Archive for the ‘Heroes’ Category

Tipi Heroes

January 25, 2013

Okay, these people, who reportedly habitually sleep out in a tipi all winter, considerably further north in Maine than us, are definitely hard-core and definitely qualify as Heroes of the Cold House (or, cold native-style shelter, as it were.)  I can’t fully commend them on their overall efforts at lowering their environmental impact (unless quite a few of their 11 kids are adopted), but for sure they deserve admiration for trying out this way of life.  (Also, I can commend them on managing life with 11 kids, which boggles my mind much more than their cold-tipi-sleeping…)

I can’t really compare our lifestyle to theirs, but our sleeping plans are a bit similar.  They mention using an electric blanket, which is also a critical part of our strategy for sleeping in an unheated bedroom.  Our bedroom, though, at least has solid walls, and rarely goes down into the 30F range– while their’s must routinely go well below freezing, if not below 0F.

Actually, it’s not quite clear in the story whether they use fire inside the tipi– in the video clip, Mrs. Winters (great name) says they never have heat in the tipi– but in other photos, you see her wheeling some very large pieces of firewood towards the tipi, with mention that Mr. Winters “had started a fire inside”.  And in another photo, you see a small fire in the tipi.  But they appear to have two tipis, so maybe one is a hang-out tipi where they have fires, and the other is for sleeping and totally unheated?  It would seem considerably unpleasant to sleep in a tipi with a smoky wood fire burning inside– hard to imagine they would be doing that.

Anyway, I’m hoping we might get an invitation to go visit.  Also, this reminds me of an idea I had last winter:  to build an igloo in our yard, and offer overnights in it via Airbnb.  Also, I note a great advantage of their sleeping arrangement:  they are very unlikely ever to be infested with bed bugs, which can’t survive prolonged sub-freezing temps.


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.

We’re Not Worthy

March 4, 2011

You know, if you’re ever cold and feeling sorry for yourself, or just plain cold, or for that matter even just plain feeling sorry for yourself, one way to put it all in perspective is to spend a little time reading or re-reading an account of the Shackleton Expedition. I did this the other night.  I was left, as always, feeling that the men involved in that undertaking must’ve been an entirely different species of animal from me.  Truly makes you feel warm, dry, safe and secure.

In other news, J. was away last night, leaving me to my own devices.  The wood stove was not one of them.  And it was a cold night (so much for my prediction that we were done with single digit lows.)  So, it was pretty chilly shaving this morning.  Like, 36º.  I thought of Shackleton.  I thought of sliding into a rotting, ice-encrusted, reindeer “sleeping bag” in the bow of a 20-foot boat pitching among icebergs in the dark in the southern ocean.  I felt fine.

Cold Backyard People

January 27, 2011

I’m not sure whether these people are “my people” or not.  But I think they probably are.  I have to confess that for all the being-in-the-house-in-the-cold we’ve done, we do very little being-in-the-yard-in-the-cold.  I really can’t abide the idea of an outdoor propane heater, with all those BTU’s spending just a few scant seconds warming your body before going on to warm the planet– but the idea of “sitting out in the snow, drinking a Scotch and watching the sunset” is appealing, as is the concept of a cold-frame winter (or, at least, early spring) garden.

This we do have in common with the folks interviewed for the article: ““The difference between summer entertaining and winter entertaining is less people.”

More History

March 9, 2010

Reviewing the WordPress data for this blog, I find that many people arrive here after Googling phrases such as “how keep cold house warm”, “how cold too cold for cats”, or “heat bathroom with tub water”.   This is all very expected.  Today, however, I find that one reader stumbled on Cold House Journal after Googling “Where did Thoreau go potty”.

Fascinating.  I have mentioned Thoreau, but I don’t think I have used the word “potty” in any post, so I’m not sure how my blog got linked with this important question.  But since it has arrived at my doorstep, I’ll take a stab at it.  My first inclination is to answer, half tongue-in-cheek, “At Emerson’s house”– and this was likely often true.  While at Walden Pond I imagine he might have had an outhouse, but probably just went in the woods– I don’t recall any mention of outhouse-building in Walden, and it would seem unlike him to devote labor and materials to building a little palace to “go potty” in.  On thing’s for sure– he didn’t waste any heat with a flushing toilet.

