Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Cold Folks in Maine

February 4, 2012

A poignant article in the New York Times yesterday about hard times for heating in Maine.  I don’t quite know where to start in commenting, so I won’t say much.  I feel bad for everyone in this story.  I wish Mr. Hartford had a wood stove.  You can see several years worth of heating fuel right on his property… in the shape of trees.  And of course a Lincoln Town Car isn’t the best choice of vehicle if one is trying to conserve petroleum.  And I wish Mr. Libby had a way to help that didn’t either run his business into the ground, or run Mr. Hartford deeper into debt.  Overall I think the reference to oil “addiction” is an apt one– though I’d expand it to “heat addiction” or even “energy addiction” in general.   The current situation is not good.

We’re on track to use about $400 worth of total heating energy this winter (if we had bought our wood commercially).

Proud to be in the 2%!

January 23, 2012

That is, the 2% of U.S. households that heat primarily with wood– according to this article in the news yesterday.

We kind of had a chuckle, though, reading about the featured Maine homeowner who cut his heat bill in half after he “turned to wood”– but still is spending $2,500 a winter on heat.  Egads!!  That’s almost 10 times what we now spend (even if you assumed we were paying for our firewood– which lately we haven’t, since it’s been scrounged.)   And down at the end of the article, another fellow quotes the consumption for his 1,400 sq ft house (same as ours) as 3-4 cords of wood (3 times what we burn) PLUS $600-700 of propane!  Wow. 

It has been relatively warm in our house this winter compared to the previous two– partly that’s because November was record-warm, and December almost so, and partly it’s because we have been a bit less hard-core.  But judging from this article, we’re still totally off the curve for how we deal with winter.  Lately it’s been in the mid-to-high-40’s each morning in the house, which I guess most people consider incompatible with survival.  I’ll throw up some charts and graphs soon.  Overall, though, our “warm zone” has averaged about 58F since late October, but that number is gradually dropping.  I don’t think we’ll hit last winter’s overall average of 52F, but might reach 55 or so.

Outside the Shock Zone

October 5, 2011

I have to tell you, it is a pleasant feeling to read stories such as this one, about heating oil prices being up 32% (84¢ / gallon) over last year, and realize that the news will not directly affect me at all.  An acquaintance (who I believe lives alone) posted on her Facebook page that she expects this increase in oil price will cost her an extra $800 for heating this winter.  Algebra suggests that her total oil bill will thus be somewhere over $3,000– a number which just about gives me apoplexy.  Anyway, she is shocked, and I would be too.  Indeed, I was shocked, three autumns ago, when oil was close to $4/gallon— so shocked that I didn’t turn on the furnace until New Year’s, and started a new, and rather liberating, way of winter life.  My sympathies go out to everyone who is looking at these numbers, looking at their furnaces, looking at their paychecks, then looking at real estate in South Carolina.  But I have some hope that a few may be sufficiently jolted that they start to look instead at other options for living more sustainably here in beautiful New England– “radical” as the options may be.

Money Down The Toilet? Up The Chimney?

February 4, 2011

Here’s a story from Maine this morning about the phase-out of a federally-funded local “efficiency” program.  The Green Energy Alliance aimed, in theory, at improving the heating efficiency of homes around here, but in reality, seems to have spent a lot of money to achieve not a great deal.  Specifically, they completed “200 energy audits and help complete 50 home retrofits”, and in doing so spent $355,836.

Okay, honestly, I don’t know if that’s a reasonable or unreasonable amount so spend for that particular amount of work.  What I do feel pretty strongly about, though, is that even when it is managed well, the effort and and money thrown at “retrofitting” and “weatherizing” and, here, “homeowner coaching” towards the same, is mostly a rather inefficient way of reducing heating fuel use– the exception being the odd house that is truly horridly underinsulated– I mean, like, zero insulation left between the studs, holes in the windows, that kind of thing.  Barring those situations, I think the first forms of “coaching” homeowners (and renters) should be aimed at changing behavior, rather than renovating houses.  Specifically, I’d tell people to:

1)  Strongly consider moving to a smaller place, especially if your kids have grown up and left, or you don’t have any.

2)  If you can’t or don’t want to move, strongly consider living in less of your house in the winter.  Heat only what you need.

3)  If your house is too big, and for some reason you can’t or don’t want to heat only part of your house, consider getting a housemate.

4)  Try living at lower temps.  Try it.  Do it.

Also, I can tell you this definitively:  That money spent by the Green Energy Alliance would’ve heated our house for over 1,000 years.  Or, looked at differently, it could’ve heated the homes of 1,000 people this winter– if they agreed to follow steps 1-4 above.


