Notes from Windward: #64

A Solar Woodshed

getting this year's construction off to an early start

Kyle and Temir putting in the initial pole work

     By mid-February, winter seemed to have worn itself out; it's as though it dumped everything it had on us in early January, but then was just too weak to do much more.

     Since winter is yielding to spring earlier than usual, we're delighted to start getting outdoors in earnest and becoming active again. It's going to be an exciting year as we see a number of construction projects come to completion, and as a way "warm up" after a long winter indoords, we've undertaken the construction of a new passive solar wood shed for the dining hall.

     We use a woodstove to provide the primary space heating for the dining hall. It's a beautiful old stove with an enameled shell that provides more than enough heat to warm the main dining area, so long as it's got a good supply of dry wood. And when it's cold outside, there's nothing like coming in to the smell of a kettle of hearty soup simmering on top of the woodstove.

Lynn ladles out a bowl of steamy "stove soup"

     We had been using a 10'x20' temporary canopy as a woodshed, but this winter was pretty hard on that and a good deal of the wood got wet, and it's no fun trying to get damp wood to burn. The upshot was that the construction of a woodshed large enough to hold a two to three year wood supply was pretty far up there on our organizational "wish list."

     This winter, the kitchen stove burned about two cords of wood, a number which would have larger if the cold had lingered longer, or if we had used the kitchen more. While we were able to get the roof and walls finished before hard winter set in, the last two bays of the inside remain unfinished, so there wasn't as much room to heat, and we weren't using the building as much as we will when it's complete. And so, we figure that having between three and four cords of woods ready to go will insure that the dining hall's needs are covered.

     The 12'x20' building is laid out with a 6 1/2'x12' bay on each end, each of which will hold about four cords of split wood, for a total reserve of around eight cords. In addition, there's a 6' wide by 6' deep "kindling bay" in the middle where we'll stack smaller pieces so that they're readily available.

     One reason for building a woodshed that holds two to three times the amount of wood we need is psychological in that there's a truly grand and comforting feeling that comes from seeing that much wood tucked away all dry and ready. It's a feeling of sureity and well-being that's better than money in the bank.

     But there are other, more practical reasons too. One is that the heating value of firewood is dependent, among other things, on the wood's moisture content. The drier the wood, the great heating value it has since some of the heat produced by burning the wood is used up vaporizing any moisture in the wood. By getting the wood throughly dry, and by keeping it that way, firewood becomes an even more effective heat source with the added bonus really dry wood is way easier to get burning than wood that's less dry.

Walt setting the main roof beams

     It doesn't matter much when you cut firewood; most of the drying will happen during the hot summer months. It's important for firewood to dry out for at least one summer, so the wood we store away later this summer won't be burned until the winter after this winter, thereby giving it the benefit of an entire year to season.

     When you're constructing a solar building, location is right at the top of the list of factors you need to incorporate into the design. The spot we choose for the solar woodshed is just behind and a bit to the west of the dining hall on a bench that runs east/west.

     Because of the woodshed is elevated about three feet above the driveway, it was necessary to put in some steps so that folks exiting the shed with an armload of firewood wouldn't be likely to slip when the ground is muddy or icy. For path steps, we use what we call "short ties." These are sections of railroad ties which were created when they used a D-9 bulldozer to rip up the old ties when they abandoned the railway that used to run along side the Klickitat. That fall, we made many a trip down to the river to load up as many good short ties as we could find, and bring them home to be used later in projects such as this.

Temir putting in the next step

     Once the bank is cut out to take the tie, and the short ties are nestled in so that they rest flat and snug, a half-inch hole is drilled in from the front face of first tie, the tie that forms the leading edge of the step, on through the second tie and the two are pinned together with a length of half-inch rebar.

     One way that a solar-designed building is different from standard construction is that the roof is offset, and each side of the roof has a different pitch. In this case, the pitch, or slope, of the back side (northern) of the roof is set at 30°, whereas the pitch of the front (southern) roof is set at 45°.

     The northern section, about two-thirds of the shed roof, will be covered with the same brown metal roofing that we use on the rest of our buildings. It's an enameled coated roofing that is long lasting, and which blends in nicely with the colors of the land and forest that surround it.

     The more narrow southern section will be covered with clear fiberglass panels that will admit light into the woodshed. The increased pitch allows more light to enter the shed, and also insures that any snowfall keeps right on falling. Since fiberglass isn't capable of holding the same loading that the metal can handle, the steep slope makes sure that the snow can't build up.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64