April 3, 2014
So it’s been a loooong winter here in Maine. I can’t even remember when it started, and it doesn’t quite seem like it’s ever going to end. Last week we had another record low temp (7°F!). Here we are at April 3, and there are still piles of snow lying around even down here in the southern part of the state (up north, it’s ridiculous– 40-50 inches of snow ON THE GROUND in Caribou and Jackman?!? WTF?) I haven’t yet seen a crocus anywhere.
BUT, the days are getting long(er), the roadside glaciers are visibly retreating, and it seems like we just might be at the end of wood-stove season, barring another cold snap. So, herewith, this winter’s data. First, the full-season temperature graph, recorded by the faithful datalogger which lives under the kitchen counter (more or less the warmest spot in the house.) The datalogger has been ticking off every 15 minutes all winter, so this represents close to 19,000 data samples:Certain features call for explanation. The narrow “U” in late November was when we went to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. The wide “U” in January was when we went on vacation to NH, VT, and Canada (yes, we went north for vacation in January. Crazy.) The (relatively) high spike in mid-March was when one of us was away for a few weeks and the other was home alone… we won’t dwell on that : )
Now, the numbers: Overall, the average temperature for the winter was 54.7°F. That’s 2.4° warmer than last winter. Why? No idea. The standard deviation was 5.5°, the maximum temp was 68.4°, and the minimum 40.1° (all almost identical to last year’s numbers.) It’s hard to say how much wood we went through this winter– more than a cord, for sure. But much less than 2 cords. Possibly as much as 1.5, though I’d guess slightly less. Amazingly, we still have a bit of wood left from Treemagedon, and, below that, some archeologic remnants of the two cords we purchased when we moved here in 2009. But we won’t be able to get through next year on what’s left, and there’s nothing left to saw down in the back yard. So next winter, for the first time in 5 years, we’ll probably have to buy some wood…
January 4, 2014
Well, here we are, in the thick of it, the bread-and-butter of winter. The first two weeks of January are, on average, the coldest of the year around here, and this year is not disappointing. We’ve had snow after snow, with a crappy ice storm mixed in (many co-workers were without power all through Christmas), and now we’ve been in the deep freezer for several days, with mornings around -5F. This morning was the coldest yet, both inside and out– the kitchen was at 40.3F this morning. Brrr! That’s cold even by my standards. It was probably even colder in the bedroom, but with the electric blanket on “low” it wasn’t noticeable.
Trying to type on my aluminum laptop right now is not a pleasant finger experience. The overall average living-area temp this season now stands at 56.4F.
December 16, 2013
It’s gotten seriously chilly here all of a sudden. It is NOT normal around here to be dropping down to sub-zero (Fahrenheit) before Christmas. And technically it isn’t even winter yet.
With the frigid overnight temps, our indoor temps have been sneaking downwards, too. This season’s mean temp in the kitchen now stands at 57.2°. (This includes the deep dip you see mid-chart, which is when we went away for a couple days over Thanksgiving.
December 15, 2013
Found this “tip” in the margin of my Facebook account this morning, as our first big winter storm rolls through:
Of course, begs the question– if the rooms are unused, why wait till the power goes out to close them off and conserve heat??
November 23, 2013
It’s been a relatively warm autumn here in New England. I powered up the datalogger on November 4… here’s the data so far:
Our average indoor temp so far has been 58.9°. That will probably be inching down soon. This winter will be a little different than last, though. For one thing, J., who was commuting home for weekends last year, is now working closer to home so no longer away weeknights. On the other hand, my work life has gotten busier, so I’m home less than I used to be. Still, the setup is pretty much the same: Small wood stove. No furnace. No thermostat. Maine.
For this winter, we’re still burning the bounty produced from treemageddon, sending Norway maples back to meet their maker. Depending on frugality, we may even have a bit left over for next year– I’m eyeballing about 1.5 cords out in the garage. For sure, though, next winter we will have to buy more wood. I’m kind of excited about having that garage space back (future wood will be going in the cellar.)
Also, the wood is burning really well. A year of careful “field seasoning” plus a year indoors has dried it out to a perfection. You don’t get this kind of “artisanal” wood unless you make it yourself.
November 9, 2013
A pal forwarded me a post from a UK website promoting “practical solutions for self reliance”, describing how you can “heat your room for 8 pence a day” using tealight candles. (For those on this side of the Atlantic, 8 pence is currently about 13¢). They describe burning tealights under flowerpots as a “cheap and easy alternative” to standard heating methods.
Easy? Maybe. I guess it’s easier than starting a fire in the wood stove. But cheap? Turns out, not at all. I investigated the cost of tealight-heat. Here is what I found:
The cheapest tealights I could find in a quick search were these on Amazon– $28 for 500 (5.6¢ each). Each weighs 0.3 ounces. To be generous, lets assume that’s all wax. Wax contains 18,621 BTU per lb. If you burn up the whole box of 500 tealights, you will extract 174,572 BTU (again, being generous and assuming you manage to burn every bit of wax out of each tealight.)
