home fires burning

Thanks to Erika for posting my video onto her Flickr account!

The past few days we’ve been without home heating, that is, a central heating system we take for granted in most homes in the developed world. Ours is a natural gas-fired hot water system, and one of the valves in the many metres of copper piping down in the crawl space has failed. I don’t fully understand its workings but husband has been chasing around for some parts that are now scarce for this almost 25 year old system that has been fairly energy efficient for us. Another example of technology leaving us behind, a recurring pet peeve of mine!

So, we are presently heating our home with a wood-burning fireplace, updated long ago with an insert with a glass door and an electric fan. Located in the living room at one end of the house, the further reaches barely get warm. A portable electric heater is handy for a quick warmup in the bathrooms when needed, and I prepare some oven cooked dishes to warm the kitchen. So we’re doing alright, better than during some storms with power outages, including two years ago.

But our carbon footprint has grown bigger this week! The fireplace insert really should be replaced with one that has a catalytic converter so what comes out of the chimney would be less polluting but normally we rarely use it. The wood is from trees we’ve cut down or pruned on our own property plus scrap lumber leftovers from renovations. It’s all a reminder of how much harder it used to be before modern technology – go out and chop trees into enough firewood to last the winter (we do live in Canada after all) and make sure you keep the fire burning with numerous trips to the woodpile.

Many homes, especially the older ones were not designed all that well to conserve heat. When we moved to Vancouver in the early 70’s, after living in Winnipeg and northeast BC, we were aghast to find homes in Vancouver with little insulation and single-glazed windows! Sure it’s milder here, but we still need heat indoors while not heating the outdoors! Fireplaces were, and many still are, open and drafty and not often centrally situated for heating the whole home. That was our home before we renovated but the fireplace is still not central.

I’m recalling my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse in Finland, built in the beginning of the 20th century I think. The central large multi use room, the tupa, had a huge brick wood burning oven in the very middle of the house so the heat it produced warmed all the rooms that would back its chimney. Grandmother would bake breads and casseroles and stews in it all day while the house was kept warm with the bricks retaining heat overnight.

‘Modern’ city homes, like my aunt’s, had ceramic tiled corner fireplaces or kaakeliuunit, based on the same principles. We saw these same kind, but of course more ornate, in the massive palaces in St. Petersburg.

Back to the present… and the future…

What will our future be like without relatively clean and easy to transport fuel like natural gas for home heating? That future is closer than we think while the immense tar sands operation in northern Alberta uses up our precious and finite natural gas plus water resources in the extraction process. Canada is blessed with natural gas but it is finite and needed in Canada, a cold northern nation. We are wasting this most precious resource on the most environmentally polluting industry on this earth! It makes me embarrassed to be Canadian, do you hear, Mr. Harper?

As I’m writing this, I’m also aware that it is Remembrance Day today. I acknowledge the losses of lives in the wars, with our grandfathers, fathers and uncles fighting too. Stephen Hume’s column today on also remembering the continuing suffering of those that did NOT die is well worth reading and remembering. As I’ve written here each year (search), I strongly prefer that this day be turned instead to a focus on ending wars and promoting peace. Our Canadian soldiers used to be peace keepers, not fighting other people’s wars and sending home the dead every week!

Now, you may wonder, how on earth did I get from the subject of home heating to the subject of war and peace? When I came up with the title for this post, the phrase sounded familiar so I looked up the source of this expression and found these answers:

keep the home fires burning:

Fig. to keep things going at one’s home or other central location. (From a World War I song.) [and] to keep your home pleasant and in good order while people who usually live with you are away, especially at war

And this: a You Tube video of old Canadian war posters set to the song Keep the Home Fires Burning.

A lovely song but many of the posters made my skin crawl! Will we ever learn the lessons of history and wars and the environmental damage we have been and are still doing? The connections are just too startling and scary. Peace — might it be good for the environment?!

P.S. Another reason for Canadians to be grateful on November 11th. I’d forgotten this event in our history.

November 11, 2009 in Canada and BC, Current Events, Environment, Home, Music by Marja-Leena