Archive for the ‘General updates’ Category

Firing Down

March 7, 2010

The big day is here.  Things have already been winding down– I’ve been away since Wednesday, but J. reports only one fire since then, and that  only because she was hosting a cupcake-decorating party yesterday.  But today is the last scheduled fire* (to warm the house a bit for a baby shower event.)  (Would you accept an invitation to a baby shower at this place?  These are brave people.)

It’s 36º out this morning, but sunny, and the kitchen is still holding the cupcake-fire-heat well at 55º.  The forecast for the next 10 days is showing highs generally around 44º, and lows around 33º.  We should be fine from here out.  I’ll post a summary of our whole-winter heating-fuel usage soon.

(* As previously noted, possible exception to be made in the case of a big snowstorm.  But alas, nothing of the sort in sight.)

Nearing The End – Who’s In?

March 2, 2010

The big swirling storm that lingered around here for the past five days has finally blown itself out to sea.  With the clouds gone this morning, I noticed another landmark towards warmer living: for the first time since we moved here, the sun is obliquely eeking in through the north-facing windows.  Huzzah!  It’s 30º outside, 50º in the kitchen, and there’s been no fire in the stove in over 36 hours.

This is all good news as we approach the end of semi-heating season.  The cut-off for the wood stove is scheduled for this Sunday (March 7).  We might not need it in the interim at all, except when the party of expectant mothers etc. is going on, but J’s going to be home more than I am so it’s in her hands.

Anyway, we want to know who else will join for the Great Heat Shut-Off!  Basically, you just need to turn off your furnace, or shut off your thermostat, or stop feeding your wood stove, or whatever it is you have.  And put away your space heaters. Simple as that.  Take the poll, and leave a comment/pledge.

(If you’re not sure whether your location is colder or warmer than coastal Maine, you can use this map, or find the mean March temperature for your location– here is is 34ºF / 1ºC)


February 25, 2010

The weather is altogether unpleasant, with a big wet nor’easter swarming down and drowning us in cold rain.  We could really use a nice snowstorm, but what we’ve got is 39º, 35 mph wind, and pelting water.  The basement is flooding, the entryway is flooding, my shoes flooded.  There are no redeeming features.  The whole house has equilibrated at about 49º.

J. and I have been discussing when the official end of “heating season” will be declared (last year, it was March 1.)  Things are a little different this year, since we don’t have a furnace to ceremoniously flip off.  We disagree a bit on when fire should stop– I’d probably be fine with last week, while J. might prefer late March.  She has proposed March 7 (she is hosting a baby shower here that day, so sooner is probably out of the question) with the stipulation that we could have a fire later if we get a snow storm (I think that would be more for the comforting aesthetic than the actual heat.)  I have pretty much acquiesced, though I may counter-stipulate that any such fires will be made with kindling only.  I’m trying to have wood left to get through next winter, too.


February 20, 2010

Sorry for the disappearance.  I forgot to mentiont that we were going on a little four-night vacation.  Yes, it was warmer were we went… maybe too warm!  But when mom, dad, brother, sister in law, niece and nephew are all gathered in one place, and you want to see them all, well, that’s where you have  to go.  Even if it is on a beach in the sun.

Before we left it was forecast to be “warm” enough here (highs in mid-30’s, lows in low-20’s) that I would’ve been quite comfortable leaving the house to its own devices while away, but the kitties would’ve been unhappy without some company. So we had a very brave housesitter, one of J.’s classmates, who was strangely eager to experience the Cold House.  She seems to have survived (she is a native Mainer, I’m sure that helps).  Got me thinking that maybe we should start marketing our place as some sort of “adventure” or “reality” B&B.  Charge big bucks for a cold night.  Like people who pay to spend the night in an igloo, or an ice hotel.

Anyway, we’re back.  It’s 47º in here this morning.

Graphical Interface

February 2, 2010

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!


January 23, 2010

What a good day it’s been.  An old friend came through town last night unexpectedly and stayed over, so we got to have waffles and coffee with him this morning.  Later we went out to cross-country ski on our gorgeous new snow, under bluebird skies.  We had homemade naan and black bean soup for supper.  We got to be on national TV– twice in one day!– and had the pleasure of reading a whole bunch of comments from people doing similar (in many cases, more impressive and inspiring) things.  Now it’s 13ºF outside, and the cats are circling for bedtime.

