Graphical Interface

Many people (well, by “many” I mean, like, five) want to know just how warm or not warm the Cold House is.  Since we don’t have a thermostat, I can’t just answer “We set it at X during the day and Y at night.”

But we do have some digital thermometers, so over the past week I took to jotting down the readings every hour or two, when I was home.  And now for your entertainment I’ve turned the data into a graph.  Here it is:

Explanation:  The scale is in ºF (sorry, centigrade friends– I could not do both.)  Blue line: temp in our downstairs kitchen/living area.  Red line: temp in the bedroom.  Orange line: outdoor temp.  Dashed lines: corresponding averaged temp, for the entire period, of each area.

Discussion:  Outside, the weather during this eight-day period was standard-issue freakish New England.  Early on we had a sudden thaw, with the temp reaching a very unusual 50º on Monday, tying a record high for the day.  Two warmish days followed on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Then things cooled off rapidly, reaching single digits by Saturday night and below-zero Sunday night.  That is colder than “average”, but a more normal pattern.

Inside, the downstairs temps ranged from a brief low of 38.3º to a moment of hitting 69º.  The overall average was 53º. The fluctuations appear to mimic the outdoor diurnal cycle, and there is some reality to that– but in fact they are more directly related to lighting a fire in the morning or mid-day, and letting it die by evening.

In the upstairs/bedroom, which is pretty much thermally isolated, the temps fluctuated much less.  There the high point was 57º, and the low 37º (yes, we were in the bed when the room was 37.)  The overall average bedroom temp was 47º.  For the second half of the week, since the “heat wave” ended, it’s averaged more like 43º.

What to make of all this?  I have no idea.  Draw your own conclusions.  And send us your own graphs!

14 Responses to “Graphical Interface”

  1. brushfire Says:

    I think it’s really interesting how much the outside and downstairs temperatures match up both in terms of the periodic nature of the heating and cooling as well as the relative size of the temperature swings especially when compared to the unheated upstairs which follows the overall temperature fluctuation of the outside but without the daily spikes.

    I wonder if greater insulation and better solar gain could result in a graph similar to that of the upstairs, but with a higher overall temperature?

  2. coldhousejournal Says:

    What would really make the downstairs graph look like the upstairs is… not running the wood stove at all! If you can persuade J. to try that, I’ll give you a cookie. But I don’t think it’s likely : )

  3. brushfire Says:

    Well, that’s part of what I was suggesting, but if you could make it look like the upstairs graph except higher overall temp…

    On the other hand, maybe the temp swings are preferred?

  4. John Says:

    Can you do the differential over time?

    The swings seem large to me, but maybe not. Not enough thermal mass in the house? Too little insulation?

  5. Bruce Says:

    I have a question about materials in your house; specifically plastic. It has been my experience that some things like plastic tubs, plumbing and especially vinyl flooring and the dreaded Corian shrink so much in the cold as to break or crack in the winter. When I was building my house one of the tubs turned into a “rocking tub” before I had a chance to heat the upstairs. Also, letting the house go cold moves the dew point to the inside surface of the exterior walls resulting in mildew and that “cottage smell”. Have you checked behind things pushed up against exterior walls like couches?

    • coldhousejournal Says:


      I do have a few concerns about materials, but so far no major issues. We don’t have any Corian. We do have a few areas of vinyl floor, but no problems noticed. There are a couple plaster walls which already had cracks in them, and it’s possible that the cracks have widened in the cold– though it’s equally possible that it’s just my imagination. The thing I’m most concerned about is the hearth pad J. & I built for under the wood stove (stone tile, mortared to cement board, screwed to mineral fiber board and plywood.) That pad is subjected to greater extremes of temperature than anything in the house, and would seem prone to cracking anyway– yet, miraculously, no problems yet. I’m resigned to the idea that I may need to re-grout it, though.

