Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wrapping up for Summer

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With rising energy bills and the rumour, despite all appearances to the contrary, this is in fact Summer, we have not had the central heating on for some time.

The upshot of this is you can easily become chilled to the bone if you fail to wear the correct layers of clothing for each particular room in the house.

Ours is an old stone terraced building which, unusually, has the entrance on the middle floor. From the roadside it looks like a standard 2 floor house where you enter at ground level, but once in you can descend to the living room, which is level with the garden a whole storey lower.

This room has the coldness of an old cellar. Facing northwest it only receives the sun’s rays for a few minutes after 8.30pm for about 4 weeks either side of the summer solstice, if there's a break in the clouds. It could be the greatest heat wave known to man outside, but unless you are wrapped in at least a t-shirt, shirt, thick fleece and a blanket, you will suffer hypothermia within 37 minutes.

Rising to entrance level, two thirds of the way up the stairs, in fact, you will need to discard the blanket and your fleece. Upon reaching the hall you can also abandon your woolly hat and gloves.

If you wish to enter the kitchen, remove your shirt too; nothing more than a thin top is required, especially if any cooking has been happening in the previous 3 days. And if the oven is on you may well be tempted to just strip off and enjoy a sauna (do be prepared to place some level of clothing back on before eating hot food though; splashes of hot soup onto your delicate areas is something to be avoided). If you wish to cool down you will need to leave room. The window was painted shut by the previous occupants and is unable to be opened.

Maggie’s studio, at the front of the house is deceptive. You can wander in wearing a couple of layers and assume everything is fine, but if you are asked to exert yourself, perhaps by helping to move the worktable into the middle of the room, or reach up for a book about felt-making on the top shelf at the back of the bookcase, you will find yourself suddenly dripping in sweat. Stand still and you’ll be OK; move and you’ll overheat.

At the top of the house are the bedrooms and my study.

The bedrooms are always too warm; especially our bedroom, directly above the kitchen. Even in the heart of winter the radiator stays on minimum.

By contrast, my study, just across the wee landing, is the only place in the house without a radiator and I don’t think has been warm since at least 1849. I keep my biggest, thickest fleece solely for this room, with a pair of woollen gloves at the ready, worn at the fingertips from typing on this laptop.

It has taken nearly three Summers to learn the seasonal nuances of the thermodynamics of our house, but I have now strategically placed layers of clothing on each floor to add or remove, depending on the direction I’m heading.

My son, on the other hand, just sits in his t-shirt no matter which room he’s in. But then he is 13, so has a metabolism to put a hummingbird to shame.
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20 comments:

C in DC said...

In summer, our house is like Maggie's studio -- it's bearable if you're not moving too much. The only place that's truly bearable in the summer is our unfinished cellar, which is really only a storage unit at this point. Can we trade cellars, please?

Of course, it's 80 to 90 degrees F here in DC in the summer with nasty levels of humidity. If it weren't for the lack of decent employment opportunities, I'd be tempted to move back to the land of my youth, which has notoriously bad winters (Buffalo, NY), but the most glorious summers.

Dr Maroon said...

mmmmm, thermodynamics!

Mary Witzl said...

This is great, Kim!

I hope my hat is enjoying its holiday in your home, and that someone wears it occasionally to keep it from feeling too lonesome.

As you know, our flat is bitterly frigid in the winter. In the summer, it's just cold. The leaky entrance way with its broken-glass roof gets fiery hot when it's sunny, but the rest of the house is tomb-like. Ah, Scotland. At least we don't have to worry about air conditioning, though.

ArleneWKW said...

We live in a multi-level house. Because it is built on a hill, every room except for Matt's office is on the ground floor. The thermodynamics of our house causes our garage to function much like your living room. If it actually was our living room, we could save a lot of money when the temps are in the 90's and we turn on the A/C.

We don't have any windows that are painted shut, but after Matt painted the frame of a screen in a bathroom window, the screen could no longer be removed from its setting.

Your strategic placement of clothing is an amusing and undoubtedly useful solution.

Conan Drumm said...

I'm a t-shirt, shorts and sandals sort of person from May to October. I can overheat the loffice with body heat alone. I should get a BTU output rating for myself.

Carole said...

Absolutely great. And I am completely in awe your directional prowess. I wouldn't know northwest from south at my house. I'm a bit envious that you don't have huge air-conditioning bills though. Lately the nightly lows in St. Louis have been in the 80's. Very warm for sleeping.

Mary Witzl said...

