Archive for the ‘Stragegies’ Category

Just Keepin’ On

February 22, 2013

Not much news here at the Cold House.  Apart from the blizzard (which I refuse to call “Nemo”) it’s been a fairly average winter, weather-wise.  I’ve settled into a routine of small fires in the eves, none in the morning, the usual.  With the sun inching higher each day it has become worthwhile opening the blinds on the south side of the house in the morning and closing them at night.  A couple times already the house has been a few degrees warmer when I get home from work than it was when I left– a sure sign that winter’s grip has been broken.  The downstairs overall-average temp since October has settled right around 52.0°F (11°C), and it’s unlikely to budge much from there for the rest of the season.

One new activity I’ve been enjoying this winter is riding my bike on a trainer.  I put it in the living room, where I can watch inspirational bike videos on the TV and crank up the music.  At normal indoor temperatures I find riding a trainer unpleasant– I sweat buckets.  But if I come home and the house is, say, 45F, that’s perfect.  Half an hour on the trainer and I feel pleasantly warmed up (more than half an hour, I actually have to aim a fan at myself to keep cool.)  Plus, it heats up the room a little!  Can’t say it’s a significant contribution, but the magnetic friction gizmo does get pretty warm.  I’d guess an hour on the trainer is good for 0.5 kWh or so of heat to the house.

Heatless Mid-week

January 11, 2013

A combination of factors came together this week, leading me to use no heat whatsoever for a span of 4 days– an unusual mid-January state even in this house.  The factors were:

– Above-average temps (highs 35-40F, lows 20-25)

– Above-average sunshine

– Above-average laziness on starting a fire

– Above-average use of bike trainer (warms you up fast, even in a cold house!)

So, no fire from Sunday night to Thursday night:Untitled

Ran into a couple of problems, after having the house this cool for this long.  For one, the liquid dish soap solidified and became impossible to get out of the bottle.  It is an all-natural product… mainstream dish soap brands probably have chemical emulsifliquifactifying agents that prevent this.  Maybe I have to store it on top of the water heater or something.

Second, the contents of the freezer (above the fridge) started to thaw.  This is ironic, the idea that your house can be too cold for your freezer to work, but in our cheapo fridge I’m pretty sure the freezer only turns on when/if the fridge turns on– it has no separate temperature controller.  So if the house is cold, the fridge barely runs, and after a few days, the freezer starts to nudge above freezing.  Obviously this isn’t good.  I turned the fridge down a little (it was set rather on the warm side) and that seems to have cured the problem.

Overall average temperature so far this winter now stands at 52.5 F…

Guest Post From Japan!

January 9, 2012

A little while back I had an email from New Englander Michelle Nagai.  She and her husband, Kenta, recently moved to one of the colder regions of Japan.  She was initially feeling dismayed as winter came on and the house got colder and colder, but seemed to be taking an intrepid approach.  I invited her to write a “guest entry” for Cold House Journal, and it just arrived!  (Photos by hubby.)

A Japanese Cold House

Greetings from Northeastern Japan. A while back, I contacted Cold House Journal after waking up one morning to a brisk 48˚ in the living room of the Japanese house I share with my husband and five-year-old son (since then we’ve gone as low as 38˚ — but who’s counting, anyway…).

Having grown up in New Hampshire and Vermont, I am a pretty hearty person and I don’t generally need to be super-heated, but I must admit I freaked out just a bit as the temperatures here started dropping. So I contacted CHJ to ask if I should worry about slipping into a hypothermic coma in my sleep…the calm and reassuring “no” that came back in response to my query inspired me to begin to think about my own cold house and the ways in which I respond to it, emotionally and physically.

The house we rent is thoroughly and unabashedly un-insulated and un-heated. The windows, which are abundant in every room, are single-glazed to allow maximum cold penetration. Looking up at the ceiling inside a dark closet, I can see little strips of light where gaps in the roofing allow the sunlight to penetrate. The paper shoji screens which cover most of the windows and serve as doors between rooms, rustle when the wind blows. Cold drafts of air shoot into the room when any curtain or door is opened.

