2018-03-08 / Editorial

Heat: A burning issue at Dyer library

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By Leslie Rounds

Many years ago, nearly everyone heated their homes with firewood, burned in large open fireplaces. The fireplaces, sucking a thirsty stream of air from homes, burned wood at a furious rate and generated little heat in return. It wasn’t at all unusual to burn 20 cords of wood in a winter. It would take the whole year to gather, cut, split and stack that amount of wood. And where did a person put 20 cords of wood? That would be a pile four feet high, four feet wide and 160 feet long. I bring this up because we almost all understand firewood. We’ve handled logs. We know what they weigh. When you heat with wood, you’re familiar with each little unit of prospective heat because you’ve stacked it, carried it in and thrown it into the woodstove.

When we heat with oil, we have a vast disconnect between the heat that warms our homes and the source of that heat. Yes, we pay for the oil, but we don’t ever handle it, measure it or feed it into the furnace. It’s just … there. Up until this winter, at Dyer Library and Saco Museum we burned No. 2 heating oil. Over the course of the 2016-2017 winter, we burned 10,387 gallons of it. That’s the equivalent of 65 cords of firewood. We were burning the equivalent of about 32,500 logs a winter. If you poured all the oil we burned into little one-foot cubes, you could build a wall (like stacked wood) four feet wide, four feet tall and about 90 feet long.

One gallon of heating oil, when burned, releases into our lovely Maine air about 22.37 pounds of carbon dioxide. Imagine the weight of a bag of flour times more than four, drifting up into the atmosphere. But it doesn’t end there, does it? We burned not one gallon of oil but 10,387 gallons – releasing 232,357 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s a scary thought. There were, of course, a few other goodies released into the air, as well, including sulfur dioxide, which combines with water to create sulfurous acid, which surely isn’t good for anyone. We also produced plenty of particulate matter, which is the stuff that both turns the air gray and makes it hard for people with asthma and COPD to breathe.

So, what could we do? We’d accomplished all kinds of energy conservation projects. The time had come to do something more efficient. Oil burning furnaces like the ones we had are typically around 80 or even 85 percent efficient. For every gallon of oil we burned, about 80 percent was converted into warmth in our buildings. Geothermal systems, on the other hand, are more like 400 percent efficient (although that sounds unbelievable –look it up). For every bit of energy put in to run a geothermal system four times as much comes out as heat (or cooling in the summer).

We run our private, nonprofit on a very tight budget. Last year we spent more than $30,000 on something we burned. Besides that we spent an additional $13,500 on electricity and quite a large portion of that was used for heating (blowers on three furnaces) and cooling. We spent $52,500 on books and other items for you to check out, only a bit more than we were spending on burning stuff. The money we spent on oil and electricity was money we couldn’t spend for the books, DVDs and children’s programs.

About three years ago, the Next Gen Foundation gave us an outright gift to help fix our burning issue and promised us an additional $57,000 if we could raise a match for it. With generous donations from our community – from people like you – we raised nearly twice that amount and the foundation rose to the occasion and matched it all. You made it possible for us to fix our filthy habit. How can we possibly thank you?

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/Saco Museum.

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