I sit in my backyard, staring at the woodpile — my old faithful.

It was a good source of warmth in my youth, and, I’ve concluded, perhaps the most reliable of all heating options.

I’m not saying oil or gas are any less desirable. I’ve lived most of my life benefiting from the convenience of turning a dial and feeling the oil-driven heat envelop me during long, cold, bitter northeast winters.

And now, we have natural gas after having taken advantage of the gas company’s decision to run a line down our street in Waterville this summer.

From the time we learned natural gas was headed our way, we toyed with the idea of having a cleaner, less costly source of heat.

We played with the numbers, researched the benefits, asked many questions and kept abreast of where the lines would be installed in the city.

We were never guaranteed natural gas would be less costly than oil, but the indicators looked good.

In the spring, we got fliers in the mail from oil companies claiming natural gas is not all it is cracked up to be — that the prices may look good now, but in all likelihood, they would spike in the future.

We read newspaper stories about the virtues of oil versus gas and vice versa. Some warned that efforts to expand natural gas lines in Massachusetts and farther north might be stalled and that gas is not a secure way to go.

And of course, we heard about those rare cases where gas explosions occurred from old and inadequate pipes. We researched the explosion possibility and decided the risk is low.

We scrutinized natural gas from every angle, chatted about it regularly, slept on it and opted to take the plunge.

Meanwhile, our friends in Massachusetts wondered what all the fuss was about. They’ve been using natural gas for years, as have all their friends and neighbors, and viewed us as behind the times up here in the Maine wilderness.

Once our figuring and paperwork were done, it was smooth sailing.

The workers dug a big trench and laid the pipe in the street. Later they came and installed a smaller line from the road to our cellar.

A contractor spent several hours replacing the burner on our 7-year-old oil furnace and completing connections. Then a man came and pumped out the 185 gallons of heating oil remaining in our tank.

We did not turn the heat on right away, as the days were still warm, but the gas did heat the water and our first gas bill was $37.

Then, we did turn the thermostat on for a short time just to make sure everything worked — which it did — and made the unanimous decision not to use our natural gas for heating the house until we used up the two cords of wood we have in the backyard in our Jotul fireplace insert.

It’s actually a wood-stove with glass front, but because it is flush with the fireplace wall and does not jut out into the room, it employs an electric blower that turns on automatically when it gets hot enough.

Our little Jotul works wonders in taking the chill off on damp days, and we want to see just how long we can get away with using it before consuming gas.

We think we’re in pretty good shape. We got the house insulated last year and the basement sprayed with foam insulation the year before.

We’ve done everything right: followed recommendations from an energy audit for sealing up windows and doors, replaced the old thermostat with a new, digital one, and maintain a reasonable temperature in the house.

We won’t be seeing the oil man trudging in the snow to pump oil into our tank this winter. The gas flows continually into our furnace and the bill comes handily in the mail.

We aren’t saying we’ll never use oil again and are keeping the old oil tank, just in case.

And wouldn’t you know it, the latest news claims gas prices will increase, and oil prices are coming down.

But who really knows what the future brings? I have no crystal ball, and I doubt anyone else does.

If all else fails, we’ll just order another cord of firewood, stack it in the backyard and be glad to enjoy the exercise of fetching it in batches, as needed.

Wood heat is, after all, one sure bet. And as my father used to say, there’s nothing like the heat from a good wood stove.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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