Big Ticket Conundrum

Looking forward into 2008 at some of the Big Ticket items I would like to purchase, and frankly I am struggling.   One item would significantly decrease our personal footprint, and increase the joy I have in our home, the other would potentially make me a greater asset to helping our community become more sustainable, and would complete a goal I have had for several years.  I fully realize how blessed we are to be in the position to even have this discussion.

We bought our home 3 years ago out of depseration-the farmette we had money down on failed its home inspection and the owners were being jerks about the needed repairs so we backed out.  But our then current home was sold and we had no interest in living in a temporary apartment with 2 children under 3.  So after a month of feverish viewings of every home remotely in our range on more than an acre of land, we admitted defeat with less than 3 weeks until close and began to look in town.  Our current Spec Home (on virgin farm land) is the result.  The guilt inherent in that choice was a huge driver in my Getting Real about sustainability.  One thing that has always bugged me about the home is the natural gas fireplace.

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It looks fine, and the stone is actually a decent heat sink for the south facing windows on the opposite wall, but the fireplace is worse than useless: it is so ineffecient it costs $1.25/hr to run and barely heats the room.  My dream would be a Tulikvi stove with bakeoven, but I don’t have $15k laying around right now. 

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My parents have this stove from Hearthstone which is also shrouded in soapstone.  The stone helps to mitigate the heat, taking much longer to heat up, and holding the heat for hours after the fire is out.  At their home one full load of wood (4 sticks) will heat for 10-12 hours, and the stove is rated to about 60,000 btu’s so it is no slouch. It wouldn’t heat my entire home on the coldest nights, but it would take 75% of the load off our NG furnace. My cousins run a small saw mill north of us and could keep us in slab wood forever, and my father also has 20 acres of woodland we could esily sustainably harvest a cord a year from .  Installed with sweat equity it would be about $3k and take a huge bite out of our annual carbon emissions while helping to insulate our family from rising energy costs.
The second item is actually a two part workshop that would allow me to become certified as a Permaculture Designer with Midwest Permaculture.  They have a Design Course this May, but are also offering a new Advanced Course in late summer that would offer the attendees the chance to actually design the site plan for the MREA grounds.  Completing one or both would allow me to offer Permaculture Design services through our business, and being on the books as a designer for MREA would be a great resume builder.  Given that the workshops are over a week long, they do not come cheap: $1200 each.   The learnings from one or both of the courses would be legion, and assuming I could market the design services the ROI would be better than the Stove.
Like I said, I am torn and also slightly embarrassed by the wealth that allows me to even be considering these items.  But the side business selling rain barrels and ecological landscaping services is allowing us some wiggle room in our finances that I would like to see spent on things that will prepare us for the future, whether it is knowledge or the ability to heat our home without being so dependent on the grid.
Thoughts and advice are very welcome!
-Rob
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