Household heat from compost pile?

Last summer CBS did a television report on a man in southern France who ran a cold-water pipe into a pile of wood chips. The water, which was heated to 140 degrees F., was then pumped into the radiators for heat. Could you tell me if this system is feasible in Connecticut? If so, could you send me the particulars on the system? If you do not have any information, could you give me any addresses where I might find such information? Henry Roberts Middlebury, Conn.

I did not catch the CBS program to which you refer and could find no one at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee who had any knowledge of it.

It makes sense, however, because a home-garden compost pile can get very hot -- up to 160 to 180 degrees F. -- and so should a pile of wood chips.

There is some decomposition of vegetable matter going on in the woodpile. So if you ran a pipe through it, the water inside the pipe would be heated as well. Whether it would run up to 140 degrees, I don't know.

A garden compost pile reaches maximum heat in 10 to 14 days and then rapidly cools off. While it may maintain a temperature of 80 or 90 degrees for a long time, this is far below the 140-degree heat of which you write. It might take a massive supply of wood chips so that the pile could be continually replaced. Obviously, there would be an interruption in the hot-water supply while the new pile was heating up.

The man in France must have an endless supply of wood chips which he may have mixed with farm manure to achieve a temperature of 140 degrees. But how he kept up a continuous supply of hot water, I don't have any idea.

Why don't you drop a line to CBS News, 524 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019. Phone: (212) 975-4321.

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