Archive for the 'heating' Category

Getting Ready for Winter

Sharon September 25th, 2009

Note: I’m headed offline for the Sabbath and Yom Kippur today - I’ll be back on Tuesday.  If you’ve inquired about the Garden Design class and not heard back from me, yes there are still spots available, I will reply to you on Tuesday and my apologies.  The same if you are waiting for materials about apprenticeship – I’m sorry, I had a lot of queries and a busy week or so and I’m behind – I’m not ignoring you, though! 

I thought it might be useful for me to go over all the steps we take (over a fairly long period of time) to get ready for winter – some of you probably already do all or most of these things, but there are always those people who have been accustomed to other ways, and who knows, someone might pick up (and I’m sure those who comment will offer some great ones I haven’t thought of) a new idea.  So here goes – I’m dividing it up into categories, since we get ready for winter in a whole host of ways, and this makes it easier for me to remember things.

1. Personal/Physical/Clothing: This is actually the most important category for us – we try and remember that it is always much easier to warm your body than the room or the whole house, and to start at the immediately personal level.  That means shifts in attitude, practice at accustoming ourselves to lower temperatures, and having appropriate tools and clothing.

a. We play heater-chicken, seeing how long we can go before lighting a fire or turning on heat, but also how long we can leave the windows open.  This helps us accustom ourselves to lower temps – so while a night in the 40s feels very chilly in early October, by January, that would feel warm.  

b. I dig out, clean and sort through our winter clothing, and hunt up anything we’re short of.  Standards of our winter outfitting are winter pajamas (fleece footie pjs for the boys, worn with long underwear underneath in the coldest weather; fleece and flannel for the grownups, with big foofy bathrobes over them), lotsa layers and lots of wool.

c. I begin serious mitten and hat knitting – they get lost a lot, so more is better.  The stuff from previous years gets aired out and I dig out the fingerless gloves that allow yours truly to continue blogging in her 50 degree office.

d. I dig out the bricks we put in the cookstove oven to warm the beds at night – we wrap them in flannel and put them between the sheets.

e. Down comforters, flannel sheets and wool blankets are cleaned and aired. 

f. I encourage the kids and adults to spend as much time out in the autumn sun as possible, synthesizing vitamin D.

g. I’m always a tea junkie, but we move to hot beverages on a large scale – hot cider, teas, cocoa (we’re none of us coffee people) or just hot milk with a little molasses and cinnamon. 

h. We try and make sure everyone gets up and moves around plenty – it is tempting when it is cold not to go out, but we try to force ourselves to get outside, because the house always feels a lot warmer after you’ve spent some time in the cold fresh air.

i. I dig out and size boots, snowshoes, yaktrax (ice grippers) and cross country skiis. 

2. The House: This seems obvious, and probably what most people think of as getting ready for winter. 

a. We get the chimneys cleaned, and clear out the porch, which has had gardening things on it – now it will hold self-water containers with cold tolerant plants and root cellared veggies.

b. we keep the windows open for fresh air as long as humanly possible, but eventually we do cover our windows (which are good ones for the most part, the ones that aren’t are being replaced as we can afford it) with bubble wrap or plastic (we staple it to wood frames and use it for multiple years to avoid waste).  I’m fairly slow to do this completely, simply because often into November and some years even early December, we have warm enough days to occasionally throw open the windows.

c. We bank the house with hay bales – it makes a big difference in heat transfer up from our stone basement.  The bales old hay, and used as mulch in the spring.  These also insulate the garden beds around the base of the house.

d. When it gets really cold, we shut off a portion of the house – the guest rooms (we have a large farmhouse) and move mostly into the better-insulated, smaller portion of the house.  If we ever find housemates, this will change, but we will still close a portion of the place off.  When we shut up a room (they will get opened when we have guests) we also cover up the windows entirely to reduce heat loss).

e. We put up the curtains and window quilts to reduce night-time heat loss, hang blankets on some of the less well-insulated walls, invite the cats to sleep on our beds.

f. We make any warmth-saving repairs – we try and do a little more each year that makes the old part of the house better insulated and sturdier.  This year will involve some window replacements and re-doing the porch doors, which are pulling away from their frame.

g.  We bring out the draft dodgers to block off any leaky spots.