February 4, 2011

I’m proud to report that for the first time in a long while we have officially lived through a colder-than-normal month here in Portland, Maine— and, to boot, it was January, which is, on average, the coldest of our months.

This doesn’t give me much consolation on the bigger question of global warming, but it gives me a bit of optimism about my own ability to modify my (and maybe others’) behavior to help prevent it.

Maine Heating Trends

January 3, 2011

An interesting article today on home heating trends in our fair state, with the upshot being that wood is on the rise and oil on the decline.  Huzzah!  There’s also some interesting history in the article– for example, that before WWII the majority of Maine homes were heated with wood.  One thing I’ll have to disagree with, though.  The author states that “Decades ago, Mainers were more willing and able to lug cordwood.  That ability may be diminishing with the state’s aging population.”  In my observation, the older the Mainer, the more likely he (or she) is to be burning wood.  It’s more about the “willing”, and less about the “ability”.  The old-timers were a whole lot tougher than the new-timers, I think.

Cold Library Journal

January 23, 2010

An astute friend spotted this article a few weeks back (also from the Times) which discussed the temperature in New York City’s public libraries.  As you will read, in Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island, there are contracts which promise compensation to library employees for any periods of time that the temperature falls below 68º.  I am not making this up.

When the reporter went around to a few library branches to check their actual temps, he found they ranged from 73 to 79º.  I cannot imagine trying to stay awake reading a book in a room artificially heated to almost 80.  For that I would demand comp time!

Also in this article we learn that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers “suggests buildings maintain temperatures of 67 to 82 degrees for ‘comfort purposes.’ ”  82?  For reals?  The only voices of reason quoted are the government of the UK, which describes “reasonable” workplace temperatures as “at least 16 degrees Celsius, or a hair below 61 degrees Fahrenheit”, and President Jimmy Carter who asked us all to turn our thermostats down to no higher than 65 by day, and “much lower” at night.  Where did this sensibility go?


January 16, 2010

Ah, the famed “January thaw”.  Here it is, right on schedule– smack in the mid of January, the temperature went up to about 38 yesterday and 42 today.  Feels like spring!  J. was inside yesterday, and probably didn’t notice the warming outdoors– the wood stove snuck up on her and it got almost to 70 inside.  Yikes!  Now we’re back to a more-respectable 62º– but it’s still 34 outside, even after dark.  Might have to leave the windows open if it’s this warm again tomorrow.

Ironically, this should be coldest week of the year…. see next post.


December 22, 2009

Predictably, the recent local TV news story about the Cold House—  in spite of being only about 70 seconds long– unleashed a string of vitriolic commentary.  I will take a moment to respond to them:

“I am not impressed. If you are eco-friendly you would probably not use electric to heat your home with space heaters or electric blankets. Don’t these people know that it requires fuel to produce electric? Why not invest in a wood burning stove, they heat an entire home and it is efficient.”

Thanks for the tips.  Now finally I know where electricity comes from!  Before I thought maybe it was the Electricity Fairy.  Seriously, though, possibly you are ignorant of the fact that close to half of Maine’s electricity comes from wood, wood waste, and hydro (according to the Department of Energy).  And you seem to completely miss the point that using a space heater or electric blanket here and there is vastly more efficient than keeping every corner of your house hot with a furnace.  As far as a wood stove– yes, we’re putting one in.  However, even the very small stove we’re installing needs to burn at a minimum rate of at least 20,000 BTU/hour  or so in order to keep itself efficient and keep the chimney clean.  That’s about four times the heat output of the space heater we’ve been using in the living area.  In other words, it’s more heat than we’ve needed, so far.

“I am not impressed either….they still use electricity which comsumes resources, sometimes even more than gas heating….really people, get over yourself!”

So sorry you are not impressed either.  Please rest assured that we are over ourself (?).  As far as your suggestion that electricity “sometimes” uses more resources than a gas furnace, I agree.  It would, if we were using electric heaters the way people use gas furnaces: to keep their whole house at 68º, or even to keep various “zones” in a range from 56º to 68º.  If people could (and then did) use gas heat to heat one room at a time as needed, and keep those rooms well below “normal” temps, then yes, it would be better than electric.  But most heating systems don’t allow that level of control, and most people wouldn’t do it anyway.

“Doesn’t using additional electricity for space heaters and electric blankets defeat their blow hardy purpose? Give me a break! They haven’t given up anything. Congrats on your 15 minutes… clearly that was all you were after. haha Can’t even believe this made news.”

