December 07, 2005

Fire that architect!

Not any of the ones at my work; this time I'm talking about any architect who may have been involved in the design of my house. It's fairly likely that there wasn't one, but if there was, he or she should have been fired. If there wasn't one, then the amateur who did design the house should have been fired instead.

Why am I so obsessed with firing? It's because fire is warm, and my house is not. It's not merely that it's presently sort of chilly, it's that it lacks any design elements which would make it capable of being warm.

First, it's poorly insulated. In fact, I'm unsure that it has any insulation whatsoever; when it was being remodeled last year we looked at a section of stripped wall and saw wood and plaster but no sign of anything squishy and heat-retaining. The older windows in the house are single-paned and held tightly in their frames by 80 years' worth of paint; the newer windows are double-paned but loose in their frames and un-weatherstripped. Six, half a dozen. They all leak heat like crazy. The doors and doorframes are variably rhomboid, leading to triangular gaps which even the cushiest weatherstripping would be hard-pressed to fill.

The bathroom is a problem all its own. There's the exhaust fan, which I suppose can't be helped. Bathrooms have to have exhaust fans or they get mildewy, but it does mean an enormous vent hole in the ceiling. There's also the large window, larger than usual for a bathroom window if you ask me. Then there are the two doors, which can be said to shut in an approximate sense but, being interior doors, have gaps larger than the national average of large gaps. Warm air is pumped out of the bathroom by the fan, cold air comes in around the window to replace it, and then drifts freely out into the rest of the house with little resistance from the doors.

We have, finally, gotten our furnace working. No need to worry about that. It turns on and warms one room of the house with great efficacy, because, you see, it's located in the extreme corner of the house. The furnace is in the outermost corner of the living room, and the thermostat is in the very center of the house, the doorway between the living room and kitchen. When we turn on the thermostat the furnace will warm the living room, then turn off as the warmth reaches the doorway. Supposing we set it to 65 degrees, the temperature breakdown of the house will look something like this.

Outside: 45
Bathroom: 45
Bedroom: 50
Kitchen: 50-65 (it's a very long kitchen)
Study: 55
Living Room: 80

The problem, as you can see, is the far-flung bed-and-bath wing of the house. It's impossible to go to the bathroom at night without shivering. Jacob gets into bed every night and complains about how chilly the flannel sheets are. Last night I had to put Peanut on top of my feet to warm them up enough that I could sleep. Meanwhile, we have to turn the furnace off when we go to bed because the thermostat isn't equipped to notice when one room of the house is about to burst into flame. Theoretically if we could leave the furnace on all night it might be 60 in the bedroom by morning, but the paint would have melted off the living room walls by that point.

Last year, to solve this problem, I got a tiny electric space heater that I could haul around the house and plug in wherever I felt like being warm. Jacob tried to stop me by telling me cautionary tales of mounting electricity bills. I refused to part with my precious warmth, but tended to turn it off guiltily when he was around.

This morning I found him in my chair in the study with the heater blowing on his toes. I made sure to stand very close while exclaiming in triumph.

Posted by dianna at December 7, 2005 02:18 PM

I think one of the reasons I've found the adjustment to the cold here eminently bearable is that my apartment is astoundingly warm. It's freezing outside (Literally! Today the temperature reached highs of 30F!) but toasty and warm in my apartment at all times. The walls are well-insulated, there are no drafts from the windows or anything, and there are strategically placed radiators throughout the apartment, so there's a constant and evenly distributed influx of heat.

Thanks to differences in New York City building codes, our bathroom has no ventilation, and we keep the single small window emphatically closed, so the bathroom is toasty and warm at all times. I haven't noticed a mildew problem, but I also bought black shower curtains for the place, so it may be camouflaged in that. Nothing in the grout, though. And, in any case, I'll gladly take the smell of mildew in exchange for getting rid of the feeling of trepidation as I gingerly lower my bare bottom onto ice-cold porcelain when using the toilet in the morning.

I've actually been too hot the last few nights; I've found myself sleeping on top of the covers, without my sleepshirt, and the door open to equalize the temperature and cool the room down. Still, it's interesting to think that while I'm roasting inside, it's actually colder outside of my window than it is inside of my freezer.

So, I like my building. But, of course, it was built to handle cold winters. It's also quite old, and perhaps they built them better back then. According to the fire safety certification form I got, my building was built in 1909. Sadly, Columbia will kick me out before I have a chance to celebrate the building's 100th birthday. Still: Neat old building. The architects get my stamp of approval.

Posted by: Zach S. at December 7, 2005 04:03 PM