Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to the dungeon...

And now for something completely different...

The other day it occurred to me that some of you might get a kick out of seeing our dungeon, aka the basement, especially those of you who (a) care about furnaces, and/or (b) live in some warm climate without the sort of heavy-duty central heating we need here in Canada, and/or (c) are of the male persuasion.

One of the things we liked when we bought this house was the almost-brand-new Benjamin furnace, which you can fuel with either oil or wood.

I work at home and so burn wood as much as possible all winter, because I'm here all day to tend the fire. Wood is cheaper than oil and I think it produces a much nicer heat, although it's hard for me to describe the difference in heat quality! Wood heat just seems... warmer. One could even argue that wood is more sustainable than oil as a heating fuel; at least it's locally sourced. (Really, I'd love geothermal heat but that's not in the budget right now. It's very expensive to set up.)  This furnace is made by the Benjamin company in Nova Scotia. Wood/oil combo furnaces are not particularly common, nor are they particularly cheap, but we LOVE ours. 

At night we leave the fire to die down. When the house starts getting cold, the oil heating system kicks in automatically! (Same thing happens if we start a fire but then have to go out for a long time. The oil takes over when the fire goes out.)  We have a timer on our thermostat so that the house is 16C at night and 20C in the day. With the wood heating, though, it takes a bit of finessing not to overheat the house. I remember lying on top of my bed sweating one night when I overloaded the fire and got the temperature up to 26C (that's 79F for you Americans.) On the bright side, it made a cold January night feel like a beach holiday.

I have since refined my technique and am much better at gauging how much wood to load into the furnace, and how to fiddle with the thermostat to get the damper flow just right. We have two thermostats upstairs, one for the oil section of the furnace and one for wood. The wood thermostat controls that damper on the door of the furnace (the chain on the right runs to a wheel that turns to open and close the damper.)

Here's my lined ash can and fire gloves, and some old fireplace tools. The tanks in the background are part of our water treatment system. We need a water softener for our well water, and the system also gets rid of iron and sulphur, among other things. Life in the country can be so complicated!

And here's my morning fire just starting up.

And here is one reason I have shapely arms: regular kindling-chopping. (The other reasons are loading a dozen logs into the furnace every day, and regular yoga!) I am a mean machine with a hatchet. Watch your neck.

 We have already used up all the wood we brought into the basement for the winter. This is the first time we've gone through it all before the heating season was over. Gordon throws the wood through the basement window and I stack it. We have more wood out in the woodshed, so we've been bringing that in, but wood-heating season will be over pretty soon.

Do you like the flower-shaped log in the front? That's from a dead tree cut down in our garden two years back. I think it's poplar. It's not very good for firewood as it's light and burns up fast, but it was free. We buy about ten cords of firewood every year.

This is the wall against which we stack our wood. The vertical boards are part of a support system the former owner made! Usually the wall is lined with logs two or three deep. All gone now! I plan to do a good clean-up before we bring in more wood. Storing firewood in the house is not ideal, but neither is carrying a dozen logs inside every day, not to mention running up and down the stairs with them.

Gordon loves basements. When we were house-hunting, he would always run down to the basement first. Here's our furnace, oil-fired hot water tank, and central vac! (Yes, we bought a farmhouse with a central vacuum system and central air conditioning, not particularly common accoutrements around here.)  You can also see the bottom of our brick chimney.

There are also three sump pumps in our basement. Since moving in, we have had two sump pump failures (one due to power failure --we need a generator-- and one due to pump failure), both times conveniently when Gordon was away on business. As a result I now know how to replace a broken sump pump while standing in several inches of water. Needless to say, anything of value in the basement is raised a few inches off the floor. The freezers sit on bricks.

And when I'm not chopping and loading wood, I'm doing laundry. Oh joy! That little white thing hanging over the dryer is a toy airplane Gordon got me when we were in Sri Lanka.

The front basement stairs. We have two sets of stairs to the basement. I love that wonky old post. I think it's cedar. And that black pipe leads directly from the downstairs toilet. This house didn't have indoor plumbing until 1984, and there are some whacky set-ups going on! We have trained ourselves not to step on the pipe as we go down the stairs (it's close to the wall.)