      Can’t think of anything we have pushed up against an outside wall, but so far no mildew that I’ve noticed anywhere (excepting inside the shower stall, which I don’t think is abnormal, and one other minor exception, which I’ll post about at some point.) Pondering your comment, though, I think I’d prefer to have the dew point on the inside surface of the exterior walls, rather than in the middle of the exterior walls! In any case this brings up the question of humidity in our house, which J. and I have some disagreements about (e.g., do we use a “steamer” on the wood stove when it’s running, or not?) but so far, no hard data to support either position…

      • Bruce Says:

        This is a great experiment to check the mildew question. I caretake some properties which remain unheated in the winter and the smell in the spring is definitely noticeable. Perhaps the small amount of heating and air movement is enough to take care of the problem. As for the dew point issue, you want it in the middle of your exterior walls, assuming you have a vapor barrier preventing migration into the wall. That way the vapor stays a vapor and no condensation or mildew results.

  6. nancy Says:

    My husband and I have lived in a house in northern NY without central heating for more than 25 years. This mid-19th c struture never had a central heating plant and was always heated with stoves, first wood and then, briefly, coal. Originally there were at least three parlor stoves, plus a wood-fueled cookstove. We use only one modern air-tight woodstove (Vermont Castings Defiant, perhaps soon to be replaced with a Jotul Oslo) and a recently added ( 5 years ago) pellet stove.

    Our indoor temps (except within a few feet of the stoves, of course) are generally in the low 50’s to high 40’s in the downstairs in the day-time and 35-40 in the upstairs bedrooms which are distant from the heated spaces – though slept in daily.

    I’ve never noticed any problems with plastics misbehaving (though we don’t have a lot of them) nor any moisture condensation issues in the walls. It may help that we have no (modern) insulation within the walls. Instead the wall cavities are filled with double layers of plaster-on-wood lathe backplastering underneath the three-coat original plaster on the interior surfaces. This creates an unusually large thermal mass, which does buffer thermal changes to a degree. We stay warm for several weeks in the fall, but “pay” for that by having a very cold house until Memorial Day, unless I am extremely diligent about ventilation on any warm-ish days that we get in May.

    I am bemused that the idea of an “unheated’ house (meaning not centrally-heated) is getting so much attention since it seems very “normal” to us. We find it quite comfortable. To our minds an “unheated house” would be one with no heat at all – and, that does get old very fast!

    For those who are curious, we use about 3 full cords of wood and about 3 1/2 tons of pellets in a typical year to heat a 2,000 sq two story, wood framed structure.

    • coldhousejournal Says:

      ” I am bemused that the idea of an “unheated’ house (meaning not centrally-heated) is getting so much attention ”
      Yes yes, lots of people think this is laughable. Other people think we’re going to die without a furnace. Heck, no one else wanted to buy this house without a furnace… says something. But in any case, just to be clear, we don’t say we have “no heat”– and, frankly, no one who turns on a lightbulb or cooks food or takes a warm shower should say they have NO heat, either. We’re just trying to do with less, to see how it is. And, for the record, we didn’t have the wood stove until after Christmas… by which time most locals had had their furnaces running for a month or two…

  7. nancy Says:

    I wasn’t meaning to belittle your experience; actually I wanted to give you confidence that it can be done, as we have, for happy, comfortable decades.

    When you think about it, these 19th-c houses weren’t designed to be miserably cold. Even making allowances for different wardrobes, I’m sure the owners intended to be warm in the winter, if not “energy-efficient” or “up to normal temp” by our modern standards.

    I recall the consternation we faced from the mortgage bank when we purchased this farm: no central heat was a sticky issue. The sellers had installed electric baseboard heaters in some of the rooms. We kind of fudged the rest of the house by hanging additional ones in the other rooms. Of course, since there was no power on the second floor they weren’t exactly operational…… Since then most of appliances have been removed except for a core that would heat and maintain water pipes (we do have modern plumbing) if we ever had to leave the house for more than a day or two in the winter. I can’t recall the last time we used the few remaining electric basebord heaters.

    We’re not cold-temp purists though, because as you point out we do shower, cook, iron and use other marginal sources of heat. I have an ailing cat today who is confined to a large crate. He has both a heated pad to sleep on and small space heater in the room. Sometimes I warm up my bed with 30 minutes of a heating pad. And if we are ever too cold, we simply run a portable electric heater for a short period.

    Our reason for not proceeding to install central heat is based on not wanting to do unnecessary damage to the original – and still intact – fabric of this very old house. Almost every system would entail considerable upheaval.

