Woodheat.org celebrates 20 years online
Created and maintained entirely by volunteers, it has helped millions of families to heat their homes effectively with wood
March 10, 2016
In 1996 the internet was just becoming a popular form of mass communications that hadn’t yet been commercialized. That is when a couple of rural wood heat geeks decided to create a website to share their knowledge with the world.
"Thanks for your great web site! I've looked a long time for a good one, this is it."
It all started during a six hour drive home to Eastern Ontario from a standards committee meeting in Toronto. Cal Wallis and John Gulland were lamenting the lack of support for people who heat their homes with wood. Sure, there were the wood stove manufacturers’ installation manuals that included operating instructions, but these were required as part of safety test standards and were notoriously of poor quality and often unhelpful. And yes, various government agencies had funded public information booklets on wood heating, but these tended to be superficial and preachy.
During that long drive home, Cal and John agreed there was a need for an independent, non-profit group dedicated to providing accurate, unbiased information to the public about the ins and outs of wood heating. Cal owned three hearth stores in Eastern Ontario so he had deep insights into what regular people needed to know, what confused them, and what misguided theories got in the way of effective wood heating. John had started in appliance manufacturing and had been writing public information materials since he became a wood heat consultant in 1981. Along the way he had opened a hearth store, managed wood heat research projects and was the lead researcher and writer for the Wood Energy Technical Training program for professionals."I absolutely love woodheat.org and refer to it often - thank you all!"
Both Cal and John wanted to find an unfiltered way to communicate with the public on a subject they had been immersed in since the 1970s. John was at the time putting together a small website for his consulting business and thought the internet could become an inexpensive way to reach a mass audience. It was also clear that the internet was already being flooded with misinformation posted by people who were convinced they knew enough about wood heating to teach others. The two professionals thought their new venture might help to set the record straight.
At first their web domain was wood-heat.com, but soon they incorporated The Wood Heat Organization Inc. as a federal non-profit in Canada and acquired the more desirable domain woodheat.org. The site proved popular from the start and in a few years was attracting up to 300,000 unique visitors in each of the busy fall and winter months.
Then five years ago a friend and wood heat colleague, Amber Percival, agreed to help them to rebuild the site, which had become unwieldy as more and more content was added. Amber not only selected new software and built a revised menu system, she also designed the new logo which still stands up. Without Amber’s help, woodheat.org wouldn’t be nearly as attractive or easy to use.
Woodheat.org continues to be run by volunteers. Its modest costs are covered by donations from visitors to the site.