3. Food Storage and Edible Gardens: in autumn we get ready for winter as though we would live the winter through on our stores.  In the summer we take care of our garden, all winter long, the garden takes care of us.

a. I set up bins and boxes and bushel baskets to hold the porch produce, and bring out old blankets to cover things that are best kept from light. 

b. I take one quick run through the jars of canned and dried food, and make sure everything is in good shape, all seals are solid and there is no mold or any nasty stuff.

c. I set up pop-up greenhouses or other season extension protection over beds of the hardiest crops, to extend my season of fresh greens. 

d. I move the self-watering containers filled with hardy greens into the sun porch to provide us with salads all winter.

e. I take advantage of autumn sales and bulk purchasing to make up for any bad crops or refill depleted portions of our pantry.

f. I gradually put most of the garden beds “to bed” pulling out diseased plants, cutting down (or letting the goats in to eat) the remaining stuff, and mulching plants I want to keep. 

g. I start building new beds for next year, and I dig holes for new trees we intend to plant in spring.

h. I preserve the last flush of eggs for those periods in winter when there are few. 

i. On trips to town, we take leaves on the side of the road for mulch and compost. 

4. Health: A lot of us get sick in the winter – and since my husband goes off to university and my kid to public school, we expect them to come home with a few bugs every year, but try to keep it to a minimum.

a. I strain my summer tinctures and begin digging roots after the first hard frost, but before the ground freezes.

b. I stock up on vitamin D, collect rose hips and elderberries and put up C rich fruits.

c. I restock the first aid and vet kits with all the necessaries after a summer of use.

d. I try and can a few stews and soups that are ready to eat so that if we’re all laid low, we don’t have to rely on take-out pizza.

e. I make plans for emergency Eli pickup at school, if by some chance he gets sick there – since we have only one car, and Eric isn’t always available, I make sure I can barter car use in an emergency with neighbors.

5. Winter Holidays: I should really be like my Mom, and start planning for next year’s holidays on January 1, but I find I’m not that organized – but with three birthdays and Chanukah in a six week period, plus Rosh Hashana and Sukkot in the fall giving us 15 “festival dinner with guests occasions” between September and December, it helps to plan ahead – particularly if you are going to make your own.

a. During the summer I make extra jam and preserves in small jars to give away as holiday gifts, as well as making raspberry, currant and wild grape liqueurs, goat’s milk soap and other odds and ends.

b. As much as I can, year round, I keep an eye out for new gifts being sold used, especially nice books and toys.

c. As soon as it cools off enough to touch wool, I start making mittens and hats for the boys.

d. I stock up on holiday ingredients – making sure we have enough pumpkins to make pumpkin pie, sprinkles and other decorations for birthday cakes, etc…

e. We butcher turkeys close to Thanksgiving and Chanukah.

f. I try and schedule all the events early, so that things don’t get too crazy. 

6. Barn/Livestock:

a. We make any needed barn repairs and begin bedding the animals more thickly as it cools off.

b. We butcher cull livestock and fall poultry before the animals are spending most of their day in the barn – we don’t want them to be overcrowded.

c. We begin tracking heats and planning our breeding schedule. 

d.  We put the winter’s hay and grain under cover in the hay barn, and encourage our cats to keep the rodents out (we also set traps). 

e. We bring sunflowers, oats and amaranth into the barn and hang them from the rafters to dry for winter feed. 

f. When it gets truly cold, we move the rabbits off the porch and into the barn. 

g. I begin kicking hens off nests, as we don’t want any hatches in the cold weather.

