When is it “okay” to turn the heat on?

October 31, 2014

Friend Nathan forwarded this piece from Yankee Magazine, discussing New Englanders’ tendency to pick a certain date on which is feels “okay” to turn on the heat.

Of course, the short answer is that it’s never really okay to turn on the heat, the same way it’s really not okay to be doing most of what we do to the planet.  Also, I’ve noticed that many people (even New Englanders) don’t even know they have control over this.  It’s surprising how often, in late September or so, you hear people announce “The heat came on last night!”, the same way you’d say, “I saw a flock of geese heading south this morning!”  I guess some people just leave their thermostat at some set temperature year round, and that decides when heating season ends and starts.

Our heating season may end very early indeed, if the supplier who promised us firewood doesn’t come through.  In July they promised us two cords of kiln-dried in early October.  When we called in early October, they said it was going to be a bit yet, plan on early November.  When J. called yesterday, just to check in, their voicemail box was full, and they haven’t yet responded to an email… This seems like a Bad Sign…

Hot house

October 21, 2014

Just came back from the gym, all sweaty, to find that someone had lit a fire earlier in the evening!  Now it is a stifling 65º in the kitchen…  might have to go take a cold shower.  I guess it has begun.

Meanwhile, we are playing a bit of a game of chicken with the firewood situation.  We have only about 1/3 cord left in the garage from past years.  My plan for this winter was to buy a cord of “kiln dried” wood and put it in the cellar, which is much more convenient than the garage.  Our first year here, it was no problem to buy kiln-dried in November.  This year, though, I started calling around in July, and was shocked that the first two outfits I called said they couldn’t help.

Yep, hard to believe, considering we have way more trees than people, but evidently Maine has a firewood shortage.  That, and the fact that we are basically lousy customers (we have bought two cords in five years, while the average household buys 3-5 cords PER year) led to a problem.  By upping my order to two cords, I was finally able to find someone who promised me a delivery in mid-October.  When we called to check in early October, though, the date got pushed back to early November.  And I will not be terribly shocked if we just don’t get any at all… which will really be a problem…


Heat delayed

September 21, 2014

Bowdoin College (a bit north of here in Brunswick, Maine) apparently has not yet turned their heat on (though they plan to next week).  According to their student newspaper, the college saves $8,000 for every day they delay turning on the heat.  That would pay for about 16 years of heat at my house!  Anyway, I applaud their efforts to delay.  Though waiting a few more weeks would be more impressive.

Here, no fire yet.  But I’ve split three boxes of kindling, and cleared space in the basement for the two cords of wood I’m hoping will show up in the next few weeks.

Cold(ish) Bedrooms

July 18, 2014

In the Times yesterday, this article suggesting that sleeping in a cooler bedroom promotes brown fat formation and improves insulin sensitivity.  Nice!  Though I wish they had tried a temperature lower than 66F.  We are routinely well below 56F in the winter…

Anyway, interesting to see some experimental data to support the theory that central heating causes obesity : )

Not much going on here at the Cold House.  It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.  Except the endless lawn-mowing.  That is a pain.

April 3, 2014

So it’s been a loooong winter here in Maine.  I can’t even remember when it started, and it doesn’t quite seem like it’s ever going to end.  Last week we had another record low temp (7°F!).  Here we are at April 3, and there are still piles of snow lying around even down here in the southern part of the state (up north, it’s ridiculous— 40-50 inches of snow ON THE GROUND in Caribou and Jackman?!?  WTF?)  I haven’t yet seen a crocus anywhere.

BUT, the days are getting long(er), the roadside glaciers are visibly retreating, and it seems like we just might be at the end of wood-stove season, barring another cold snap.  So, herewith, this winter’s data.  First, the full-season temperature graph, recorded by the faithful datalogger which lives under the kitchen counter (more or less the warmest spot in the house.)  The datalogger has been ticking off every 15 minutes all winter, so this represents close to 19,000 data samples:UntitledCertain features call for explanation.  The narrow “U” in late November was when we went to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving.  The wide “U” in January was when we went on vacation to NH, VT, and Canada (yes, we went north for vacation in January.  Crazy.)  The (relatively) high spike in mid-March was when one of us was away for a few weeks and the other was home alone… we won’t dwell on that : )

Now, the numbers:  Overall, the average temperature for the winter was 54.7°F.  That’s 2.4° warmer than last winter.  Why?  No idea. The standard deviation was 5.5°, the maximum temp was 68.4°, and the minimum 40.1° (all almost identical to last year’s numbers.) It’s hard to say how much wood we went through this winter– more than a cord, for sure.  But much less than 2 cords.  Possibly as much as 1.5, though I’d guess slightly less.  Amazingly, we still have a bit of wood left from Treemagedon, and, below that, some archeologic remnants of the two cords we purchased when we moved here in 2009.  But we won’t be able to get through next year on what’s left, and there’s nothing left to saw down in the back yard.  So next winter, for the first time in 5 years, we’ll probably have to buy some wood…

Uh… it’s cold.