Today, about 600,000 people (roughly the entire population of Massachusetts, in Thoreau’s day) visit Walden annually.  In homage to Thoreau, many of these visitors continue the tradition of crapping near, or possibly even in, the water.  Leading to problems.

Uh, Hi?

January 21, 2010

Wow– thanks to the New York Times for their mention of this humble blog in today’s article about cold-living people.  And hello to the first-time visitors who’ve dropped by as a result.

I have to say, though, that some of the other folks profiled in the article really make us look like wusses.  Building a yurt in the living room, though… now that’s a great idea.

Heroes of the Cold House, Part III

December 14, 2009

I’m giving a Hero award this week to a fellow named Windrider, a self-described “shamelessly unreconstructed hippie”, who left the following comment on the USA Today article linked in the previous post:

“It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to participate in this since I have no furnace at all, despite living in Ohio where it *can* get kinda nippy, especially last week when it was sub-zero weather with the wind. However, when I lost my house and settled for an old single-wide trailer that I could buy outright, it had no furnace. The previous owners had taken out their propane furnace last winter because it was costing them over $400/month to keep the small trailer at 65. I have an electric fireplace in the living room, a space heater and wall-mounted gel fuel fireplace in the bedroom. The study is closed off right now until I can have a new circuit run to that room, where I will also use an electric fireplace and gel fuel fireplace. While last week was quite cold, the trailer never got colder than 60 degrees in the living room and 64 in the bedroom (which felt much warmer due to the low ceiling and size of the room). I have adapted pretty well to being a little cooler and wearing a few more clothes, and am actually warmer here than in my old two-story stick house where my gas bill was often $400 or more PLUS an electric bill of $150+. My total electric bill here, which covers ALL utility needs, has been less than $125/month regardless of whether I was running two ACs or the fireplace and cyclonic heater.

We can all find ways to do better with less while it’s still quasi-optional. In another generation or two, being very energy-frugal may be mandatory just to survive. Because sooner or later, the oil and the gas and the coal WILL run out and given our unwillingness to prepare for those times in advance, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be a lot less warm in the winter than we are.”

Good for you, Windrider. Small house, dividing your living space up to heat only what you need, thinking about the future and the great-grandkids. I’m sorry you came to this through the tragedy of losing your house, but you seem to be finding silver linings.

No-Heat Challenges

December 8, 2009

There was an informative article a few weeks back in the New Jersey Star-Ledger about “no-heat” challenges, in which packs of loonies band together in an attempt to outlast each other before flipping on the furnace in the autumn (or winter, as the case may be.) I will nominate the various people who organize such challenges as Heroes of Cold House Journal– they include Fern over at Wild Blue Yonder, Deanna at Crunchy Chicken, and probably many others. I’m pretty sure that I lack the charisma to actually attract/motivate/brainwash hordes of others into joining in on my experiment (I did try– made a Facebook page last year for the purpose– a dozen or more friends “joined”, but most openly confessed they were only following along to mock me.) Anyway, I’m glad there are people out there who are actually organizing others to try living less-hot.

I was interested (and a bit amused) to read in the article that Fern, even while organizing a Challenge, had herself “dropped out in mid-October.” The article reported that “She and her two cats were just too cold in their Connecticut house.” Fern was quoted as saying “My indoor temperature was about 56, and that was as cold as I could get… You’re only human.” Amusing only because early-to-mid-October is when average (normal, non-no-heat-challenge-participating) people around here (Maine) seem to start turning their heat on. This furthers my evolving belief that what you tolerate as “comfortable” temperature-wise has a lot to do with your expectations, what you see going on around you, and what you’re accustomed to. I have absolutely no doubt that 56º feels colder in Connecticut than it does in Maine, and colder still in Maryland.

Also, along the same lines, after a week or two of dank, rainy, 50ish degree weather here, we finally returned to seasonally normal weather. Now there’s snow on the ground and it’s a crisp 24º outside. And I can report that 52º inside definitely feels warmer this week than it did last week– I think because, in comparison to outside, it is.