It’s really cold in here. As a first cold-fighting measure, we’ve applied some “special” bubble wrap for insulating otherwise un-insulated glass [ed. note: we have used this strategy too]. It looks like regular bubble wrap except that the coating on one side is slightly slack, creating many little suction cup bubbles. These adhere nicely to the surface of the window because there is so much (more…)

Peripheral Central Heat

November 15, 2011

I love how with Google you can type in half a question, and see what via the “suggestions” what the most common related questions are.  For example, if you type in “Why are radiators”, you will see that although many people want to know why radiators are black (or white), and many want to know why radiators make noise, the #1 thing that puzzles people about radiators is: Why are they under windows?

It is indeed a good question.  Maybe your radiators aren’t under your windows.  But if you live in an older house, there’s a good chance they are.  As a dramatic example, is the living room of my friends’ S. & J.’s previous home in Portland (used without permission, because it’s past their bedtime):If you said, “But those radiators are just pouring heat out the windows!”, you’d probably be right.  So why put them there?  This is my hypothesis:  central heating was new and exciting, and for the first time it was possible to design a house so that every room, and indeed every part of every room, was virtually the same temperature.  I suspect people idealized a home where you could drift from cupboard to dining table to sofa to window-seat and not feel a “chill”.  To achieve that, to really even out the heat, the best place to put the heat source was right in coldest place– which, before the days of weatherstripping and triple-glazing,  was bound to be close to the windows.

This worked out well with the advent of coal and oil heat.  Until the 1970’s or so, fuel was relatively cheap and plentiful, and burning it was relatively easy.  Efficiency and conservation do not seem to have been the watchwords of the day.  But times have (more…)


March 18, 2011

Over 48 hours with no fire, and yet it’s 56º in the kitchen.  In fact today the house actually got warmer (5º) all by itself , which I think hasn’t happened since late October.  The snow is almost (not quite) gone, and the muck and grime begins.

I had this idea the other day about a sort of kotatsu that would be build around a big worm composter bin.  Not that we really produce enough veggie scraps to actually heat the house, no matter what way they are decomposed.

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.

Flaming Desserts

November 29, 2010

Made Bananas Foster (flambé) last night at some friends’ house.  The bottle comes with a lot of “DO NOT”s on the back– including “DO NOT USE THIS PRODUCT FOR FLAMING DISHES” (yeah, whatever)– but nowhere does it say “DO NOT USE FOR HOME HEATING”.  Idea…

Efficiency & Bathroom Humidity

January 27, 2010

Reader Frank recently commented:

“Another strategy that I’ve found useful is the proper use of the bathroom vent fan. I know the cfm rating of it and after figuring the size of the room determined that the fan is capable of completely exhanging ALL the air in the room in under two minutes! Excess humidity is no good either; the windows throughout the house frost up noticeably more when the fan doesn’t get used and interior humidity is too high. Anyway~ fan stays off during shower operations and gets flipped on for 1-2 minutes right after, and that’s it. Most of the humidity goes out, most of the heat stays in.”

This reminded me that I’ve been meaning to to discuss bathroom vents.  To start with my conclusion: unless you use them as Frank does (i.e., most judiciously) I think they are a horrible idea in winter.  They are the equivalent of cutting a hole in the wall and blowing cold air in through it at somewhere between 50 and 200 cubic feet per minute.  Oh, I know– they don’t blow air in, they blow air out.   But that air is replaced with air from some other part of your house… which is replaced with air straight from outdoors.  There’s no way around this fact.  You don’t really notice it, probably, because it’s sneaking in through a thousand cracks, and you’re likely in the shower while it’s happening.  But it’s a travesty.

In fact, it’s a double travesty, because besides replacing warm air with cold air, you are losing the (much larger) amount of heat contained in the water vapor.  One of my Cold House mottos is that water should leave the house in the same phase of matter (more…)

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.