[Greenbuilding] Wood-fired auxilliary heating experience: Ashes (was Re: firewood moisture content)

RT archilogic at yahoo.ca
Thu Dec 15 12:05:46 PST 2011

Sacie wrote:

> Let's hear from more of you who burn wood please. There are obviously  
> many ways of doing it right.  I love heating with wood but it *is* messy.

I think that it may be useful to talk about the ways of doing it wrong--  
mistakes are often the best teachers.

I should probably begin at the beginning (firewood preparation) but I'm  
worried that if I do, I may forget to mention what is currently in my mind  
(geezerdom eh ?), put there by Sacie's mention of ash disposal.

So I'll talk about ashes.

About 10 (?) or more years ago, one of my neighbours set out a container  
of ashes in her attached garage (an item I despise and prefer to omit)  
probably in the expectation that Spousal Unit would finish the job of  
disposal in the morning before he headed off to the office. After all,  
that's what Spousal Units are for. Right ?

Unfortunately the next morning, there was nothing left of that house  
except the foundation.

Apparently, there was enough life left in the embers buried somewhere in  
those ashes to ignite gasoline fumes that had somehow escaped from the  
fuel tank of one or more of the vehicles parked in the garage (one, a  
sports car, the pride and joy of Spousal Unit, the other the family sedan)  
... and then the fuel tanks of those two vehicles became bombs which  
apparently ignited and blew up with some force and started the house on  

Apparently the explosions and the brilliant glow of the flames woke up a  
neighbour who upon seeing the house next door in flames, called 9-1-1 and  
woke up the burning-house neighbours to get them out of the house.

I seem to recall a large bulk propane tank somewhere in the scenario too  
(which makes sense because back then, the idea of the natural gas utility  
trying to bury gas lines in this neighbourhood (where bedrock is at or  
near the surface) ridiculous. That notion proved to be wrong because about  
3 or 4 years ago, the gas company installed lines all over this formerly  
rural neighbourhood, the installation contractor for my neighbour across  
the road learning the hard way that rock is not like earth-- it cost him  
~$60K using successively bigger and bigger rigs trying to break a trench  
in the rock from the road to the house) ... but I digress (geezerdumb  
again, eh ?)

Anyway, the fire was ferocious enough that the next-door neighbours homes  
had to be evacuated (none closer than a few hundred feet away),  
neighbours' evergreen shrubbery roasted to death by the heat etc.

Moral of the story: Don't build attached garages onto a home simply to  
house a heap of steel/glass/plastic that was designed to be used outdoors.

Okay, okay. The real moral of the story is: Don't leave the task of ash  
disposal to the Spousal Unit.

Okay, okay, okay. You know what the Real Moral of the story is, but it was  
worth a try.

Me ? I put days-dead ashes from the ash drawer under the firebox of my  
woodstove outside into a heavy-gauge steel pail (in which steel chain  
came) on a suspended concrete-slab (ie fire-proof) sheltered porch and  
cover the steel pail with a tightly-fitting lid and weight the lid down  
with a stone to discourage entry by inquisitive buck-toothed furry  

Then whenever we get those odd days in winter when the laneway and  
walkways are turned into a sheet of glare ice, I take some of those ashes  
and with a garden trowel, fling the ash out over the surface of the ice  
like a farmer sowing seed, to render the once glare ice into a surface  
that provides traction for humans, beasts and rubber-tired machines.

Once, many,many moons ago, in a lazy moment, I dumped a pail of ashes in  
the drip zone of a cedar hedge, thinking that the alkaline-soil-loving  
cedars would like a heavy hit of alkalinity. The truth in the aphorism  
"Yes it is possible to have too much of a Good Thing" was a lesson learned  
 from that mistake.

=== * ===
Rob Tom
Kanata, Ontario, Canada

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