8. Pasture/Garden/Woodlot:

a. We have a neighbor with a tractor mow the pasture, to cut back any plants the sheep have left. 

b. We begin hauling our wood in from the woodlot, and the kids start taking kindling walks, to collect the winter’s starter fuel.

c. We stack and chop wood.

d. I order seed so that in February or March, I can frost seed the pasture for improvement purposes.

e. I put ribbons around the sugar maples so that I can find them all in February, when they have no leaves.

f. I plant bulbs, garlic, walking onions, potato onions and jerusalem artichokes.   Some years I also plant winter rye or wheat as well to be grazed by the chickens.

g. I dig out the sled for bringing wood in from the woodlot in winter.

h. I plot trees to coppice and some standing dead trees to be left for wildlife.   

Then I put soup on to simmer and a pumpkin pie to bake and enjoy winter!

There’s probably more, but I can’t think of any now.  How about you?  What are you doing to get ready for winter?


Thinking Differently About Heating and Cooling

Sharon August 27th, 2009

Note: This is a re-run from last year, but I think it bears repeating – we’ve been talking about these issues in the AIP class and what always emerges is that at least as important as temperature itself is our attitude towards it.  As long as we believe we have to live in a particular way, at temperatures that simply haven’t been typical for most human beings through most of history, we will justify almost anything – including the burning of the very last forest to keep us warm, or the burning of the last scrap of coal to cool our bodies and heat the planet.  We’ve got to start thinking about this differently.

Today’s posts will focus on heating and cooling and how to deal with these issues.  If you live in the north, heating is probably a growing anxiety for you, because of the rapid rise in cost of nearly every method of heating.  When I wrote this piece last year, oil prices were now effectively prohibitive for poor and working families – with 100 or 125 gallon minimum deliveries and no credit extended, many households that rely on heating oil (disproportionately in the Northeast) were terrified they would not be able to afford to heat their houses at all with conventional methods. The collapse in oil prices came at a good time, but the problem isn’t over.  Meanwhile,  Gas prices are expected to rise steadily, and besides the rising cost of electricity, there’s the question of whether heavy reliance on electric space heaters to replace other heating methods may actualy result in power outages, leaving even more people in the cold.

And if you live where summer temperatures are regularly above 100 degrees, and every summer seems hotter than the last you are probably deeply concerned about what happens as the price of electricity spikes and air conditioning becomes prohibitive – or is shut off.  What do we do, short of abandon our homes?

 I’m going to talk about strategies for both of these things – first of all, how not to die from heat or cold – how to live without any heating or cooling, even in very cold or hot places, and then also how to cool and heat your house using fewer fossil fuels, but before we go there, I want to talk about how we *think* about heating and cooling overall.  Because that has at least as deep an effect on how we approach this as the actual method we use.

Now we all know that people have lived in very cold and very hot places in the world for most of human history, and most of them still have no central heating and no central air conditioning – and no one, not even the richest folks – had them until the last century or so.  So any discussion of heating or cooling has to begin from the recognition that our sense that we “have to” have certain temperatures, barring a few medical conditions – is really cultural, not physiological.  Human beings would not have survived in Northern climates, living in houses heated only by an open fire (and most of the heat goes up the fireplace) in uninsulated houses - or in more portable dwellings - for thousands of years if human beings couldn’t tolerate temperatures below 65 degrees inside. 

I realize this probably won’t make me anyone’s best friend, but the truth is that except for the ill, very elderly and underweight, you can regulate your body temperature in a house that is in the 40s or 50s – you won’t like it, but you can live that way  – in fact, you probably evolved to live that way.  If you dress very warmly, in layers, and move around a lot and have enough blankets, you will be fine – period. If you have an infant, the best strategy is to keep them against your body all the time – and they will be just fine. 

What is true is that people lived differently – they slept with another person, spent their days mostly together in the heated areas, or moving around and being active.  They often slept a lot more in the winter, and spent a lot of time when they were not being active in bed. 

