Saturday, June 13, 2009

It was a Warm Winter

I had a terrible time last winter. I was SO unprepared for a true northern winter.

But let's back up a bit. First, I moved into this new (old) house on October 24, 2008. One week later we had a snowstorm. I heard the forecast, and on the way home from work as it was beginning to snow, I stopped at Target and bought a pair of snow boots and 2 windshield ice scrapers. Good thing, because if I hadn't done that I'd be scraping 6 inches of snow off my car hands? Yes, in October. When I drove down to work the next day, which is at the elevation of the Hudson River, maybe 200 feet, there wasn't any snow at all on the ground.

That's how it started. Then I got two rescue dogs (one housetrained and old, one not housetrained at all) and it got cold. As the weeks went on in November and December, I would come home from work, let the young dog out of the crate and keep her on a 6 ft leash all night so I could watch her and catch her before she made a mess. At the same time I would start a fire in the cold woodstove and spend, honestly, 3 hours trying to get it up to 400 degrees so I could go to bed and not freeze. Restarting it several times, etc, etc. I couldn't even leave the woodstove to make dinner on the other stove because the fire would go out. I was that bad. Even further, I had the thermostat at 60 degrees and used an entire tank of oil per month, which is 200 gallons of oil (at $3/gallon) for November, December and January.

It was pretty obvious to me that people don't live like this. It was hellish, awful life.

Then I went to a weekend organic farming thing in Rochester with a work friend. We spent hours in the car talking, and that's where I learned the secret to using the woodstove and how to keep it warm 24 hours a day. That made a HUGE difference. I hung some contractors plastic to block off about 2/3 of the house so the oil furnace and wood stove only had to heat a smaller volume. Maggie (my young dog) eventually got housetrained so life was immeasurably better in February and March. I also turned the thermostat down to 50 degrees and used the woodstove for heating above that, so I used a lot less oil.

Even with all of those improvements, when the wind blew, I felt a breeze in the middle of the room. I had hung plastic on the windows, and the sound of them sucking in and out when the wind blew was pretty fantastic. I had moved the bed right in front of the woodstove and even then, when the wind blew I could never get it warmer than about 57 degrees in there. It was pretty awful. The wind blew basically all the time. I live on a mountain.

Never mind that in December we had an ice storm that put out my power for 3 days ( a first for me), and more snow than I think I've ever seen. I was just totally bowled over by last winter.

So I would go into work and ask people if this is the way it normally is. Eventually my coworkers, I think to appease me, would just agree with me when I would say, "It's colder than normal, right?" Of course, they don't live on the mountain/plateau here. They didn't get the weather I got.

Fast forward to May 2009. I went on a hike with some folks from the Rensselaer Land Trust, which is a conservation group. After the hike, a bunch of us went to see one of the true old-timers around here, the last of a long and storied tradition of making charcoal in the area. He also lives about a 1/2 mile from my house and has lived here for something like 70 years. He's been in my house when he was a kid and played in the meadows on my property. (Meadows? There ain't any of them left.) Anyway - he says it was a warm winter. Windy though.

I think every day about what to do better this winter. I've checked. The walls are insulated. I think I need to focus on the windows and the floor. I've got plans!


  1. Hang in there, we've all been through it. We spent our first winter up here in an uninsulated tin can (mobile home) trying to heat with a wood stove using wet wood. (Wanna know how well that worked?) We had actual frost two feet up all the walls (on the INSIDE). And a two-year old who couldn't play on the floor because it was so cold. No electricity, no running water. Hand-dug well went dry in March so I melted snow for all our water until the frost went out of the ground. But we didn't leave . . . nor will you, I know. Each year gets better.

  2. Wow! Just .... wow. I'm SO impressed! It's amazing how strong we are when we need to be! I've never had to be so uncomfortable before. But I know this is what I want to do, which makes it bearable. And the memories.... it will never be as bad as that again.