Friday, 3 January 2014

Cold and Heat: Burning Hydrocarbons

It's cold all over the country right now, weather that usually comes in February here, but which has been with us for more or less two weeks.  I'm not one to complain too much--a sunny, icy day after a snow fall is quite beautiful--but as the furnace slurps up oil in the basement, I can't help thinking of what that means in the larger picture.

The air is cleaner now in winter than it was when we came to Montreal.  At the time there still were coal furnaces, fewer restrictions on burning (our first apartment had a trash shoot that went to the basement where the super regularly burned our garbage), oil refineries off-gassing in the middle of the night, and no anti-pollution measures for cars.

But there are more cars, more people, and probably more furnaces than then.  Small particulate matter from fireplaces and wood stoves has become a problem, and measures are afoot to replace existing ones while you can't put one in new construction.

And on days like today, we want our oil or our natural gas, or our electricity to keep up warm.

Where that energy is coming from is a big question.  From the Bakken fields in North Dakota where oil from schist is full of inflammable contaminants (see the explosions in Lac Mégantic and Casselton, ND) in some cases.  In all cases, the methods of extraction and transport are far from cost-less. 

Okay.  So what do we do?  Building more densely is certainly part of the answer since not only do dense neighborhoods cut down on  transportation cost for people, they also mean more heat conservation because attached or semi-detached buildings have fewer surfaces through which to lose heat. 

There's more to say, but right now I think I'll warm up my hands on the radiator.

NB:  the photo is of the ice on a double window.  Baby, it's cold outside.

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