New Cold House: Tour

Moving to the New Cold House has preoccupied me lately—so much to do, so little time to write blog posts. But I thought I’d at least give a quick tour of the heating features of the house, or lack thereof, so you can play along at home as winter approaches.

Firstly, so you may envision the living situation, here’s a photo:

The core of the house is a 1950’s-vintage cape, about 800 sq ft downstairs (kitchen, living/dining area, bathroom, guest room) and about 600 sq ft upstairs (two bedrooms, second bath). The insulation seems average; certainly nothing special. No Tyvek wrap or anything fancy like that. Under the house is an unfinished concrete-foundation cellar. Attached off to the side is an enclosed but uninsulated breezeway, followed by a strange “extra room” with its own half-bath, and finally a garage.

Now, here’s the thermostat for our heat:
Ha! Ha! Just kidding. As advertised previously, there is no central heat in the house—no furnace, no ducts, no radiators. We can turn the thermostat up to 80º, but nothing will happen– here are the cut wires on the back of the thermostat:
There was a furnace, once, which almost certainly burned oil. Here’s the spot on the cellar floor where the chimney sat:
and where the chimney went up through the floor

and the second-floor closet where the chimney used to be.
Where did the furnace go, and why? It’s unknown—but our home inspector found some traces of soot on the underside of the roof boards, and hypothesized that there was some sort of fire in the chimney which resulted in its destruction. At some point, someone tore it out and decided to do without central heat— either because they were nutjobs, or because they were only using the place as a summer house, or because they had better ideas.

So what was left, for heat sources? There’s this small wall heater in the cellar, which runs on propane.
I’m sure it could get the cellar plenty warm, if desired, but who needs a hot cellar? We haven’t turned it on yet. There’s an identical propane unit in the Strange Extra Room, but we’ve decided not to even try to heat that area (I drained and winterized the associated bathroom so the pipes won’t freeze.) Next, there’s this semi-permanently installed mini electric baseboard unit in the kitchen, which just plugs into a wall outlet—we haven’t turned that on either.
The previous owner, for primary heat, had a pellet stove in the living room—but he took that with him, leaving just this 4-inch hole in the wall (R value = 0).

Notably in comparison to the old house, we do now get some actual direct sunlight. Even on a cold day, when the sun’s out you can feel radiant warmth coming in the windows—a fact not lost on Piper.
So, that’s it for heat sources which came with the house.We brought a few with us. We have two regular electric space heaters (max 1500 watts, when on “high”). So far we’ve used one on and off, and the second a few times. Piper has become best pals with the space heaters:
We brought with us the beloved electric blanket known affectionately as The Roaster (max 180 watts).

Truly, if I could only keep one source of heat in the house, it would be The Roaster. Unbelievable how much warmth you can get out of the equivalent of two lightbulbs, properly applied. As you can see, this blanket is of the good-old-fashioned kind: came from Sears back when the materials for such things were actually made in the USA.
(I tried a couple brand-new made-in-China probably-much-safer models last year, and found them woefully useless. I live in fear least The Roaster should quit on us.)

Oh, we also brought three cats. They put out quite a bit of heat, but it takes very expensive cat food to fuel that fire.

Lastly, we bought this woodstove from the scratch-and-dent inventory of a friend’s company (and with help from a federal tax credit for new, efficient biomass stoves.)
It will be a few weeks yet before we get it installed—hoping by Christmas, so we can have a cheery holiday fire. But, we’ve been doing okay without it. Generally it’s been in the mid-to-high 50º’s in the house, from general living waste heat and a bit of space heater.

Coming soon: A tour of New Cold House heat efficiency features, existing and planned.


2 Responses to “New Cold House: Tour”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Looking forward to reading about your winter in this house! I grew up in Maine in a "cold house." I didn't really know it was cold at the time, since I was used to ice on the insides of the windows. In the early 80s, my parents built a colonial cape – they really wanted to make it authentic. We only had a woodstove for heat. The upstairs was always freezing in the winter, but my brothers and I survived. I remember coming downstairs and laying in front of the woodstove in the mornings, trying to thaw out. Good times!

  2. gmellow Says:

    You may already know this, but that “small wall heater” is a rather large capacity wall furnace capable of cranking out around 38,400 BTUs. We use them in our VT place. Rinnai’s are designed to be very efficient, within their product type. Owner may have installed to replace oil heat with propane, which was once considerably less expensive. Current street price of that model is about $1400.

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