Now, those BTU’s are equivalent to 51 kWh of heat, or, say, running an electric space heater on “low” (500W) for 100 hours. Around here, electricity is about 14¢ per kWh. So 51 kWh would cost… $7. Thus, we find that electric heat is about one-fourth the cost of tealight heat.
As an alternative way of looking at it: if we assume a tealight burns for about 2 hours, it burns with same heat as is produced by a 50W lightbulb. The tealight costs 2.8¢ an hour to burn. But the lightbulb is only 0.7¢ an hour. And gives off more light.
Moreover, candles are not especially good for indoor air quality. And if you spring for non-petroleum, beeswax candles, you will be paying even more.
Conclusion: candles are an expensive way to get light or heat. They should be reserved for power outages and romantic dinners.
June 17, 2013
Seeing a few new visitors dropping by today reminded me that I never got around to posting a winter’s-over wrap-up for the 2012/13 “heating” season. Sometimes, you never quite know when it’s over. This year, the fires dwindled to about one or two a week by mid-March. Then on March 23 I left for a three week excursion. J. probably had a few fires while I was gone (we were on an unofficial don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy) but by the time I returned the stove was pretty much shut down.
So, for those as statistic-obsessed as me, here are the numbers crunched from the datalogger under the kitchen counter:
Dates: Nov. 5, 2012 – April 15, 2013
# of temperature data points: 15,423
Minimum temp: 39.0°F
Maximum temp: 68.2°F
Mean temp: 52.3°F
Standard deviation: 5.4°F
Comparing to the previous winter, you can see that this winter’s max temp was 1.1° lower, the min temp was 3° lower, and the overall mean temp was 4.25° lower! Not sure how we achieved that– if anything, I thought we were getting a little soft this winter… but there it is.
So what now? Well, it’s finally lovely and warm in Maine, the flowers are busting out, the lawn is green, and you can walk around in shorts (if the bugs aren’t too bad). But cold weather is always just around the corner here. At present we still have about a winter’s worth (1.5 cords) of slaughtered Norway maple in the garage, so yet again there will be no need to spend anything on heat next year. Someday I may put in a small furnace, if only because it will be impossible ever to sell the house without one, but it won’t be this year.
February 26, 2013
Following a nice mention on the Environment blog of The Guardian a few days ago (thanks!), I was invited this morning to [wake up super early and] chat with Fred MacAulay, host of BBC Scotland’s mid-day radio show. Apparently there has been a sudden interest in scaled-down home heating in the UK, a result of this photo published by The Telegraph showing the Queen receiving the Australian High Commissioner and his wife, while using a small space heater to warm up the room. It occurs to me that the Queen may really have been quite comfortable without any heat at all, and only got the electric heater out of the closet for the benefit of her antipodal, “it was a hell of a lot warmer at our house than here” guests. I know that’s how it works at our house.
Anyway, if you’d like to have a listen, here’s the link. The segment begins at minute 20:00 with a local environmentalist, then me (halfway awake) about 25:00. We’re sandwiched between a bit about macaroni and cheese and the actual serious news. Which seems about appropriate.
And, hello to all seven Scots who found this blog via the radio show! Come visit any time!
Meanwhile, haven’t had any fire/heat on in here in 48 hours. A bit of sun, not-so-cold nights, some cooking, and the kitchen is still holding at 50F/10C.
February 22, 2013
Not much news here at the Cold House. Apart from the blizzard (which I refuse to call “Nemo”) it’s been a fairly average winter, weather-wise. I’ve settled into a routine of small fires in the eves, none in the morning, the usual. With the sun inching higher each day it has become worthwhile opening the blinds on the south side of the house in the morning and closing them at night. A couple times already the house has been a few degrees warmer when I get home from work than it was when I left– a sure sign that winter’s grip has been broken. The downstairs overall-average temp since October has settled right around 52.0°F (11°C), and it’s unlikely to budge much from there for the rest of the season.
One new activity I’ve been enjoying this winter is riding my bike on a trainer. I put it in the living room, where I can watch inspirational bike videos on the TV and crank up the music. At normal indoor temperatures I find riding a trainer unpleasant– I sweat buckets. But if I come home and the house is, say, 45F, that’s perfect. Half an hour on the trainer and I feel pleasantly warmed up (more than half an hour, I actually have to aim a fan at myself to keep cool.) Plus, it heats up the room a little! Can’t say it’s a significant contribution, but the magnetic friction gizmo does get pretty warm. I’d guess an hour on the trainer is good for 0.5 kWh or so of heat to the house.
January 29, 2013
Just a tad bit chilly in here this morning– even though it isn’t all that cold outside (21F). Ironically, it’s sometimes warmer in the house when it’s colder outside, because I fear it will get too cold inside… and light the fire. Will make one tonight, I guess.