Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Virginia Houses



Why is it so cold in here? This house is the worst house I’ve ever lived in temperature-wise. This and the Amityville Horror House. I thought it was going to be better when we moved here but the only thing that’s different is there are less cold rooms. I’m never comfortable. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. I don’t know which is worse. Well, yeah. The cold is worse. I can’t take the cold. Let me ask you something. Why does seventy degrees feel nice when you have the air on during the summer, but it’s downright freezing in the winter? Brrr. And why is it colder in the house than it is outside? It’s not right when you step out onto the porch and say, “Oh.” Surprised. And take off your jacket.

It wasn’t like this in the Jackson house. People came inside in the summer and thought I had the air on. I never put the air on. In fact, we really didn’t have any air conditioning except for a window unit in our bedroom that was used so little, when you turned it on, leaves and dead beetles blew out. And one in the kids’ bedrooms so no one could say I was a mean mother. In the winter, we never even turned the heat on! We started the woodstove at the beginning of the season and never let the fire go out, emptying the ashes from the door down bottom, and it heated the whole house. Ah, it was toasty warm in there. And yet we used very little wood. Good thing because we used to have to buy wood in New Jersey. If we used a cord of wood in that house the whole winter, it was a lot. It was a good house and a good stove.

The little bungalow we lived in on the Jersey Shore and the Oklahoma ranch were the same way. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer. But these Virginia houses… They’re about going to kill me. If you hear on the news that they had to carry a frozen body out of a house that had frosted eyelashes and white eyebrows, fingers frozen in a position as if poised over a keyboard, that’s me. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I have on two pairs of socks right now, a sweatshirt, a vest, and a sweatshirt jacket. If it gets any colder, I’m going to put on my hat. I’ve worn it in the house before and Kurt hates it. Says it doesn’t flatter me one iota. It’s one of those kind of hats that burglars wear with holes for your eyes and your mouth. Plus he’s sick of seeing it because once winter starts, I put it on and I don’t take it off. Even if it’s not very cold that day and I can get away with a light jacket, I still have to keep my head covered. I have two of them. I mean, I have many hats but I have two of my favorite. I have to have a back-up. You never know when you’re going to get the original all dirty. Maybe a horse will step on it, not with your head inside, but say you took it off to listen to a heartbeat and it blows off the nail you hung it on. It could happen. And so it needs cleaning. You have to have the back-up for cases like this.

My mother was so cold when she was visiting us when we were living in the Amityville Horror House that when I came downstairs in the morning, I found her sitting next to the stove, the oven turned on to broil and the door propped open. The sugar bowl, her coffee cup and the ashtray were on the oven door like it was a little table and she was reading the morning paper with a scarf around her neck. “Good morning,” she said, like it was normal to be sitting in front of the gas stove reading the paper.

Oh, but I knew the stories she was going to tell when she went back up north—Debi and Kurt are freezing down there! They are roughing it! They might as well be in Alaska and they ought to burn that damn house down they are living in and come back to civilization where it’s warm! (That was the year Jersey became Florida and people could go swimming year round because it was so nice up there and why did I ever leave anyway?)

Now there is no reason for these houses to be this cold. Yes, the Amityville Horror House was a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse with beadboard walls but prior owners had taken down all the beadboard, numbered it, insulated, and then put it all back up again. There was blown-in insulation in the attic, batting in the cellar, weather-stripping and plastic on the windows. We had two propane furnaces, one upstairs and one down. There was an electric wall heater in the bathroom. We had four fireplaces, two with woodstoves, one cranking continuously. And we had an outside wood furnace, the big daddy of all woodstoves. You could burn whole barns in that outside woodstove and in fact, we cut down and burned enough wood to fill two pickup truck beds every week. You don’t even want to know what the propane bill was. And still. It was cold in there.


Why can’t I be warm? That’s all I ask.

I thought this house was going to be better. This is the pig farmer’s house—a little Depression-era farmhouse one third the size of the Amityville house. The ceilings are low. I can touch the ceilings upstairs without standing on my toes. Handy for changing light bulbs and removing batteries in touchy smoke detectors when you’re cooking pork chops. Insulation and new vinyl siding were installed over the original clapboard. All the windows in the back were boarded up and sided over. (I didn’t do it—the lady I bought it from committed atrocious acts of destruction on this place in an effort to improve and modernize—someday I’d like to remove it and expose the charming, three-over-three windows that line the length of the back porch and put up little red-and-white checked curtains.) The rest of the windows are new. We put in a woodstove as soon as we moved in. And new electric heat with an impressive energy star rating. And still. It’s cold in here.



