A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I know the picture is a little blurry, but it says -29 degrees Farenheit. It's a little cold out tonight in Alaska. If I were in Fairbanks, as my husband and 13 year old son are tonight, I would be even colder... it is -38 there. And it's not even the coldest part of the night yet.

What does this mean for us, who do not have central heating run on natural gas and/or electricity, seeing as how we have neither in our cabin? Lots of wood. We heat with a wood stove, and it has been going literally all day. Normally, I get it going real good before I go to bed, then start it again for a few hours in the morning, but not tonight. Tonight, I must set my alarm to go off every 2 or 3 hours so that I can get up and add wood to the fire.

Last night, it was -10 or -15, and I let the fire die out overnight. When I woke up this morning, it was about 50 degrees in the house. Not cold enough to be dangerous, but chilly enough that I was reluctant to get out from underneath my warm down comforter to start the fire again. But it is much colder tonight, cold enough to require vigilance. So I will be getting up during the night.

It is interesting, living with a heat system that we must constantly regulate. This is the first winter I have not lived in a house that just automatically stayed at the temperature I chose, without me doing anything, or noticing at all for the most part. It means that in very cold weather like this, I am tied to the house. I cannot be gone too long if I don't want to have to start another fire when I return. It is much easier to keep the fire fed than to start a new one.

In addition, I had, without thinking, planned for the entire family to go to Fairbanks these last few days, to visit my oldest daughter. Then I remembered what all of us being gone for 4 days would mean. The house would get cold. I have pets that would not be terribly comfortable if the house got cold, and we certainly have things in the house that should not freeze. So then, a friend volunteered to come over to the house once a day to light a fire, to keep the house at least above freezing. But luckily I looked at the weather reports and realized that it would be getting this cold. One fire a day just would not be enough. So, I stayed.

I am not complaining. I would have liked to have seen Meghan, but it doesn't really bother me to stay home. I am just fascinated by how differently we think about things when we have to directly manage our needs, as opposed to setting the thermostat at 55 and leaving for 4 days, knowing what temperature the house would be on our return.

I wonder how different our society would be if all of us had to have this level of consciousness of all of our daily needs? If all of us had to bake our bread each week and know how much wood had to be hauled in the house each day, and so on. It seems to me that there would be much less importance placed on status and more on practicality. For example, we have about 950 square feet of living space. We would be cutting, chopping, stacking, hauling, and burning much more wood if we had twice the space. While there is a part of me that would love to be living in a fancier house, most of me is glad we built small. Especially when it is cold outside.


homebrewlibrarian said...

I had four days with no functional heater and a little over 24 hours without running water. In Anchorage. It didn't get to -29 but never did the temp get above -7.

I got by fine with a couple space heaters and kept the temperature low. Well, actually, I keep the place at 55 all the time anyway. I had to take a day off from work because Michael couldn't get in to town to do anything and I wasn't about to leave space heaters running unattended. Or risk having the interior temp drop below freezing.

The water part has turned into an experiment. I wanted to kick myself for not having stored water already (I have three 5 gallon soda kegs just waiting for water) but was able to take two 5 gallon water jugs to my workplace to fill up. So I started seeing just how little water I can get by on. Even after the water came back on, I'm still only using water from 5 gallon buckets with spigots. That I only have to go to the tub to fill them up doesn't mean I'm not being careful. Since Tuesday last week, I've used less than 15 gallons of water. Mind you, I did take a hot shower on Sunday and use the toilet to dispose of flushable cat litter but everything else has been using the buckets. I'm getting real good at using water until it's entirely too "gray" anymore but I'm not patting myself on the back just yet.

What I learned: If the electricity goes out, I'm screwed. There is no backup heating system in this building. Heat is supplied through a natural gas heated boiler through baseboard radiators but an electric pump moves the water around. No electricity=no pump=evacuation. I've looked into having a wood stove installed but at $5000, that's a bit too dear. I've talked to Michael about options so we'll see what happens.

Heck, and I didn't need to get off grid to learn a little of what you have every day!


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