Warmed by wood (the high-tech way)

Electrical engineers Mike Elmergreen and his wife Sue Dorscheid are warm and cozy in their big new home in the Town of Belgium, using an old-fashioned fuel in a state-of-the-art hot water heating system

Sue Dorscheid and Mike Elmergreen, accompanied by one of seven Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers they breed and train, enjoy their new Town of Belgium home and barn that are heated by wood with electricity generated by solar panels. Sam Arendt photo
By 
By MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Mike Elmergreen and his wife Sue Dorscheid had heard great things about homes heated with a wood boiler.

Then they built their own system last year in the Town of Belgium.

Their home and pole barn have an intricate system of pipes underneath the floor that heat the buildings.

That means the floor stays nice and warm, so much so that they don’t even need slippers or socks.

“The first day I had it on I walked around barefoot and I decided that everybody who told me how nice it is was correct,” Elmergreen said.

He told his wife to take off her shoes the instant she got home from work.

“You can walk around barefoot in winter,” Dorscheid said.

They’re not the only residents who appreciate heated floors. Five of their Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers stay in the barn, which is heated by one mile of pipe. They have beds, but often don’t use them.

“You see them laying on the concrete,” Elmergreen said. “It’s kind of luxurious.”

The barn has three zones of heating separated by walls. One houses the dogs, another their obstacle course and the other the couple’s boats, tractors and Mike’s man cave, complete with a TV and seating.

“I’m heating 7,500 square feet with wood,” Elmergreen said.

The dogs’ zone stays at 58 degrees.

“They don’t like it hot, because then they pant,” Dorscheid said.

The couple moved to a long and skinny 40-acre parcel in the Town of Belgium last year from Rosendale. Both are electrical engineers. Elmergreen is retired, and Dorscheid works for Rockwell Automation.

Their new home has six zones of heating, each with its own set of pipes. Gypsum concrete was used as underlay and made for a level base and allowed the couple to install any kind of flooring they wanted.

Their Nature’s Comfort outdoor wood boiler has a capacity of 325 gallons of water and two pumps, one for the house and the other for the barn.

They have a forced-air furnace that serves as a backup system. It usually kicks in during cold nights in winter or if the wood furnace is taking too long to reach the set temperature on the thermostat.

The barn has 22 solar panels that can generate 5,200 watts of energy. Eleven panels are on each side of the east-west facing building. They would generate 17% more energy facing south, but the property layout wouldn’t allow it, Elmergreen said.

He got the panels at cost from Werner Electric Supply, where he worked for a decade, and can monitor the energy they generate on a website.

“I don’t have a full year of data yet. I think the payback is seven to eight years,” Elmergreen said.

The couple can tell when it’s overcast. The panels produce less energy.

“We love high-pressure systems because there’s no clouds,” Elmergreen said.

During the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, the panels generated no power.

“I texted the solar guy at Werner,” Elmergreen said. “He gave me an attaboy for paying attention.”

Sometimes, the panels produce more energy than the couple need. In those cases, they receive 4 cents per kilowatt hour. They pay 14 cents for the same unit. Elmergreen said he’d like to see the gap narrow a little bit.

While the solar panels require little maintenance, the wood boiler is another story. Elmergreen piles wood into the unit every day in summer and twice a day in winter.

“Luckily, I’m retired,” he said. “Once I’m too old, I’ll let the backup system handle most of it.”

Elmergreen thought he stockpiled enough wood for last winter, but he didn’t make it.

“I ran out of wood in January,” he said.

This summer, he said he will gather much more.

Finding wood isn’t an issue. The emerald ash borer has killed so many ash trees in the area that several friends and neighbors have dropped off large quantities.

While ash is the most available, it’s not the best energy producer.

“If you want the thing to burn for 16 hours, you just stack that thing with locust,” Elmergreen said.

Make no mistake, he’s the one doing the stacking.

“I said to Mike since I’m still working, you have to throw the wood in the boiler,” Dorscheid said.

If Elmergreen has to travel, he puts antifreeze in the water and can turn off the pumps.

Some wood comes from their own property. This summer, Elmergreen plans to mark the dead trees.

“There’s so many dead ones you wouldn’t need to cut down a live one,” he said.

Nearly one year into their cost-saving and environmentally friendly adventure, the couple are happy with their investment.

“The only thing I don’t like is it uses more wood than I thought,” Elmergreen said.

When Elmergreen isn’t collecting dead trees, Dorscheid is walking and training her dogs on the property.

She got her first Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever in 1988 and trained for shows.

Now, she has seven, along with one black lab.

“It just kind of snowballed,” she said.

Dorscheid was president of the breed’s club and helped complete the several-year process of earning recognition by the American Kennel Club in 2003.

“I like training dogs to do what they were originally bred for,” she said.

Bred to hunt, Dorscheid’s dogs often flush out deer and turkey on their property.

The interest in the breed has been increasing. Dorscheid said she gets several inquiries per year about puppies, but she only breeds about once a year.

For more information, visit elmoandbigsue.com.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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