I’m getting that hat.

26 comments:

Leonora said...

Ha! I guess it can't be your house because ours is only 6 years old and it's cold all the time here too! This must be some interesting phenomenon that someone could study. We also do that stepping-outside- thing and exclaim how it's warmer outside than in. We're from upstate NY for heaven's sakes. How can we be colder down here?

Gail said...

Maybe the amittyville coldness has followed you.

Cape Coop said...

Heat! Heat. Heating is the bane of our existence here in NJ, and it is the reason we know that our adventure in our cute home will not last forever. We are Florida girls and we would rather sweat than freeze. Besides, I'm a bald lass, and my hat collection is all fuzz now, I dearly want to wear my cute scarf collection more instead of these fuzzy chapeaux!

Snappy Di said...

My house is the same way... I'm always friggin' cold with socks and sweats on. The floors are cold, the master bedroom, the kitchen... brrrr. I just snuggle under my blanket in front of the computer with a cup of 'anything' hot to drink.

Di

sweetflutterbys3 said...

My house tends to be cold too. I freeze to death at night even though I have several covers on and the heat is on. During the day, I'll put on a sweater over the sweater I already have on. My nose stays in permanent freeze mode until spring.

I can't understand it either. My house is over 50 years old so maybe it's just the older houses....

Beth said...

I'm really sorry you're so cold, Debi, but, as always, I enjoyed your post. I had to smile at the image of your mom reading the paper with the oven door propped open like it was completely normal. And, boy, I can relate. When my children were both babies, we lived in a house built in 1907 with an ancient smoking belching oil furnace---and we were never warm. Then we moved to an old trailer where after we got our first month's electric bill for almost $300, we turned our thermostat down to 54. We were always dressed in three layers there in the winter. I didn't wear hats, but I wore this fleece neckwarmer that I could pull up over my face and warm my nose from time to time. And even with that, our electric bill was still $200. We'd turn our heat up when we had visitors, but it was still cold. We'd offer them lots of hot tea or cocoa, but our guests never stayed very long in the winter.

Amy Tate said...

At least it was 75 today! And if you wait a few more years you'll be in the middle of menopause. Maybe those hot flashes will come in handy!

Rural Rambler said...

Deb our house isn't cold but we do have an Amityville Horror kind of leak that sneaks in somewhere on the east side of the house and drips on the finished basement ceiling. Does that count? I am sorry you are freezing your toesies off. We had a cold house when we lived in Northern Virginia, maybe it is a Virginia phenom. The mental picture of you in the winter hat with holes for eyes and mouth-cracks me up this morning!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

I AM thinking it's a Virginia thing because that house with the good stove up in Jersey was eighty-years old so it's not necessarily an old house thing. Ooh, Rural Rambler, mysterious leaks can be even worse than the cold!

Now Amy, that's looking on the bright side!

Cape Coop, have you tried a burglar's hat?

Thanks for your comments friends!

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

Brr. My fingers are frozen as I type. Toes too. Our guests come, but they wear many layers and don't often like to stay overnight. Can't get my mom to visit past September because our house is too cold and she might get hyperthermic or something like that. I feel your pain. Or your cold. Or something like that. Maybe I better get another hat.

Gilly said...

Debi - I am so glad you popped into my blog, because I had lost you! My computer died big time, and I lost all my blog friends' addresses (plus a host of other things I am missing!)

I'm sorry you are so cold - insulation is the key. We have double glazed windows, inches-thick insulation in the roof, and central heating, which unless its really cold, like down to 6 or 7C (42-3F) we just have on in the morning and later afternoon and evening. We could have foam insulation in the walls, but we are semi-detached, so our neighbours on one side and a big garage on the other keep us cosy!

But there is nothing worse than being cold. Those woolly hats with a space for eyes we call balaclavas, after the First World War battle, I think. Very useful in cold weather. Just don't go to the grocery store with one on - you will have the police round pronto!

Tanya said...

I totally hear you. We only got here last summer and I froze all winter, no matter how high the heat was up or how much wood we burned. I was still bundled up and cold. Right now I have the heat up to 75 just to take the chill off, but it feels so good I don't want to turn it off!

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Claudia said...

Deb, why are Virginia houses so cold? Mine is too, and I think its only around 10 years old!
Bob keeps the air on at 69 all summer and I freeze...then the heat gets set at 70, and I freeze!
Just getting a heated lift chair for my Mom's visit, and she sets under an electric blanket, chair and bed. Me too.Bob puts a sheet over him, only in winter!I need more wine......Tea doesn't work.

Tammy said...

