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Greene: House Cozy

02/27/12 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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 (Host) Commentator and free-lance writer Stephanie Greene lives with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County, where she's learned that keeping your house warm in Vermont during the winter is a major preoccupation, as well as a brisk cottage industry.

(Greene) Our housing stock is among the oldest in the nation. Most of it is pretty drafty, and with heating costs rising state of the art weatherizing has become a priority. At parties, you’re likely to find people gathered in earnest groups debating the relative merits of geothermal heat exchange as compared to pellet stoves. “Stay warm” is an endearment that closes conversations. To listen to us, you’d think we’re all about to turn into icicles if we let our vigilance slip.

I’ve had a recurring dream that I knitted a giant tea cozy and dropped it over our drafty old house. It had stripes, pom poms, ruffles, all the frufru I do not generally knit into the presents for my mostly male family. In the dream, I am, for a while, content to forgo picture windows or the convenience of doors. Even my nocturnal interest is in warmth. In the miraculous terrain of dreams, there is enough light, there is egress and electricity. It is beautiful, muffled, peaceful and warm.

Soon after the first time I had the dream, I called up Efficiency Vermont. Our first expert showed up with a giant fan that duplicated a hurricane and told us to insulate the living room ceiling.

Since our living room had once been a barn, this was good advice. My husband and a friend climbed huge ladders, put foam board in place, and sprayed more foam into the cracks. After three coats of plaster, our living room was much improved. We put in an efficient wood stove, installed fans to push some of our fancy new warmth back down onto us, and got off oil. But, like many old farmhouses, ours was not built all at once. It has added-on rooms that remained a brisk 40 degrees. Being able to see our breath got old; we needed to make these rooms a little more livable.

Our second contractor was a real educator. I kept insisting that if he just wrapped some stuff around the house, my family would be warm; he kindly explained the way home heating actually works. The basic principal is that the house sucks cold air up from the cellar and leaks it out the roof. While insulating the sides of the house is fine, our major problem was the cellar seal. Filling the crawl spaces and leaky rock foundation would have required some extremely tricky knitting. My giant house cozy just wouldn’t address the cellar problem. While he did impressive things with foam in our cellar and built a new cellar door, we used a case of caulk, crawling along the perimeters of the house, filling gaps. We put in some better storm windows.

This round of improvements tightened our house by almost 38%. When the temperature doesn’t dip below 30, we can stoke the fire once and go to bed. Now I dream of making rugs; my feet are still a little cold.
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