper oven can be as high as 1,800, making it possible for the bricks to retain and radiate the heat from a 45-minute fire for as long as 12 hours. By the time the heat exits along the floor and out the chimney, it has cooled to around 350 F. just hot enough to keep a strategically placed slate warming bench at a perfect temperature for drying mittens, keeping dinner warm, or even snoozing.

The benefits of this type of stove are numerous, according to Moore. “Unlike a conventional wood-burning stove, you don’t have to stoke this constantly. In the dead of winter two firings a day will keep the whole house pleasantly warm for 24 hours. Since the actual fire only lasts about 45 minutes, you don’t have to worry about leaving the house with the fire going. And it has a bake oven.”

The small beehive-type oven stays a constant 350 and, not surprisingly, is great for pizza. A typical firing uses a maximum of 35 pounds of either soft or hardwood cut into pieces no bigger than four inches in diameter and can be started with just a little paper or kindling.

The Finns who designed this fireplace, says Moore, were very concerned about pollution, just as we are in this country. He pointed out that many states do not allow wood burning because of the air pollution, but the Finnish fireplace “is almost cleaner than an oil burner” and has been approved everywhere in the world.