Post-Storm Sunday Morn

January 3, 2010

This morning it’s not especially cold out (27ºF/-3ºC), but a tad chillier than usual down in the kitchen and living area (48F/9c) in spite of being unusually warm inside (?62) when we went to bed.  The house doesn’t usually cool off that fast, but we did have high, stormy winds overnight which probably explains it (also, we slept in a lot later than usual.)  The good news is that the new chimney did not collapse in the blow (there were some doubts.)

We’ve pretty much renounced the space heaters since getting the wood stove installed– I have one heater plugged in to the portable programmable thermostat, set to 45º just in case.  (In case what?  Hm.  I guess in case I slip into a hypothermic coma here in the house, and so fail to keep the stove running– at least then the space heater will keep the pipes from bursting until my heirs can take possession of the house.)

Admittedly, though, this wood stove is seducing us into a bit more warmth than we’ve been used to.  It takes a while to heat up 300lbs of iron and the 50lbs of stone under it, but once that happens, it starts getting warm in here.  The problem is that for safety, efficiency, and emissions minimization, the stove has to burn at a certain minimum temperature of about 300-400ºF. But keeping the stove even just at 300º, consistently, takes the living areas up into the low- or even mid-60’s.  And I tell you, once it gets above 62 or 63 in here, I start getting drowsy and overheated.  It actually got to 66 at one point last week– I had to start pulling clothing off, and take a break out in garage until things cooled down.  This could all be fixed by taking down the quilt that keeps heat from going upstairs, or putting in a ventilation grate up to the bedroom– but that all seems backwards.

I love using the wood stove, though.  What it lacks in instant gratification, it makes up for in simplicity, beauty, and a tangible connection to the fuel that is keeping us warm[ish].  I love seeing the wood pile and admiring the uniqueness of each log as it goes into the fire.  I get to notice and envision what kind of tree each came from– oak, birch, beech– and I almost catch myself expressing gratitude to the trees for their help.  You don’t get that emotional connection to oil or propane.

Also, I love seeing the oil and propane delivery trucks driving in and out of the neighborhood, and knowing that none of them will be stopping at my house.

This Morning

December 30, 2009

Outside this morning: 7ºF/-13ºC

In the bedroom: 44º

In the kitchen: 48º

In the cellar cold spot: 40º

In the guest room where the space heater is (J’s mom staying over): unknown– not polite to monitor guests.

Confession: I did just light a fire.  But I’ll be leaving for work before I get any benefit from it.


December 29, 2009

Boy, it can be hard dealing with some of the critics of the Cold House experiment (and by “critics”, I mostly mean “my friends”).   Over the past few weeks, several pals have said ,”You know, I don’t think you really want to keep your house cold– you just want to be energy-efficient” (this in response to our installing a wood stove).  Others have said, “You know, I don’t think you really want to be energy-efficient– you just want your house to be cold and weird” (this in response to my not installing geothermal heating, or a pellet stove, or applying more insulation to the house before starting all this.)

It’s not so black-and-white here, people.  We’re trying to save some energy.  We’re trying to use more-renewable energy.  We don’t mind (almost like) the house chilly.  We’re don’t have a furnace, ducts, heating water pipes, steam pipes, thermostat wiring, “zones”, or permanent radiators, and we’re interested to see whether people can live a normal life without all that complex and expensive stuff– but that doesn’t mean we aren’t “allowed” to have a wood stove.   Lastly we (well, I) am interested in learning about human beings’  mental and physical ability to adapt to new environments– colder ones, particularly.  That’s it.


December 29, 2009

Just having breakfast while tending the second break-in fire of the Jøtul.  Two things I am sure of already:  (1) Our firewood is, mostly, in pieces much too large for our ideal use.  I’m going to have to split a lot of it down into semi-kindling, or we’re going to be roasting ourselves out of the house (i.e., getting up towards 70º).  (2)  Even though we only have two cords of wood, it’s going to be way too much wood for one winter, and probably too much for two winters.  I suppose there are worse problems a person could have.