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A person has to be prepared and adaptable to deal with winter in Vermont. Depending upon where you live, some of the essentials are a wood stove and a generator, the wood stove being the most important. If you can keep the interior of your home from freezing you’ll still have water and the pipes won’t burst. If you depend on electricity for heat, good luck. One ice storm could leave you without power for days. The longest I have experienced is eight days.

My two wood stoves are essential for surviving winter. Even new generators can let you down, but the usefulness of a simple wood stove is priceless. The next need is fuel. If you go through all of your firewood before the end of the heating season you may still have fuel alternatives that are universally available. Many years ago I came up with a couple of alternatives that have served me well.

I tried heating with a pellet stove and found it to be problematic. You need electricity to run a pellet stove, and if you have frequent power outages, they can be susceptible to the downside of power surges. Even with surge protection, I lost the use of my pellet stove twice when the circuit board shorted out. I was so frustrated that my pellet stove eventually ended up at the recycling center. When I gave it that final shove off the trailer, I felt a sense of relief and bid the damned thing good riddance. I was back to a simple wood stove that fall.

After having some experience burning pellets, I decided to try a device that would allow me to burn pellets in a standard wood stove without electricity for an auger and a fan. I found a manufacturer online that offered a metal cage insert for the express purpose of burning pellets. I bought one of those inserts for my Woodstock Soapstone stove, and I still use it as a backup to this very day.

I liked the insert so much that I built a smaller one to fit into my Jotul woodstove. I purchased some angle iron and a supply of small round steel stock and MIG welded it together. It was an interesting exercise welding dozens of little steel rods together to form the burn basket, but it works great.

Eventually, I discovered Bio-Bricks, compressed blocks of sawdust that burn beautifully in the little Jotul. I buy a certain amount of those each year for backup and convenience. The only problem with them is availability. LaValley’s sells them, but they ran out at the end of February. No bueno! Tractor Supply sells a similar item, although the bricks are larger. Their availability is so incredibly unreliable that I don’t even bother. However, both of the aforementioned retailers always seem to have wood pellets, so my inserts go into the stoves should my cordwood and Bio-Bricks become unavailable.

Now I have four fuel sources for home heating: Propane, cord wood, pellets, and Bio-Bricks. Every fuel source works well and is relatively convenient.

I’m using all four fuel sources depending on the weather and what I feel like doing. I just got over a brutal bout with the stomach flu that kept me from taking down an Ash tree I planned to burn. Out came the inserts, and I started burning wood pellets. I am pleased with this arrangement. Normally igniting the wood pellets would be a bit of a hassle, but I use bacon grease and a propane torch to ignite the inserts. My Dad gave me three good-sized cans full of bacon grease, and it has been an invaluable tool for getting those pellet fires going. Failing that, I have been known to drill a hole in the cap of a plastic bottle full of vegetable oil. A few squirts and a long blast of the torch gets it going in no time.

The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett is heard Monday through Friday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3, and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 and 100.7.


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