Posts Tagged ‘Aesthetics’


October 18, 2010

For reasons I cannot fathom, J. strenuously objects to my yeti hat (which I wore this evening, being unable to remember where I stored my more traditional black toque.)  However, today she sent me this, suggesting (I assume) that we buy/make/commission one or more of these frightening head garments:

No doubt they are quite warm.  The book seems to be out of print, but I will discuss with my friends who knit things whether they can fashion something similar.

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.

Frosted Flakes, Part II

March 2, 2010

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others

February 27, 2010

The Guardian posted an article today entitled “Five Of The Best Interiors Blogs”– and guess whose blog was on that top-five list?!  Well, not ours. But, the author did list Cold House Journal among five runner-up “Other homes blogs we love…”

Which is extremely complimentary, but also kind perplexing.  All the other blogs in the article focus on interior design, cool and funky home furnishings, fabric, color, patterns, and in general how to make your home beautiful, appealing, and awesome-looking.  Whereas our blog is about, well, how to deal with being cold in your house, and features ultra-low-fashion accessories such as yeti hats and square pieces of rock.  Maybe we got some points for the custom polished copper-sheet heat shield and hand-laid travertine hearth (with matching dinner-table trivets) we built for the wood stove? (Seems like a stretch, but it’s all I got.)

Anyway, I sort of feel like we crashed a black-tie event wearing Bean boots.  Sorry if we’re making a mess.  Thanks for inviting us.  We’ll step back outside now.

Product Endorsement Day

February 23, 2010

Here are a couple of products which have been helpful in getting through the winter in a cold house.  First is, basically, a rock with a handle:

This is a soapstone bedwarmer from Vermont Soapstone.  My parents gave us a matching set of these for Christmas, and we’ve enjoyed them greatly (my mom reports that she had one as a kid in New Hampshire, and that my grandparents continued to use them throughout their lives.)  Basically, we just put them on top of the wood stove as the fire’s dying, then carry them up to bed.  J. likes to drag the stone back and forth across the sheets and pillows to warm up the bed; then you just cuddle up with it.  Sounds kind of weird, but the soapstone has a very silky feel to it that is surprisingly pleasant (the website says it’s “almost therapeutic”.)  Another great thing: if you bake a pizza for supper, you can throw the rocks in the oven after you shut it off.  They’ll still be warm for bed.  My endorsement of this product is tempered only by the fact that the company is currently waiting for a permit to resume quarrying the stone locally in Vermont, and so is temporarily importing from Brazil.  Let’s hope they get their permit soon.

Next up: The Hat.

This thing is awesome.  I bought it originally as a potential Christmas present for my nephew, but decided it might be too scary for him (or for my niece to see him wearing.)  So I gave it to J. instead, but she doesn’t seem to wear it much (even though it looks really cute on her.)  What is it supposed to be?  I’m not sure.  It sort of makes me think of Monty Python, and/or Donnie Darko.  But the manufacturer claims it is a yeti (don’t look like no yeti I’ve ever seen, though.)

In any case, this hat is really, really warm.  It is so toasty warm.  I have a collection of about five house-hats now, but this one is my favorite.  The fake fur really is much better than a crappy wool or fleece toque.  This has got me to thinking about fur-wearing, historically, as a very useful strategy for coping with cold environments–  one that is not generally accepted as an option anymore (apart from the Upper East Side, perhaps.)  But it’s given me some insight into why we killed all the buffalo.

Buddhism, Happiness, Freud, The Cold House

January 31, 2010

I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Mark Epstein about the intersection of Buddhist philosophy and Western psychotherapy (professional interest, mainly, but I recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the topic.) Early in the book, Epstein describes “a basic Buddhist concept… that the pursuit of pleasurable sensory experiences leads inevitably to a state of dissatisfaction, because it is the nature of pleasure not to be sustainable.” He discusses the Buddhist realization that unhappiness (or “suffering”) is the inescapable result of trying to “extract lasting pleasure or meaning from what is essentially a transient pleasure.”

A marvelous parallel exists between this philosophy and Western psychotherapy’s insights into human nature.  As Epstein quotes from Freud (in Civilization and its Discontents):

“What we call happiness in the strict sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as a periodic phenomenon.  When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment.  We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things.”

I’ve been thinking a lot, during these two winters, about heat as an addictive drug, or intoxicant, or sensual experience, to which we’ve all grown tolerant and inured. Over the past 50-odd years people in these parts have come to expect, insist (more…)

A Tale Of Two Heating Systems

January 28, 2010

In past years, my good friend D. and I had similar heating systems: oil boilers and old-fashioned cast-iron steam radiators. As of last autumn, though, J. & I had just bought a new old house with no heating system at all, and D. had just ripped his heating system out– leaving us in the same boat of starting more or less from scratch, heating-wise.  D. wound up installing a Viessmann condensing natural gas furnace driving a system of hydronic radiators.  The Cold House wound up with a Jøtul wood stove.  We’re both very happy.

These systems have something in common: arguably, they are both among the lowest-environmental-impact heating-retrofit options readily available (barring still-somewhat-extreme options such as geothermal and  solar applications).  As such they both qualified for federal tax credits.  In every other way, though, they are just about polar opposite.  Which is better depends entirely on your lifestyle, expectations, and personality.  Here’s the main control area of D.’s system:

The burner (far right) actually condenses the water vapor in its own exhaust to reclaim that heat; in this way, it has around (more…)

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.

Frosted Flakes

December 20, 2009

Beautiful crystals on the Cold House windows.  Nicer than diamonds.  My humble opinion.