When The Cold Gets Going

Today (Wednesday) turned out to be the first truly cold day of the season here, and an overnight forecast that’s triggered the winter ritual known as “the drip” – the piping for the downstairs bathroom is somewhat exposed and freezes when overnight temperatures go too low. Mistakes over the years have defined “too low” as low 20s, so when that’s forecast we turn the taps in the basin to a slow dribble to keep water running and hopefully avoid frozen pipes.

They’re well enough made that we don’t get burst pipes, but it’s a right pain having a non-functional loo. Having to traipse upstairs to the proper bathroom is a bit of a pain if I’m in a hurry – and I’m at the age where the signal can be a bit on the weaker side and sometimes it becomes a case of “now, damnit”.

Of course, the cooling weather is also something the cats notice. It’s quite remarkable how much more eager Princess Buttercup is to curl herself up in my arms when its chilly. At least, when the heater that’s on thermostat shuts off, anyway. While it’s running she’s in the kitty bed that’s beside said heater.

We’re in an old house – built 1900 – and have… interesting heating. Primary is the heat pump that keeps things relatively comfortable until the outside temperatures start to drop to around freezing. In summer it runs air conditioning. The main part of the house also has baseboard oil heat which we use to supplement the air in the colder weather. We try not to go overboard on that because oil isn’t exactly the cheapest method of heating – but in a mild winter we can go the entire winter on a single tank fill. This is not looking like a mild winter, alas.

Then there’s the back room aka the study. It’s an addition to the rest of the house, and on the other side of the foot thick walls, so it has its own gas heat in the form of a stove that’s hooked to a thermostat. That gets supplemented with electric space heaters during the day because electric is the cheapest form of heat, and of course, the heater usually has at least one cat curled up beside it when it’s on.

After all, the kitties must have their warms. Kitties without warms is a Bad Thing.

So is Kates without warms. Because until I fully adjust to the change of climate I spend most of my days at home wrapped in a nice warm blankie trying to thaw out. It does not help that my body seems to be deciding to get cold in odd ways. Right now my feet are nice and cozy, my thighs and knees are cold and the rest of me is comfortable. Who knew? I’ve had the blankie on and off and on and off all day.

The blankie is nice – and a cat attractor. Her Royal Highness who rarely lowers herself to demand cuddles from her lowly peon (at least not during the day. At night when the lights are out is a different story) has climbed into my arms several times today but only while I’ve been wrapped in the blankie.

Of course, the armful of affectionate kitty is a tad awkward when you’re trying to work, but I can deal with that. I can even type fairly well with just one hand – it’s when I wind up with two cats in my arms that it gets challenging.

Oh, and have a photo of Midnight looking dignified and Westley looking dorky.

17 comments

  1. Yep, heat pumps really start to lose efficiency much below 40 F. They are the most common heat/AC here in the deep South for obvious reasons and modern systems include electric heat strips to augment at those times when the pump cannot pull enough warmth from cold outside air.
    I set the thermostat at 74 in summer and 72 in winter, but even with forced air heat parts of the house get chilly so time for the thick flannel shirts.

    1. Exactly. It helps to reduce the need for the oil heat, but that’s about it. We tend to keep the thermostats around 60 – 65 in winter and wrap up rather than go through a fortune in heating costs. Personal choice more than anything else.

  2. > This is not looking like a mild winter, alas.

    Just remember The Experts tell is that unusually cold weather is due to Anthropogenic Global Warming!

    1. Also known as the “algore” effect. The global warming started coming out of the sky last week. Not enough to stick or even really count as a flurry, but there was actual snow happening which did not bode well.

  3. Sorry, your bit about electric heat . . . My first winter in the upper Midwest, I lived in a one bedroom apartment with electric baseboard heat. I set the thermostat to 65 F when I was gone and 70 when I was home. My first bill was over $150 (late 1990s). Yikes! I got used to slippers, heavy sweaters indoors, and a thermostat at 60 or 62.

    The problem was the wall-unit air conditioner. It was twenty-five feet up in the air, and couldn’t be winterized from outdoors, so I had to wrap it in plastic and then blankets from indoors to try and keep some of the cold air out.

    1. Oh, yeah. Those things are a right bitch to keep insulated, especially if they weren’t installed properly.

      It could actually be worse – when I was a teen, the family lived in this rambling old wooden house with multiple add-ons. Brisbane might be subtropical, but all the older places were built to allow quick cooling down, which meant that in winter/dry season it was actually pretty chilly. And the electric heaters were not the most efficient beasties.