Look buddy.  The electric blanket puts out 614 BTU/hr for the 30 minutes we have it on “high” nightly, then 150 BTU/hr for the rest of the night on “low”.  Compare this to the recommended-sized furnace for our house, which is 88,000 BTU/hr, and you will get a sense of how silly you are being.  As for “haven’t given up anything”, compared to most people (you?) we have given up about 25º in our bedroom when we wake up in the morning, and about 14º around the house most of the day.  It’s not nothing.  As for fame: I’ll take it.  But we didn’t call the TV people– they called us.

“we’ll probably read in the paper that the house has burned down next…so many nuts around ….obviosuly the squirrels didn’t gather them all this fall.”

Wow.  Thanks for the comment.  Remind me not to invite you over when you run out of oil.

“keep useing those will be back in the news (FIRE DESTORIES FALMOUTH HOME)”

Nice.  Merry Christmas to you too, friend.  BTW, we give free spelling lessons here on Thursday evenings if you care to drop by.  But destorying the house isn’t a bad idea– we could probably get by with just one floor.  I’ll take it under advisement.


December 14, 2009

J. and I were interviewed by USA Today last week for their story “Households take up challenge to be chilly“, and we got a little mention at the end of the article. (You might be concerned about the idea of using hot water bottles and electric blankets together in bed– please rest assured that we did not have these operating at the same time. And, we’ve since discontinued the water bottle use anyway.)

The comments on the USA Today article range from encouraging to extremely frightening. There is a large contingent of Americans who openly oppose energy conservation, efficiency, simplicity, and anything else that makes them think there is a socialist conspiracy against them. They left comments like these:

“Stupid. These idiotic greenies won’t be happy until we ALL return to the horse and buggy. Funny thing about these eco freaks is that they are not happy to just do it themselves. They insist that everyone join their ridiculous ‘religion’.” [I am happy doing it myself. Did I even invite you? I did not.]

“Other than cost reduction, why do I need to conserve if I have the means to pay for the energy use?” [I don’t know. Why do I need to not shoot you, if I have the spare bullets?]

“There you go. Lower our standard of living one household at a time! Obama’s trickle up poverty in action.”

“Well, I guess I’m just an old curmudgeon. I keep the house at 71 throughout the heating season and that’s as low as I will go. Sell crazy somewhere else; we’re all stocked up here.” [So I see.]

“These people are just useful idiots!” [Uh- thanks? Or did you mean useless? U can haz high school?]

“As far as running one’s house without a furnace, that’ll continue until someone’s in-wall plumbing freezes and splits a pipe. [In-exterior-wall plumbing is foolish in places where it routinely gets below freezing outside. But see post coming soon on the topic of pipes.]

“People arent the ones making the planet warmer, deal with it. The earth is a large volcanic eruption away from blocking out the sun, I bet if we throw enough liberals in one, itll get angry and erupt. Maybe then they will be happy.” [So global warming is the only reason you can think of for not burning as much oil as we possibly can? Really, you can’t think of one other reason?]

“I’ll do what I want with my heat until this dictator Ozama his new Heating Czar takes my furnance out of my house! This community dis-organizer and his band of moorons has basically overstepped its’ boundaries at every turn. Just say NO to socialism in America (Chicago style) to take your country back!” [Must I comment on this?]

“How about maintaining some common sense and keeping the temperature inside the house at a normal level? My neighbor has all kinds of insulation on his pipes… I don’t have any. I don’t need any. I keep my inside house temperature at a normal level and I have no problems.” [This guy is proud of his lack of insulation? I am not sure this could get any more effed up.]

“My house I will do as I want! Again my house until the democrats send teams around to check my thermostat or have the utilities turn it down automatically.” [My toy! You no touch! I don’t wanna share! Baaaaah!]

“These people are probably the same people who are hyper-milers who go around with their cars coasting down hills in neutral (to save money of course) – which in turn is not only illegal but puts other at risks. If you want to be efficient to that extreme then go for it… just don’t affect my life with that.” [Not sure how I am affecting this guy’s life with my house temperature, other than maybe saving some oil for his grandkids to burn in 2040. Also, this guy is probably the same guy who drives a monster SUV or king-cab “dualie” pickup, just to impress people, meanwhile endangering the lives of everyone on bikes, on foot, and in smaller cars…]


“This is just more faux environmentalism that makes people feel like they are doing something (in this case freezing their bu++s off) when in fact they are doing nothing. It’s like people that take these so-called eco-tours or eco-cruises.” [??]

“screw that. I think I’ll turn up my thermostat a bit to make up for these yahoos trying to reduce their “carbon footprint” I would like to see a contest built around who can generate the most carbon dioxide per person.” [Hope you aren’t procreating.]

“Wow, that looks like tons of fun. Huddling around the TV while shivering in your own home.” [What TV? And, more fun in my home than in yours, I’m guessing.]