Monday, March 03, 2008

Winter Fatigue

Yes, it's getting warmer, but it's still cold out. And cold in. I won't bitch and moan about the cold out, because much of the country has had it a lot worse than we have. But the cold in? Perhaps I shall whine a little about that. Indulge me this once.

Mr. S. and I didn't design or build our house. If we had, energy conservation would've been one of our most important parameters. We'd probably have opted to heat with a geothermal heat pump and supplemental wood-fired furnace. Mr. S. loves the idea of supplemental heating with wood; none of its myriad disadvantages will sway his opinion. He is always saying, "now can we get a wood stove?" I just leave a pause in the conversation where "goddammit, NO!" would usually go, and carry on as if I hadn't heard it. Me, I love the idea of drilling a deep hole in the ground and getting energy out of it (and bonus rocks!). The installers would have to shoo me away. (Can I help? Please can I help? Can I just see? Now can I see?)

However, instead of our dream heating systems, we have a spiffy new double-walled oil tank, filled about three times a year at increasingly alarming cost. We have clear plastic stretched over our biggest heat-losing windows, and Mr. S. just designed, built and installed a *perfect* insert for our skylight to prevent heat loss through it (wood stove obsession notwithstanding, he's very useful). Our attic and basement are insulated. Last year the heat was never set over 65 F.

This year, with the heating oil bill significantly up, I have had the daytime heat down to 60 F. However, I'm a little panicked about it. I mean, there's nowhere to go from there. We're truly doing everything we can. 60 F does not make for an overwarm house by any standards. I'm pretty sure the internal temperature of a well-constructed igloo can approach 60 degrees. People who aren't used to it rub their hands together and decline to take off their coats when they come over. Being used to it helps. So does wearing a lot of fleece. But still -- 60 is chilly.

(A parenthetical rant: Were I Queen of the Universe, no public building would ever be heated to more than 65 F or cooled to less than 70 F without specific need (computer rooms, laboratories, etc.). Am I right that the last administration to include aggressive conservation measures as a part of a sane energy policy was Jimmy Carter's? Why are Americans so stupid on this issue?)

So I'm just tired of winter. Tired of having a cold nose and cold hands. I've felt an odd eagerness to run errands in recent weeks; sadly, this is not because there is anyone riveting anywhere I have to go, but because I can crank the heat in the car, and my hands will be truly warm for a short while. I'm tired of getting into a cold bed. Not tired enough to buy or plug in anything to prewarm it, but still. I'm so ready not to have those shivery moments every night.

I've been trying to keep my winter whining to myself, but evidently it isn't just me feeling it. At the bus stop one day last week, the Peanut started kicking piles of stubborn leftover snow into the street and yelling "Go AWAY, snow! We're ready for SUNSHINE! And SPRINGTIME! And FLOWERS! So GO AWAY!"

You tell it, kiddo.


  1. Oh I feel your pain...
    I awoke to hear we are in for another snow storm... capped off with freezing rain...
    When will spring be here?
    Seeing blogs where they have cherry blossoms...
    and it is not even close to happening our way...

  2. People also keep their coats on when they come to my house because we keep it so cold in the winter. I'm with Peanut!

  3. I used to keep the house cold, but now I develop these awful cracks and cuts in my fingertips (very painful) if I keep it below 66, no matter how warmly I dress. So we waste money. But why are you against a wood stove? We have forced air heat here, which is amazingly inefficient - how I would love some radiant heat instead!

  4. I, too, have a cold house. I've kept the heat at about 62 or 63 degrees all winter. We have electric forced air, so I can warm the house up quick if I need to. But yeah, plastic over windows, towels along the bottoms of drafty doors, and electric blankets on beds. We have a fireplace, but it's ornamental. It *might* be able to keep the house above freezing in a pinch. And the crazy thing is, I have cheap electricity out here. $156 was my largest electric bill this year! I dream of building a house with solar panels, geothermal heating, and thick walls!

  5. Forgot something I wanted to mention . . . .

    A friend of mine has a geothermal heat pump and they LOVE it. They pay less to heat their 6,000 sq ft house (yeah, they're rich) than we pay to heat our 1600 sq ft house. It's definitely worth it when you are building new . . .

  6. Oh no, SC, Mr. S. has those cracked fingertips... we thought it was because of woodworking and dish-doing, but I guess the cold can't be helping. It sure is painful.

    I'm anti-wood stove because:
    Wood is tremendously dirty, and we don't have a good way to bring it into the house without making a mess;
    Woodpiles house really enormous spiders that wake up and run around when the wood's brought indoors where it's relatively warm;
    Wood stoves are respiratory hell... lots of particulates;
    Ashes are filthy and have to be dealt with very regularly;
    Wood stoves get dangerously hot to the touch, and I couldn't handle the anxiety about a child burning herself on one;
    Wood stoves need a constant supply of fuel, which someone has to chop, split, stack, and carry; even if Mr. S. is willing to do some or all of that, it is incredibly time consuming and will take him away from eighteen hundred other projects that are in one stage or another of incomplete;
    Unless you have forced air (we don't), there isn't a really efficient way to get the heat from a wood stove around the house; I'm not cutting holes in floors and installing grates, I'm just not;
    The area immediately around the wood stove gets intolerably hot, which I hate worse than being chilly;
    From an emissions standpoint, wood burning isn't great.

    Also, there's the scarred-for-life factor. I heated my first house exclusively with wood for two New England winters, and I am not doing it again, ever.

  7. Yeah, see... geothermal's where it's at, for new construction. So cool!

    Retrofitting a 1600 sf late 80's Cape, like ours? Not likely. Sniffle!

  8. What about a pellet stove? I have a friend who heats a fair bit of her house with one (with two kids who know not to touch). Though I'm not certain, I don't think she has to deal with ashes.

    You might not be able to spread heat between rooms, but there's another way to think about that. We keep our thermostat low (main setpoint 55F, 63-64F for when we want it 'warm'). We have one room that we close off and keep warmer than others. It's south facing, and has enough windows that sunshine warms it up significantly (like 5 degrees warmer). In the evening, the incandescent bulbs that we use to light it (I know, I know) throw off enough heat to keep it warm. (If I'm *using* the heat that the bulbs emit, is it still wasteful?)

    It makes an ENORMOUS difference to have ONE room that is warm enough not to feel shivery. From what I've read, this is the way people used to live, in the days before central heating and furnaces.

  9. no wonder the peanut is stomping away at the snow - she is trying to bring the circulation back to her frozen toes.

  10. hi Susan!

    If we do decide to supplement our heating system, the pellet stove may be a good way to go.

    And I like an incandescent bulb in my desk lamp precisely because it's warm. It's only waste if you're not using it :).