Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holy Cold!

Some time ago I wrote a blog post about insulating our house. Because it's not a real general appeal item I sort of decided not to talk about insulation more on the blog. Insulating my house is sort of a hobby of mine and I hate to force that on an unwilling audience. However, events this week have transpired that make it a lot more interesting.

In the first place, there's today. The weather outside is like something I (as a kid) never imagined human being have to live through. The high today is like 4 degrees. Right now my weatherbug thing says the current temperature is -2 outside. And it's really windy. Driven snow flying everywhere. The instant the air touches your skin, it's next to unbearable--it stings your skin in a way you didn't think cold could. You wear thermal underwear and lots of other layers and you still feel constantly chilled. Your car is seriously reluctant to start and then never really warms up. You just have to experience it to really know what I'm talking about.

It looks something like this

actually that's a picture from a previous snowstorm that wasn't nearly this cold. Amazingly people still drive around and do stuff in this weather. Actually we have had some fun as it seems pretty much impossible to get the car out of any parking spot without someone pushing from behind. There's simply no traction. Ashley can spin the wheels all she wants, but it's nowhere near as effective as putting a big strong burly man (yeah, I'm talking about myself) behind. I feel like I can almost push our little car out of a parking space with no mechanical help, thanks to the slickness of the road. Next time we go to any store we are getting ourselves a snow shovel.

This weather creates quite an interesting insulation problem. As you know I have insulated our windows with two layers of bubble wrap. Yet still the house has been really cold. In particular the room that we intend to put the baby in is uncomfortably cold. I mean, like below 60 degrees. Lately we have just kept the door closed since no one stays in there, but we are understandably worried about it as a baby room.

I have realized that in addition to the glass part of the windows, a lot of heat is lost through conduction through the metal frame of the windows. So I have started bubble wrapping the metal frames. As I was doing that I made what turned out to be a very important observation: there are cracks where the window framing meets the walls. Fairly significant ones People normally ignore these kinds of gaps because you can't see through them or feel air blowing through them. But that doesn't mean they aren't a pathway to the outside cold. We had some caulk left over from our battle against the mouse infestation here, so I spent a while caulking around all the joints of the windows in that room. We closed the door and went to sleep. This morning we opened the door, and the room is as warm as the rest of the house. Plenty comfortable for a baby. The difference between having a constantly bitter cold in our house, and especially in that room, and having a nice balmy environment was just a few cents worth of caulk and a few minutes of my time. And it even looks better than it did before.

In case I'm not expressing myself clearly, let me be more succinct. Caulk is my hero. After our Christmas travels we are going to get a few big tubes of caulk and go over all the window frames in all our windows, and maybe a few other places as well. I have a feeling cold air comes in through the gaps in the baseboards as well...and I know mice do. So cheap, and so effective. All things considered, a few drops of caulk were probably as important as all my efforts with the bubble wrap, if not more so. When we eventually get a house, I'm going to caulk every joint that can possibly be caulked, then I'm going to get outside caulking and do the same to the outside of my house. And then I'm going to do it all again.

So our apartment is now easily the warmest in the building since we all get the same amount of heat and ours is better insulated than the neighbors'. It's comfortably in the 70s (and we're working on getting it up higher) despite the temperature outside--in fact the inside temperature in our house is higher when it's colder outside because they turn up the heaters to try and keep our neighbors alive.

It's interesting how much energy is spent heating the house. You know it's a lot because everywhere there's no bubble wrap on our windows, ice and frost have formed on the INSIDE of our windows. We can walk up an touch open ice any time we want from inside our house without opening windows. So you know the radiator is putting out enough heat to be constantly melting that. It makes me wonder why the people who build buildings here in Chicago don't plan for the extreme temperatures more.

Anyway, this cold affords us the opportunity to do a lot of complaining and start a lot of conversation with people with whom we otherwise have little in common. It has taught us a lot about the value of different insulation strategies. Not to mention the value of a little hot chocolate and snuggling. :)


Ashley said...

I'm pretty sure if I had married any other man...I'd just be sitting here cold.

I love oo!

Laura said...

And Christmas baking!!! When it was -9 degrees here, it was tons of fun to heat up the house with a batch of homemade cookies! But hot chocolate and snuggling are also very popular here. EXCELLENT discovery about the caulking. Mike just noticed that we have the same problem in our kitchen, so we'll have to get on that too! I'm so glad the baby's room is warm now.

Seth said...

Did you know that every winter that we go to Kristina's parents' house (which has been several trips), it always falls below 0 degrees at night.

They also only use a wood stove to heat their entire house. Its an impressively cheap way to heat their house since he cuts the trees down himself, then splits the wood. I'm pretty sure that their house is really well insulated.

Anyway, congrats on the new victory.

Danielle said...

I hate the cold.