Heroes Of The Cold House, #2: Simon, Damiana and Lulu Hare

October 26, 2009

You don’t know them, but the Hares are planning to get through this winter in Boston with no active heating at all. If they succeed, that’s 59 days of furnace-use better than we were able to do at the Cold House last winter. They do have some things going for them: for one, they’ve built a house specifically for the purpose, super-insulated and ultra-tight with counter-current ventilation heat exchangers and other high-tech-ness (here, we don’t even have insulation in the ceiling yet… but you know, we did pretty good still.) For another advantage, they live 85 miles south (every little bit helps there.) But still, it’s going to be an impressive feat.

The comments on the Boston Globe article linked above are worth reading. Many people think they are endangering the life of their child; some threatened to call DHS. Relax, people. I grew up sleeping in an unheated third-floor bedroom in Boston. Until I was five or six, it didn’t have so much as a ventilation grate to the less-cold room below. It was frigid in there. But I survived. And moved north.

Anyway, way to go Hares. I hope I’ll be able to find some follow-up about your experiences this winter.

Heroes Of The Cold House, #1: Dan Sullivan

October 22, 2009

Last month the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, Dan Sullivan, announced the launch of a “three-tiered alert system” designed to conserve natural gas in the event the city faces a sudden shortfall in supply during the winter (which, for various reasons, is apparently not all that improbable.) Under the scheme, the usual status is “Green”, in which residents may feel free to use/waste as much gas as they like. Should a “Yellow Alert” be announced, however, residents are asked to (voluntarily) turn their thermostats down to 65º (!!), turn their heated garages down to 40º (!!), and reduce the temperature of their hot water. If things get really dire, there could be a “Red Alert”, at which time “thermostats should be set to 60 degrees” and “household activities should be consolidated into as few rooms as possible”.

Here at the Cold House, we spent pretty much all of last winter under a state of “Red Alert” (with the exception that we didn’t turn off our hot water) and were none the worse for it. In fact most of our house was well below 60º, most of the time. As you may remember, we turned our large-ish kitchen into a semi-insulated “bunker”, in which we did most of our living. Our bedrooms and bathrooms were essentially unheated. We had the hot water turned off altogether for about 20 hours of each day.

But Alaskans are already dubious about doing this, even in an emergency. One intrepid Anchorage columnist did test out the idea a couple weeks ago, turning his thermostat down to 61 while watching TV for the night. He didn’t enjoy it much, and neither did a visiting friend who “did little but whine about the cold house”. After the trial, he was highly skeptical that even supposedly-hardy Alaskans would ever voluntarily turn down their thermostats to 65, let alone 60– noting (accurately) that “many Americans find 68 a sacrifice”. His suggestion was that all residents should, instead, be encouraged to build an “Alasaka panic room”– a super-insulated retreat within the house that can be heated to toasty temps by a wood stove. Not a bad idea.

Further evidence of extreme psychological resistance to the idea of living with less warmth showed up in the comments posted to news articles on the mayor’s announcement. One character wrote: “They’ll have to pry my cold dead hands from the ‘HOT’ shower faucet!!! The colder it gets the more gas I’m gonna use, it may be the only way we get more gas.” Sadly for our collective future, the prevailing sentiment has been to say eff the conservation experiment. Or worse.

Undaunted, however, the city of Anchorage decided to go ahead with a test-run of the program last night, asking residents to turn down their heat to 65º, turn down their water heaters to “warm”, and not do laundry. For a whole two hours. From 6pm to 8pm. You might picture Alaska as already frozen solid this time of year, but in reality the temperature at the time of the test was about 40º–just about the same as it was here in Maine– so if someone’s house started at 70º, two hours probably wasn’t even enough time for it to get to 65º, let alone suffer long at that temperature.

The internet comments following the announcement of the trial-run were predictably oppositional. One mom wrote “My thermostat has been on 62 degrees all day. Of course, when I get back home, I am going to turn my heat back up. Let’s think realistically here.” Another wrote “GET MORE GAS FOOLS!”. A third reported “I farted in a jar tonight to save gas.” One fellow, clearly an outcast, did note that “somewhere a long-gone sourdough is laughing his butt off because people in anchorage are whining about 65 degrees”. But his attitude was in the minority.

Anyway, the results of the test are pending. But whatever they are, I say: way to go, Anchorage, for at least suggesting it’s possible for people to exist without tropical temperatures in the winter. And I am nominating Dan Sullivan for the first Heroes Of The Cold House award. (P.S. Mr. Sullivan: we kept our heat off last night. All night.)