It’s cold outside! This time of the year in The 716, we’re not usually suffering the kind of cold the Upper Midwest tends to get for weeks (or months) at a time, but we do get bursts of some seriously icy weather here and there. The real deep freeze around here usually won’t last more than a few days, but when it hits, as it’s hitting today–as I write this, it’s 20 degrees out and I woke up to 7 degrees at 7am this morning–it’s “hole up, layer up, and consume coffee and tea and soup” weather.
Which makes me think about heat, and how we get it.
I never really knew how our houses were heated when I was a kid, up to when we moved into our house in Allegany, NY, when I was nine. I assume those houses were forced-air furnaces, because I remember heat registers in the floor issuing warm air when we needed it. But when we arrived in Allegany, we switched to wood burning. (Our last house in Oregon had used wood too, and we’d actually moved the wood stove with us because my parents owned it, but I don’t recall it being the main source of heat in that house in Hillsboro…but again, I was nine and this was Hillsboro, OR, where it doesn’t get as cold as it does here, so maybe the wood stove was our primary heat there.)
For the balance of my young life, from fifth grade until I headed out for college, I lived in a house mainly heated by a wood stove. This was fine, but it wasn’t without its challenges. For one thing, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to achieve consistent heat with wood. It gets really hot, so you choke off the flame and let it die down a bit, and maybe open a window if it gets too hot. This cooling process takes a while…and then, when you want it warm again, you have to restoke the fire, which takes time again to heat back up. There was a constant dance of being a bit too cold or a bit too hot.
Sometimes, if the wood was especially wet early on in the season (we’d get a cord or two of wood delivered each fall), you simply wouldn’t get great heat. The way it usually worked was that when you got up in the morning, all that was left in that stove were coals, so you (meaning me) shoveled out some of it to make room for new wood, which you would then toss in. This wood took a long time to start burning, so it would be cold in the morning and it wouldn’t be warm again until after I was gone for school.
And then there were times when we’d go away for a day or two, returning on a winter’s night to a completely dead fire. Nothing to do then but build a new fire in the stove.
Another factor here was the house itself, which was long and narrow. The wood stove was at one end, and the bedrooms were all at the other, and we didn’t run fans to move that air around, so that back end of the house would stay hold. For this reason we got a supplementary kerosene heater for the back end of the house. My years in that house are probably why to this day I tend to be more comfortable in a cool environment than a warm one.
Eventually my parents got a gas furnace and forced air installed in that house, I think because there were huge savings when the gas company ran lines out that way. And I moved out for good a while after that. Our first apartment had a gas heater in the living room; again the “long and narrow” problem reared its head and we kept rooms in the back half of the apartment closed. Another apartment had hot-water baseboard heaters, so when the heat kicked on we’d hear the flow of water followed by a chorus of creaking pipes as the metal expanded.
Our house now has a forced air furnace, which is nice. Even nicer is the programmable thermostat, so I’m not forever changing temp settings (maybe once in a while). The program has four settings that I can set for specific times: Sleep (which runs overnight), Wake (first thing in the morning), Leave (how warm for while we’re at work), and Return (how warm we want it for when we’re home at night). It’s nice being able to let the house cool overnight, and then start warming up again when we’re getting up for our day.
One problem I discovered is that our thermostat has a “Recovery” system. I didn’t understand this system until recently. I have the “Sleep” temperature set for 62, and the “Wake” temp set for 68. Originally I set “Wake” to start at 6:15am, which I interpreted to mean that the t-stat would keep things at 62 until 6:15, at which time it would start heating the place up to 68 and then maintain that until the time when the “Leave” setting takes over. Problem is…that’s not how it works! I was noticing that the bedroom would start getting a lot warmer starting at 5:45 or so, warm enough to actually wake me up half an hour before the alarm at 6:15.
What was going on?
Well, that “Recovery” system was kicking the heat on around 5:30 or so, because the thermostat interprets the “Wake” setting–68 at 6:15am–not as “Start heating to 68 at 6:15”, but rather, “Make sure it’s 68 by 6:15″. So, to achieve what I wanted, I had to change the Wake time to 7:15! It took me a week to figure this out.
On weekends lots of times it’s all not applicable anyway, because a certain greyhound decides that he needs out to pee; thus, when this happens, I tend to get up and stay up. Which means, layers and coffee. And, on the really cold mornings, I get out my handwarmers, too.
Later this week we actually hit the lower 50s…and then back down to the 30s for next weekend. It’s a roller-coaster, it is! Heat management is fun, it is. It’s more fun than cooling, that’s for sure….