Maybe cold, but very charming. :)

Our house is 100 years old. It was vacant for 30 yrs before we bought it and moved it 35 miles and started the restoration process. If we don't burn wood, it's cold. It is definitely a house to wear slippers and sweatshirts. I love my house but always say I'll never do it again. A nice, new 2 bedroom bungalow and a huge barn will be my next home! Gotta dream!

CountryDew said...

I wear layers and keep a little heater by my desk. My house was built in 1987.

I blame the climate.

Loved the image of your mom sitting by the stove. Priceless.

Chris said...

I've lived in VA for years, first in cold old houses. When I built this house I sited it to catch winter sun and store it. That, the wood stove, insulation and curtains make this a cozy big house. It can be done! I feel your cold, menopause does help :).

Jeff said...

Hmmm .... don't know what the answer to your situation is. Which direction does your house face? Do you have air leaks? Is the floor over an insulated crawl space? Do you have any evergreen trees to divert cold winter winds from the house? I imagine that there are companies out there who will do an assessment for you to give you tips for improving your environment. I visited with Chris briefly when I was in Floyd and I will testify that her house is, indeed, cozy. She has a little room on the front of the house that gets so hot in the winter that she has to turn a fan on to cool it down. When I visited last week, it had been more than a week since she had fired up the wood stove. As she said, it can be done - you just have to do some research. Take advantage of the sun!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

The climate CountryDew? The climate down here is great! Like Leonora said, we're from up north and it's way colder up there! And from everyone's responses, doesn't matter whether it's an old house or a new house. For some reason, Virginia houses are cold!

Jeff, the back of the house, where she boarded over the windows, faces the west. The deck is so hot there that we can't sit out there. Perfect spot for the pool though. It's like bathwater. I imagine that if I can get those windows uncovered some day, I'll get some heat from the sun. There's some insulation in the crawlspace but the crawlspace gets lower and lower and so the whole front of the house is basically sitting on the earth. You can't get in there--it's too low. I'm sure that doesn't help.

Tammy, I miss my 100-year-old house, even though it was the Amityville Horror House and even though it was colder than this one. I long for real beadboard.

Going Crunchy said...

Poor, poor thing. I feel the angst! My first year of my second round of grad school found me BROKE broke broke. I lived in this wonderful little half trailer, half cabin in the woods of NC.

I didn't know that I had to fill up the natural gas tank to have heat - and that first winter I just couldn't. I went without heat - but did get a small efficient space heater. I would only heat one area of the house at a time.

It stinks to be cold!!!!!!!

Wolf said...

i hate being cold too, and unfortunately, that seems to be what happens to us in the winter in our house. the thing i dislike the most about our place is the baseboard heat, which is SO EXPENSIVE that we don't turn it on high and we don't turn all the units on. therefore, we are cold a lot. one day, i hope to be able to get central heat. hopefully, if they can actually do that in our house.

stay warm!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Wolf, whatever you do, don't get a heat pump. I hate it.

Oh my Going Crunchy, no heat at all! But at least you got your degree. That's worth it!

Kritter Keeper said...

our 'old house' was built by the slaves in 1821 and seems to do just fine...but the barn will the very same thing as it is brand new and built of block and brick...i like that in the summer when it remains about 5-7 degrees cooler. thank you so much for finding my blog and commenting. about your friend's fox issues...the easiest thing to do is get a great pyranees. they are great protectors. just put the puppy in with the chickens so it knows who it is to protect...or build a beter coop with quality wire (not that chicken wire) and be sure to wire underground so nothing can dig in, kind of like a huge rectangle...then put several inches of dirt on top...most do not do it that way and wonder why they lose chickens...martha stewart does it that way. being from jersey, are you a bruce fan?

Jamie Ferraioli said...

I've found that the best way to warm myself up is to get mad. Seriously...the cats knock something over and I go chasing after them, Lou forgets to empty the dishwasher and I stomp around opening and closing cabinets, I notice the shower has started clogging and go to town with the plunger. suddenly I'm all fired up...works everytime!! haha.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

bwahaha! This post cracked me up. Maybe it was the vision of your wearing your burglar hat all the time, or seeing you being carried out of the amityville horror house with frozen eyelashes (which is rather morbid thinking that's funny. but oh it is! lol!). Such a great post!

We live in a wonderful insulated home. We never use the swamp cooler in the summer. We just keep all our windows open and let the breezes in, keep the blinds pulled closed.
And in the winter, because all our windows face south, even at 7,000 ft with snow and ice outside, we keep the heat set to 56 degrees and the heat rarely ever comes on.

After reading about your current home, I am feeling very blessed. :)


~Lisa

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