Huge old post with woodworm, and the fire extinguisher in case I get the furnace burning out of control.

The underside of the original maple floors (this is under our kitchen) and our Rogers Rocket Hub, the ONLY thing that has given us reliable fast internet service here. It works on a boosted cell phone signal.

 That's one of the jackposts in our basement. The house is secure but needed a little extra propping up at some point! LOVE those old beams.

And this old manufacturing plate is wedged in between a beam and a hot water pipe. I can make out "Belleville, Ontario" across the bottom.

A view towards the brick chimney. That Remembrance Day poppy has been stuck there since we moved in!

Thus ends today's basement tour. Even though they leak in places, I like the old stone walls, which have been in place for over a century now.

PS: I cursed the furnace with this post. After I posted it, the oil burner crapped out. The furnace repairman are in the basement fixing it as I speak. It's some electric-eye problem. If only Bell Canada were as efficient. Our phone (landline) had been out since Wednesday, after Ontario Hydro severed the line while installing a new pole. Bell keeps coming and going without repairing it, and now they refuse to come back until this Monday. But that's another post...


  1. Wow, I love basements, I think they are so much fun! Your furnace is amazing. I'm going to have to show this post to Randy... Love the old wood beams, too!

  2. What a fun tour! You are a country gal through and through ('cept of course for that fancy laundry team and central vac LOL)

  3. Anonymous2:00 pm

    Loved the tour! We had living room wood stoves in N. Calif. and even here in Texas, but nowhere near the scale of your beauty in the basement. I like wood heat too and it certainly beats the pants off of forced air central heat--it doesn't dry out your sinuses as much.

    Had to chuckle at you sweating on your bed in 79F heat. That's almost a cold snap in these parts!

  4. I thought you were living a really rough life out in the wilds but .... you have all mod cons and much more!

    Thanks for the tour!

  5. Lynn, you find some whacky things in old basements. I do love the beams. Some are huge!

    Paula, I am! And the central vac came with the house, but I love it.

    TTPT, I'd love a woodstove in my living room, even though it would be a bit redundant. Many people around here heat with woodstoves, and supplemental electric heat (electric gets pricey, though.) And 79F is toasty to me. My favourite temperature range is 70 - 75F.

    Calum, we do okay out here. Not suffering too much.

  6. What a great idea for a post, and what an interesting basement you have. My Dad was a plumber when I was young, working for himself, he would take me with him a lot. I got to see a lot of the old basements around our town and I guess grew fascinated with them. You just never know what you might find in an old basement. Men also love to look at the mechanical stuff for some reason. I am a man, don't understand most of the stuff, but still love to look at it. LOL

  7. You chop the kindling!! I am so impressed.

  8. A very interesting tour, thanks. I've had to google a cord of firewood as I'd not heard of that measurement before.

  9. You split wood? I love splitting wood too, when I have the opportunity. It's a remarkably carthartic experience to rend wood asunder with a splitter.

  10. Anonymous7:21 pm

    A versatile boiler... a chopping block with axe... a basement dungeon... You are troubling me now... Does anyone other than you ever go down then come back out?

    You look so innocent too, on this blog designed to lure us in?

  11. Thanks for the tour and great photos! I've never been in a basement that had that kind of heating setup. Very interesting. We heat with a wood stove upstairs and love the wood heat too.

  12. Rob, you and Gordon are two peas in a pod. He just adores basements! I have to admit, they can be very interesting. And some are just downright scary!

  13. Vicki, I do! Gordon doesn't have the knack. :)

  14. LBM, towards the end of this page there's a good explanation of how we measure firewood in North America. We buy "face cords":

  15. Ahab, our firewood comes split (a lot of people around here have log-splitters) but I split logs for kindling. We have a large supply of old dried-out fenceposts in the barn that Gordon chainsaws into log-lengths. I then split those for kindling. I totally agree with you about the cathartic aspect to this activity! :)

  16. H. insciens, it's all an act. There are many bodies buried under that concrete floor. Bwaahahahahaha!

  17. Callie, it's interesting to learn how people heat their homes in different parts of the world!


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!