All our windows were painted shut, too! Practically every single one of them had gooey paint that lapped over the frame onto the windowpanes, as if a kid had been given a big sloppy brush and told to get it done in minutes. In one case, there was no sash in the window: only paint was holding it up. Once we prized the paint off, we almost lost the whole thing when it dropped like a stone...

savannah said...

i couldn't keep up, sugar! i'd end up wandering around the house with a bag of clothes. this place was built in 1832, wooden clapboard construction. a prior owner wisely insulated, so it stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer. of course, you do have to draw the shades on the southern side of the house in the summer and use the upstairs ceiling fans...the ac has been on continuously for months now..heat + humidity= mold
(i'm babbling now, the MITM arrives tomorrow night)

Kim Ayres said...

C in DC - A bit more seasonal variation would be enjoyable - you know sun in the summer, snow in the winter, that kind of thing.

Dr Maroon - down boy, down

Mary - the hat is gathering a thin layer of dust, I'm afraid. I've been making sure people don't put anything on top of it to avoid handing a squashed piece of material, but this does mean it's probably going to weigh slightly more when you get it back...

Arlene - undoubtedly...

Conan Drum - Come quickly High Metabolism Man! There's washing that needs drying and it's too wet to hang outside. We need a natural heater such as you!

Carole - Air conditioning was something I'd never heard of outside American movies until some cars started having it about 10 years ago. Opening the windows is about the ony cooling option you need in the UK, but it's rarely required.

Mary - the painted shut windows have the advantage of not needing to have the gaps stuffed with clingfilm in the drafty winters.

Savannah - so MITM is finally getting home? What a relief :)

Dr Maroon said...

Put the woman's hat in a hatbox you miserable git.

Trish (wheresthebox) said...

What a fabulous description of your home. I am mainly just cold all the time because my husband turns the AC on as soon as his spring allergies start up and keeps it on all through the summer. I keep trying to turn it up a little at a time but he senses the smallest change in temperature immediately and complains!

Doug Dog said...

Wow, such an interesting house. You mentioned that you’ve been living there 3 years; how old is the house? In my case, my tolerances for hot and cold extremes have lessened as the age has risen. So it doesn’t surprise me that your 13 year old son seems immune to the vagaries of temperature.

angie said...

it's summer in texas . . . you're lucky if anyone in the house is wearing more than a t shirt and undies . . .

Kim Ayres said...

Dr Maroon - we don't have one, and it's too big to fit into an empty tin of Cadbury's Roses

Trish - Not being familiar with the notion of air conditioning in houses (see above replies), is the temperature kept constant throughout the house or can you vary it from room to room?

Doug Dog - I'm afraid I have no real idea how old the house is. Certainly well over 100, maybe 150 years old, maybe more.

Angie - is that a good thing or a bad thing?

PI said...

Sounds like a fun house. We weren't meant to live in sealed boxes but when the wind is in the east my neck and shoulders freeze in the bath and my hair gets wind blown in the kitchen. In spite of the Aga.

Kim Ayres said...

We also weren't meant to live so far north, Pat. I'm naturally adapted to a Mediterranean climate. I just happened to have been born in the wrong part of the world.

Brave Astronaut said...

Where my desk is currently located, an air conditioning vent lurks behind. As Summer has put its death grip on DC, it blows very heartily upon my exposed legs. I have to wear pants to work at my desk. And socks.

I used to live in an apartment that was an old house that had been divided up into the individual apartments. As a result, one thermostat which the landlord set. I lived on the second floor and the apartments had radiators. In the middle of winter I would walk around in shorts and a t-shirt with the windows open. There was an old lady who lived downstairs and she was always cold.

I was very glad I didn't pay for utilities.

Kim Ayres said...

I have to wear pants to work at my desk

I really don't want to visualise the alternative...

MaLady said...

What a fun post!

Kim, the older style air conditioning units were placed into open windows - some homes still have them - and thus they could be controlled independently if the family owned more than one. Those machines are inefficient. I've lived in houses with central air - the unit that chills and dehydrates the air is outside while the fan and vent system inside is shared with the furnace, thus one thermostat for the entire house. As you can imagine, the positioning of the air intake is strategic. I keep my thermostat set around 80-82 degrees - warmer than average but I don't turn it off all summer and it is never sticky humid in here. What I find interesting is that the vents in the northern US are built into the floor - assuming more heat than cooling and I hate having to place my furniture to avoid blocking them. In the south, the vents are high on the wall near the ceiling - ugly but worth it!

Kanani said...

I enjoyed reading about your house. It's hard to imagine running the heater in the summer, since I'm battling the heat outside. None of my windows are double paned, so I have awnings and some of my windows are screened with this really thick screening that cuts out 50% of the UV.