      It wasn’t unheard of for my parents to get electric bills of $600 – in the 1980s….

      (we won’t talk about the phone bills of $300+ caused by a 25c per local call charge and 5 kids – most of them _extremely_ social. My parents practically had to make appointments to make phone calls)

      1. “My parents practically had to make appointments to make phone calls)”

        Mine didn’t; they just picked up the phone and provided unvarnished comments on my sisters’ conversations until the line was free.

        It didn’t work for me…. but I was much less social.

  4. For the problem plumbing: Heat tape (there are different kinds, some you insulate, some you don’t), or at least pipe insulation (or pool noodles if that’s all you can get, work just as good) and one of those “milk house” type space heaters… their thermostats go down to just above freezing. Bale of straw (sealed in contractor trash bags, you don’t want it to get wet) along the outside wall also helps.

    We have some exposed plumbing in the rental house. In Montana, where we get to -26F (it’s a banana belt). 100 year old house moved onto an existing foundation that didn’t quite fit, so kitchen pipes are beyond the pale… it’ll freeze if it’s not attended to, but with heat tape, pool noodles, and a little heater set to about 40F — no problem. I usually stack a couple bales outside along there to help insulate the area.

    Also, if the human has trouble adapting to cold, especially if you always have cold hands and feet and cold air feels like it burns your face… check the damn thyroid; it controls your thermostat. Before Fix I was cold-blooded as a lizard; now I can work outdoors when it’s below zero and not come in with frozen body parts. Long underwear, wool socks, lined pants, sherpa boots, and those new furry-inside shirts also work wonders; I remain comfortable all day with the indoors at 62F.

    1. The problem plumbing is damned hard to get access to, which is why it hasn’t been wrapped. It goes from the basement to the ground outside and up through the concrete pad that the addition is built on. There is no crawl space and no other access. It’s a good idea regardless.

      As far as human temperature issues, this human is still having hot flashes which confuses things. I swear I had the blankie on and off and on and off and on and off all day yesterday. Today it’s just on – but then the room temperature is currently hovering around 60. PA does not get quite so cold as Montana most of the time, thankfully. I had enough of an adjustment curve coming from the Australian subtropics!

      Thyroid has shown up healthy on every check so far. I suspect diabetes circulation issues do not help with cold – I wear wool socks in winter and keep wriggling my toes as a kind of preemptive defense.

      1. One thing that helped us with that kind of problem plumbing was insulating all the pipes that we could reach. The water didn’t get as cold as quick so it was warmer when it hit the uninsulated area and we had more of a fighting chance that those pipes wouldn’t freeze.

        This wasn’t a perfect solution. I think it helped.

  5. Considered an electric throw?

    Elf has an electric heapack heating pad– it’s a cross between those microwave hot bags to drape across your shoulders, and a normal hotpad, not sure how they’re marketed but it’s got the beads and stuff in it– that the cats will claim when he’s not using it.

    1. The blankie is electric. I turn the power on when I need it, but it’s such a nice soft warm fuzzy blankie that mostly I don’t need it.

      The biggest issue with the blankie is that I can’t stay completely under it and work – I need to actually use my hands, as much as I’d like to lean back and snuggle under it and not do anything. Alas, the need to earn an income wins every time.

  6. We had an early cold snap, caught the trees still with leaves, even the pecans, and that rarely happens. Now it’s warmed up. I have a grapevine that had shed everything . . . and now is leafing out again. Two bushes with flowers . . . I fully expect the next cold snap to kill the grapevine and damage to two larger bushes.

    Me? Tis the season for layering. No so much because of the cold as the occasional heat flash or physical exertion means I need to remove a layer and cool down. Then put it back on while I’m at the computer.

  7. My desk is in the coldest corner of the living room. Keeping the house at 64 degrees during the day ensures it stays cold. I’ve got towels on spring tension rods underneath on three sides to act as a small heat trap. Fingerless gloves and Jack Skellington wristies over top of that. Lap blanket and watch cap and lightweight, long jacket.

    Fingerless gloves are a must!

    I’ve considered adding another rod to support a blanket or more towels over my legs but haven’t gotten around to doing so. Also, don’t use those darn compact florescent bulbs in the winter! An incandescent generates much needed heat.

    No cats, alas. None have appeared.

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