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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whatever it takes

We (Oregon and Washington) are the cool spot in the lower forty-eight, and, no, I don't mean by that what a hipster might mean by that. With more energy in the atmosphere than in, say, the last century, the winds have been roiled and we're. locally, faced with lower temperatures in June as a result of -- yep -- global warming. Just look at temperatures anywhere but here in the northern temperate zones to get some idea of what some folks are going through. But we do usually manage to reach 100F for a day or two most years even here, and the lead-up to that can be a week in the 90s. Plus, the winds could change again, and my valley could be the next Colorado Springs. In fact, in 2002 we had a 500,000 acre (that's right, five hundred thousand) fire just a ways south of here.

We keep our bug-out gear in order for that, and try to maintain a clean zone around the house. But this post is about just trying to stay comfortable if a) like us, you have no air conditioning and don't plan to get any or b) the power demand for AC in your region just blacked you out, and they're saying it could take days to get it back (and you forgot to stash gasoline for the emergency generator, and didn't get solar power back when the Tea Party hadn't killed the retrofit money yet). And you're on a budget, a really serious budget.

So, how to keep a coolish house under the circumstances? You can insulate the attic some more, but that's out of the budget just now. You can grow shade trees, but you didn't think of it twenty years ago. You've heard about heat exchangers, but now is just not the time to look into that. In a drier climate than ours. you might look into a swamp cooler, and sure, you have fans, but remember, we talked about a blackout.

There are, assuming you own your own home or have a really really relaxed landlord, options. heat gain in homes in summer is mostly from light. Here, we painted the house white for reflectivity, then bought ten five-gallon cans of white goop intended for sealing leaky camper trailers and broomed it over the whole 1850 square feet overhead. Aside from helping with leaks and extending the life of the roll roofing, this turns away a good part of the spectrum of light from overhead. It's cool to the touch even with an air temperature of 100F, and the attic gains heat much more slowly, radiating less into the house in the evenings.
    With the white roof, if we close the windows and doors first thing in the morning, by afternoon, it can be as low as 82 inside when 100 outside. A big help. The other thing we do, every year nowadays, is block the sun from the windows. Not by drawing the curtains, but by taking the curtains outside. We buy burlap coffee sacks from a coffee shop for fifty cents each; they have many uses, but some we cut open and staple to a piece of lath to use as curtains on cold winter nights (storm window outside the window, burlap inside). The lath is suspended from a couple of pegs (4" drywall screws work very well). In anticipation of summer heat, we take these outside, tack them upside down in the window frame (the lath serves as a weight to reduce wind issues), covering the whole window with a somewhat reflective shade that also admits a little attractive lighting.

  You think this is fugly? Well, sure. But this is how one sixty-three-year-old lady with diminishing carpentry skills tackles a problem with fifty cents worth of materials. Your mileage may vary. 

From inside, it can look downright classy. Anyways, we think so.


One resident of the house wants to see a little better from her office. So we did this:

Now, that's fugly. I suppose I should scissor those straggly strings at least. But it works! You see how the shade slants across early in the day. During the hot afternoon hours, there will be good coverage. Notice too some paint has been brushed across the screen to add some extra reflectivity. Inside, there's a humongous house plant by the window; it gets enough light to live on, and adds yet more shade without totally obstructing the view.

Add some kiwis and figs trained to a window, and a shade maple just getting big enough, after twenty years, to start making a contribution, and things really get shady around here.

Not that the house can't get stuffy. After four or five days of a heat wave, each evening the system seems to help a little less. We open up at night and run fans (blackout? we're hoping to go off grid again in a few), and as soon as the outside temperature is the same as inside again in the morning, say 65/65F, button up again. And avoid cooking on the range. It's good enough for most heat waves.
But if all else fails, we'll head for the same place everybody else around here goes for relief. And sit around in the pools until sundown. Whatever it takes.


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