January 11, 2013
A combination of factors came together this week, leading me to use no heat whatsoever for a span of 4 days– an unusual mid-January state even in this house. The factors were:
- Above-average temps (highs 35-40F, lows 20-25)
- Above-average sunshine
- Above-average laziness on starting a fire
- Above-average use of bike trainer (warms you up fast, even in a cold house!)
So, no fire from Sunday night to Thursday night:
Ran into a couple of problems, after having the house this cool for this long. For one, the liquid dish soap solidified and became impossible to get out of the bottle. It is an all-natural product… mainstream dish soap brands probably have chemical emulsifliquifactifying agents that prevent this. Maybe I have to store it on top of the water heater or something.
Second, the contents of the freezer (above the fridge) started to thaw. This is ironic, the idea that your house can be too cold for your freezer to work, but in our cheapo fridge I’m pretty sure the freezer only turns on when/if the fridge turns on– it has no separate temperature controller. So if the house is cold, the fridge barely runs, and after a few days, the freezer starts to nudge above freezing. Obviously this isn’t good. I turned the fridge down a little (it was set rather on the warm side) and that seems to have cured the problem.
Overall average temperature so far this winter now stands at 52.5 F…
December 31, 2012
Happy New Year from the Cold House!
We’re just back from a few days playing touriste in Quebec City– a place that really knows how to enjoy winter. No one up there was griping about the cold– they just put on bigger hats, string up more lights, put on a smile, and go out to ski, toboggan, drink… It was also pleasant driving around in a place where snow tires are mandatory, and the proportion of SUVs on the road was dramatically lower. I think we got out of there just in time, though, as the forecast low for tomorrow night is -17F (-27F). That’s cold even to me.
Back on the home front, our living area has averaged 52.8° F so far this winter. As the graph clearly communicates, the temp in here is rarely steady, either from hour to hour, or day to day. Hard to say how much wood we’ve gone through so far– maybe 1/5th to 1/4 cord. We haven’t started on the actual split wood from Treemagedon yet, still just burning the cut-up branches and other little stuff.
November 27, 2012
So if you go to buy a new, standard, tank-type water heater, you discover that for any given gallon capacity they come in several different tank shapes, called “short”, “medium”, and “tall”. It seems the “tall” are marketed for use in narrow spaces, the “short” for use in low spaces (like a crawlspace), and the “medium” for, well, everything else.
The interesting thing, though, is that from an efficiency (passive heat-loss minimization) standpoint, there is an ideal cylinder shape– namely, the one with the smallest ratio of surface area to volume, which is when the diameter is the same as the height. From this standpoint, the shorty models are almost perfect, but the mediums are too twice too tall, and the “talls” are even worse. Based on this, it would be rational to buy a short one– except that, for some reason, the shorts and talls are both much more expensive than a medium (like, $50-100 more)! This makes no sense from a materials perspective, since the shorts use less steel/glass/insulation than a medium, and a medium less than a tall. So I suppose it must have to do with demand, volume of production, and manufacturing efficiency.
November 27, 2012
It looks like we’re going to have a different heat (or lack-of-heat) pattern this winter, compared to the past few, because J. is now away from the house during the week and home only (mostly) on weekends. So, there may be a bit more polarization– namely, less heat than usual when I’m home alone, and more heat than usual on the weekends.
So far, though, we’re averaging 54.6F (since November 5th), which is a smidge lower than last winter’s overall average of 56.5. This morning is the coolest one yet in the kitchen, at 45F. That’s about as low as even I enjoy– will probably have a bit o’ flame of the wood stove tonight.
November 19, 2012
From time to time I come across a story about a person worthy of being nominated as a “hero of the cold house”. Today’s hero, or rather heroine, is Kerry Kells– who apparently found her Antarctic research station dorm uncomfortable, and instead spent 200-plus nights sleeping in a tent (in, yes, Antarctica). (The story is from last spring– not sure why it just came across my radar today… perhaps she is back in her tent this season?)
Meanwhile here at the luxury cold house (with solid walls) a “seasonably cool” autumn is creeping along. I cranked up the ol’ datalogger two weeks ago to start this season’s indoor recording– thus far the average in the living area has been 55F/12.8C. As usual, I listen to the annual rush of stories about heating oil prices and chuckle to myself.
November 11, 2012
Reader Becky sent me the following message, which she said I could post here in the hopes of getting advice from other CHJ followers. (I’ve already sent her my own thoughts– including that 60F is probably pushing the envelope in her situation– but she’s happy to have more advice!) (P.S. Being pregnant in El Paso in the summer without A/C sounds, to me, fairly literally, like hell.)
I saw your blog and I think you might be able to help me. For a number of reasons I try to keep heating and cooling my house to a minimum. I grew up in Texas so I am accustom to warmer climates. I spent the past summer in El Paso Texas, without central air and I was pregnant. It was HOT. My house temperature was in the nineties. I would often sit in my house drinking ice water, wearing minimal clothing and sweat would pour down me despite not actually doing any activity. On the worst days, I soaked down in the shower, clothes and all and walked around the house wet.
Then in September we moved to Maryland. I am cold and it’s not even winter. First, how do I adjust my body temperature to cope with the cold? How long did it take you to adjust? I feel like I am going to freeze if I turn the heat below 67. I think it would be unreasonable to go without heat for the winter, since I have a baby, but I would like to keep the thermostat no higher than 60. Secondly, what do I need to stay warm? I don’t really own any winter gear such as a coat, vest or proper shoes. I have very little experience buying any of these things and they are pretty expensive. What is worth buying? Is there a big difference in brands? I noticed a number of people wearing north face jackets, but when I priced the coats they cost $250. It seems crazy to me to spend that much money on one article of clothing but I would rather spend more money on something that will actually keep me warm.
Please help me,
November 6, 2012
Finally, some comfortable, invigorating indoor temps!
September 20, 2012
Can you locate the Cold House on the above Venn diagram?
I wonder if we may be the only people in New England who fit into the sector contained in all the sets above. Okay, okay– it will only be temporarily true– this winter, next, and possibly the one after. There is only so much firewood that 1/3rd of an acre can produce– even at our laughably low rate of use, this is not a “sustainable” wood lot. But at the moment there are 2-3 cords of nicely dried Norway maple stashed away, all from the back yard, all split (and, more tiresomely, stacked) by me.
Somewhere, waaaaay down at the bottom of the pile, there are still 20 or 30 pieces of the kiln-dried oak that we bought two cords of in 2009 (cost: $600). They may never be seen again.
September 11, 2012
I thought you might enjoy these photos of my granddad with his wood pile, circa 1980, and me, with my wood pile, circa last weekend. All the wood in both photos was split by hand, with a maul. That’s how we do it.
September 11, 2012
Longtime readers will recall last fall’s Treemagedon project, in which we set out to eradicate the invasive Norway maples on our property (14 in total) and, as a by product, provide a couple years worth of heat. Well, the good people at Google have captured the results from space. Yes, I know it looks like we set off a small nuclear warhead in the yard. But it will get better. Already bursting onto the newly-liberated scene is an understory of wild strawberries and some small native cherry trees. We also planted some native redbud trees, ferns, and cattails down in the swampy part. Meanwhile, I am putting the finishing touches on the drying and stacking of all the firewood produced.