January 4, 2014

Well, here we are, in the thick of it, the bread-and-butter of winter.  The first two weeks of January are, on average, the coldest of the year around here, and this year is not disappointing.  We’ve had snow after snow, with a crappy ice storm mixed in (many co-workers were without power all through Christmas), and now we’ve been in the deep freezer for several days, with mornings around -5F.  This morning was the coldest yet, both inside and out– the kitchen was at 40.3F this morning.  Brrr!  That’s cold even by my standards.  It was probably even colder in the bedroom, but with the electric blanket on “low” it wasn’t noticeable.


Trying to type on my aluminum laptop right now is not a pleasant finger experience.  The overall average living-area temp this season now stands at 56.4F.


December 16, 2013

It’s gotten seriously chilly here all of a sudden.  It is NOT normal around here to be dropping down to sub-zero (Fahrenheit) before Christmas.  And technically it isn’t even winter yet.

With the frigid overnight temps, our indoor temps have been sneaking downwards, too.  This season’s mean temp in the kitchen now stands at 57.2°.  (This includes the deep dip you see mid-chart, which is when we went away for a couple days over Thanksgiving.


Clever “Tip”

December 15, 2013

Found this “tip” in the margin of my Facebook account this morning, as our first big winter storm rolls through:


Of course, begs the question– if the rooms are unused, why wait till the power goes out to close them off and conserve heat??

Early Season

November 23, 2013

It’s been a relatively warm autumn here in New England.  I powered up the datalogger on November 4… here’s the data so far:


Our average indoor temp so far has been 58.9°.  That will probably be inching down soon. This winter will be a little different than last, though.  For one thing, J., who was commuting home for weekends last year, is now working closer to home so no longer away weeknights.  On the other hand, my work life has gotten busier, so I’m home less than I used to be.  Still, the setup is pretty much the same:  Small wood stove.  No furnace.  No thermostat.  Maine.

For this winter, we’re still burning the bounty produced from treemageddon, sending Norway maples back to meet their maker.  Depending on frugality, we may even have a bit left over for next year– I’m eyeballing about 1.5 cords out in the garage.  For sure, though, next winter we will have to buy more wood.  I’m kind of excited about having that garage space back (future wood will be going in the cellar.)


Also, the wood is burning really well.  A year of careful “field seasoning” plus a year indoors has dried it out to a perfection.  You don’t get this kind of “artisanal” wood unless you make it yourself.  




Impractical Heating Idea

November 9, 2013

A pal forwarded me a post from a UK website promoting “practical solutions for self reliance”, describing how you can “heat your room for 8 pence a day” using tealight candles.   (For those on this side of the Atlantic, 8 pence is currently about 13¢).  They describe burning tealights under flowerpots as a “cheap and easy alternative” to standard heating methods.

Easy?  Maybe.  I guess it’s easier than starting a fire in the wood stove.  But cheap?  Turns out, not at all.  I investigated the cost of tealight-heat.  Here is what I found:

The cheapest tealights I could find in a quick search were these on Amazon— $28 for 500 (5.6¢ each).  Each weighs 0.3 ounces.  To be generous, lets assume that’s all wax.  Wax contains 18,621 BTU per lb.  If you burn up the whole box of 500 tealights, you will extract 174,572 BTU (again, being generous and assuming you manage to burn every bit of wax out of each tealight.)

Now, those BTU’s are equivalent to 51 kWh of heat, or, say, running an electric space heater on “low” (500W) for 100 hours.  Around here, electricity is about 14¢ per kWh.  So 51 kWh would cost… $7.  Thus, we find that electric heat is about one-fourth the cost of tealight heat.

As an alternative way of looking at it: if we assume a tealight burns for about 2 hours, it burns with same heat as is produced by a 50W lightbulb.  The tealight costs 2.8¢ an hour to burn.  But the lightbulb is only 0.7¢ an hour.  And gives off more light.

Moreover, candles are not especially good for indoor air quality.  And if you spring for non-petroleum, beeswax candles, you will be paying even more.

Conclusion:  candles are an expensive way to get light or heat.  They should be reserved for power outages and romantic dinners.