The same is true of extremely high temperatures – while the world is manifestly warmer than it once was, it is also true that human beings have lived in very, very hot places for much of human history, and mostly lived.  But again, they lived differently – activity ceased in the heat of the day, life moved more into the night times, people spent more time in and near water - for example, in some parts of Southeast Asia, a shower (a bucket with holes in it) is a basic part of hospitality.

 It is true that most of us are physiologically better adapted to one kind of temperature than another – if you are from a hot place and move to a cold one, you will feel the cold more, and vice versa.  People raised in warm places actually do have more sweat glands, for example, than people from cold climates.  That said, however, our bodies also can adapt individually – someone who spends a lot of time working outdoors in a hot climate will build sweat glands, and someone who doesn’t over heat their house and goes out will acclimate to colder and colder temperatures.  The process of acclimation and adapting our lives is probably the most basic thing we can do to deal with heat and cold – and up until now, we’ve been using tools (central heating and cooling) that prevent acclimation – that is, we spend half our day in air conditioning, so our bodies don’t adapt to the heat.  Everyone who has ever worked outside on a bitterly cold day knows how *hot* even a lightly heated house feels when you go in.  This is acclimation, and we have to use it more than we have.

Now the odds are good our bosses probably won’t let us start siestaing, or give us the winter off to hibernate, and that we can’t totally change our lives to adapt to temperature.  But we can change our lives, and our ways of thinking to adapt to the weather, and we can work on acclimation.

One of the things that shifts in an era of cheap energy is the relationship we have to the idea of central heating or cooling.  When energy is cheap and widely available and perceived as having no major environmental consequences, we can afford to keep the whole house at a comfortable temperature – and central heating and cooling seem to have the advantage.  When costs go up and impact matters, central heating and cooling don’t work very well – the temperature your house is at goes up above what is comfortable or down below it, and localized heat or cooling starts to have the advantage.

 Why?  Well, we tend to think of heating or cooling as “keeping the house” at some temperature, but localized heating or cooling simply doesn’t work that way – over by my woodstove, there’s a spot that is often nearly 80 degrees – it feels great if I’ve been sitting at the computer in my 49 degree office, but far too hot to sit there all the time.  Out a bit further away, is an optimal temperature, and that’s where everyone will read or hang out.  Further still, it gets cooler, and the sleeping spaces (where we are warmed by heavy blankets and body heat) are the coolest of all).  Elderly people, or those who have been ill, or new babies can have the spot next to the fire, and be warm.  Those who need it less can have periods of comfort for quiet work, and less heat when they are up and moving.  And the same is true of cooling – if you need air conditioning, localizing it to the most urgent spot – perhaps the bedroom or living room- gives you comfortable sleep or a place to congregate and do your work.  This is less costly than trying to cool a whole house, but it also gets you adequate cooling in a localized space.  If you don’t use a/c, perhaps moving your bedroom to the shady north side of the house where the cross breeze comes, putting your mattress on the floor for summer, or sleeping outside (which is what people used to do) will be sufficient.

The most localized heating and cooling of all is the heating or cooling of your body – this could be as simple as dressing warmly, wearing a hat indoors, holding a cup of tea or coffee or even hot water, using a hot water bottle in bed or on the back of your chair, and putting your feet on a hot brick or other heated substance.  As I’ve mentioned, my office last year hovered in the high 40s, and I wrote a book that way, rather cozily, actually, with my fingerless gloves, my tea, my hot bricks and a bathrobe over my clothes.   For cooling, soaking a bandana or freezing it and putting it under your hat or over your hair, drinking copiously and sticking your feet in cool water are good strategies – it isn’t always necessary to cool your environment, just your body.

Heating and cooling are going to be serious strains on our society – we may first experience an “energy crisis” in a real sense this winter or in a coming one.  We’re going to have change our way of thinking – to start from acclimatization, and localized heat sources, rather than begin from the assumption that we all must live in 68 degrees.