Nicola Bonora lives in the province of Bologna with his wife and three children in an area that “used to be all countryside, but is now a little less so". He’s a partner in Mentine, a serious web agency whose natural habitat is the Internet.
Yet for more than fifteen years, Nicola has had a passion: using wood to heat his home.
Nicola, tell us which wood-burning products you have bought..
In our home in Bologna we have a built-in, wood-burning fireplace in what you might call the living room, and a wood-burning stove in the bedroom.
The fireplace was built along with the house: in November 1997, when it was still under construction, this fire produced the first light I remember seeing in our house. It was in the evening and there was an autumnal chill in the air. Pretty poetic, eh?
We bought the second stove a few years later when we did some remodelling. We didn’t want to heat using radiators.
I’m lucky to be able to spend some time of the year at our second home in the west of Liguria. We put in a kitchen range there almost as soon as we bought the house.
So the first purchase was the fireplace. What made you buy it?
We needed the fireplace mainly because ... that’s what we wanted. The idea that a house in the country – where there’s space to store wood – equals romantic winter evenings came from my wife, who had already lived in a house like that. I come from the city and to me it seemed almost mythological, this idea of "seriously" warming myself: inside and out.
How do you stay warm during the winter?
We have a heating system that does the main work but we manage to keep it on low thanks to the wood-burning fireplace and the stove, which really help us save on the bills. Obviously a lot of what you save on gas is spent on buying wood, but the heat produced by the fire is priceless, I swear.
Where do you get the wood?
We have a local supplier (along with two other families of close relatives) who brings us about four thousand kilos of firewood every summer. Stacking it has become a sort of ritual, definitively assigned to the kids this year, with the excuse that they have so much fun doing it!
Where do you put it?
There’s a basement with easy access just outside the back door. We tend to keep a small amount of wood there. As it gets used up during winter, we just stock it up with a few substantial wheelbarrow loads, popping out from the comfort of our home to get the bits and pieces we need. We’ve got a box inside and a basket that holds enough for a day's heating. And which looks great too, ça va sans dire.
But isn't it tiresome having to carry all that wood to load the stove, maybe even during the night?
Not at all. The perception that it’s heavy work is linked to the idea that many people who live in the city have of the "peasant". Well, that was me, maybe it still is, anyway ... (you remember the story about the town mouse and the country mouse? Well, there you go).
And even if you live in a condominium on the sixth floor, there’s usually a lift. But if you can break your back carrying home 6 bottles of water (something by the way we stopped doing a few years ago) then you can easily carry up 6 bits of wood.
The most frequent objections my friends say is "But doesn’t your home get dirty?". Nothing a brush, dustpan and 30 seconds can’t fix. And I think that’s a price worth paying, compared to what you get in return.
And how do you use the wood-burning range stove?
It's almost our only source of heating in our second home. (There’s an electric heater, but it's not really worth mentioning.) We load it in the morning when we come in from Bologna and in the afternoon, it's already toasty: the house was built centuries ago and the walls are really thick. We also use it to heat food and keep it warm and to make tea.
What does a hi-tech guy like you see in wood-burning fire??
It's a cliché I know but whereas a radiator just heats you, a wood fire warms you up.
It’s warmth wraps around you, dries you, settles your mind. It is more than multi-sensorial - you instinctively tend to interact with it.
You watch it, you don't just see it: the way the cinders form, and the way the wood moves as it burns, it’s better than television!
You listen to it too, you don't just hear it: the sound of a crackling fire, with no disrespect to Carducci, is irreplaceable. In the silence of the night, it’s calming and reassuring company, almost hypnotic.
You touch it: lighting a wood-burning stove creates a physical relationship with the elements, you have to look after the fire as it catches and then it continues to give you its heat.
And the pellets? Never, ever?
We started with the idea of the pellets, but - in my mind - it's altogether another story. They’re obviously very convenient: they can be remote-controlled and programmed and so on, but it’s closer to traditional heating than to heating by burning wood. Even if the pellet doesn’t splinter in your hands or produce smoke, it has lost contact with its origins: wood.
Let's just say that the pellet is not multi-sensorial.
I don't think, in absolute terms, that there is a good or bad choice. It all comes down to choosing what’s right for you and balancing the “best compromise” for each person, where necessary, between convenience (whether real or imagined) and the results.
So I’ll end with this thought, my two cents as it were: "Wood makes you responsible".