    I also really like the atavistic experience of rekindling my fire every morning. (Of course, the pellet stove keeps itself going without anything more than being fed its kibble.) But the woodstove requires me to choose the right kindling, stir the coals just so, and begin the diurnal awakening cycle anew. As I am getting it going, I often think of the umpteen generations of women who re-fired their hearths in the morning: thinking of their days’ plans, what to eat, how the weather was going to be, etc. I like to feel that connection. I also really enjoy the connection that wood heating gives me to the daily weather and the seasonal progression. I like bringing extra supplies into the wood room ahead of a storm; it makes me feel safe no matter how worked-up the forecasters are. I like looking at my tidy, full woodricks outside; I can get really stressed when supplies run low. (Even though I prefer to keep at least three years of wood on hand, occasionally Life interferes and we burn through a year or two before I can get back to building up my stores.) And I really like the time in the spring when the pace of refilling the woodroom slows down and you know, without a doubt, that you have turned the corner on winter.

    The only tricky thing for us (both in our 60s) is whether we can continue like this, without central heat. My late mother-in-law (also a woodburner), reached a point where her mental faculties were beginning to get to the point where safely running a woodstove was in question. No question about it – you simply mustn’t be anything other than sharp as a tack if you plan to keep fire penned up in a box in your kitchen. I used to be a volunteer firefighter and one of the things I learned in training was that fire doesn’t see you as a community-minded, nice person. It just thinks you are lunch. One can have warm, fuzzy thoughts about one’s hearth, but to the flames you and your loved ones and all your stuff, and your house and your pets are simply fuel.

  8. susan Says:

    Humidity is our problem, not the cold or the warmth. We like all the temperatures, but our tiny bathroom that gets used by 3 people and just drips. I have to regularly wash it in bleach. I have Styrofoam on the inside of the toilet tank, and insulation on the outside, but it still drips. Towels surround the porcelain to try to keep things a bit neater. It is a new toilet, the old one dripped too, but getting this new one was a suggestion to stop the humidity. We have a fan that should take care of a bathroom 5 times it size, but then the fan pulls in cold air from the rest of the house. We have a little heater we have been running in the bathroom and have it set around 60. The room is about 20 sq feet including the tub, maybe less. THe rest of the house stays at whatever temperature it ends up at based on our activities inside, so somewhere between 35 F and 55 F usually in the winter, and 55 Fand 65 F in the summer. No heat in the rest of the house, don’t want it.I have been thinking of getting a dehumidifier, but hate to use the extra power. All the suggestions we have had so far is HEAT THE HOUSE!! Any suggestions?

    • coldhousejournal Says:

      Well, there is the crazy idea of heated toilet tanks… seem to be becoming popular lately. But again, I’m going to urge going the dehumidifier route. Ours uses 400W (when running), which is about the same as an average space heater set on “LOW”. But as I discussed recently, by reclaiming the heat in water vapor, a dehumidifier gives back more heat than the equivalent electricity consumed. This makes them a crappy idea in a room that’s both too warm and too humid, but a good idea in a humid room where extra heat is welcome.

      If you can possibly rig up some sort of a duct that sucks the air to the dehumidifier from ceiling-level, you’ll be amazed at how well it works.

  9. Ozarks Says:


    I commend your endeavor. I am curious: how much firewood have you gone through so far? I would think it is very little

    I also heat pretty much exclusively with firewood for close to 100% of my heating needs since 2005 but keep the house quite a bit warmer. (My spouse complains when the temp is in the low 60s).

    My next project is to scrap the water and sewer bill which will be rising to $120/mo. I am planning to design a system to capture rainwater and install a compost toilet.

    • coldhousejournal Says:

      “I am curious: how much firewood have you gone through so far?”
      We bought two cords. One we haven’t touched. The other, by eyeball, has at least 1/3 left. Maybe closer to 1/2. Keep in mind though that we didn’t start burning wood until Dec. 28th. Before that, we were just using a bit of space heaters. I plan to do a full round-up of heating BTU’s used, after the “heating” season ends.

      “scrap the water and sewer bill”
      Great idea!

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