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Monday, August 26, 2019

Reach for a cold switchel

I’d be happy with this summer if it’s all we ever had. ― Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver

Today it will be 85F -- not bad for around here -- tomorrow 100, the next day 95, and then, I think, fall comes.

We have gotten away with a lot this summer, here in western Oregon, compared to so many other places. The breezes came almost entirely off the ocean, with moisture that tempered the temporary drought we always have. For the last three or four years we had more than temporary; the earth cracked, many trees died, gardens were nearly impossible. I suspect there will be more of that, so this summer, with so many days peaking at 80, may become a treasured memory.

We here at Stony Run have worked hard over the years, as the June through September sunlight seemed to be intensifying, to mitigate the heat without air conditioning. Our first move, in the 90s, was to paint the blue house white, inside and out.

We planted shade trees right away. These incidentally get to be part of the orchard as well.

The general rule in our hemisphere, temperate zone is, deciduous trees on the south, east and west, conifers as a windbreak on the north, but most of our summer winds in this valley are from the north and winter winds from the southeast, so ... whatever. Anyway, shade!

Then we caulked, doubled-paned the windows (with vinyl), and insulated above, all around, and below.

Much of this was done to adapt a sixty-year old house to winter -- which worked, as our wood consumption dropped from almost five cords to more usually three, although some of that was the increase in warm winters. But it also helped us toward that tried-and-true Oregonian habit of opening the windows and doors and running fans at night in the summer, trapping cool marine-flow air, and closing up during the day.

Great, but our night air is warmer than it used to be.

Our next move was to grow hops vines on the house, for yet more shade. These are taken down every winter, allowing sun to reach the siding and air to circulate.

We then painted the roof of the house (as well as of all the outbuildings). This made a startling difference -- ten to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, all by itself. At the time I understood it might help with the earth's albedo, but that turned out to be complicated, as so many things do. There, I may be benefiting myself and harming others, as I would with A/C.

There's a downside to the white roof, especially near tall trees (those shown here have grown), which is that it has to be maintained a lot. I'm about 63 in the photo and 70 now, so ... oh, well. A better solution might be to install solar panels, but this roof won't support them without a rebuild and they are still out of my price range. I wonder, too, about the embodied environmental costs of a solar power system.

We added shades on the outside of windows.

These are coffee sacks, one dollar each from a nice coffee shop in town. I've since basted material from old white sheets onto these, and painted the south and west facing trim white.

Friends offered us a little frame utility building to tear down, and we used the lumber to enclose the front porch. It faces east, not a big problem area, but this was our chance to further insulate the outer living room wall by making it into an interior wall.

So, were we able to prevent buying an A/C unit?


A recent summer went into the 90s and hung there, 92, 95, 97, 94, 90, 93, on and on, and the night temperatures began to climb as well. Trapped air was no longer the golden solution, and the hundreds of square yards of whiteness, while a great help, ultimately could not keep the dark interior of the house from reaching the 80s by evening.

I ran down to the everything store to buy a unit and they were sold out. Other people had walked in, sweating, and were asking the same question as I. A glance toward the entrance told me many more were coming -- a stampede was on.

A/C had been regarded, in our valley, as optional for as long as anyone could remember, and we were all caught flat-footed by the new regime. At my fifth store I found a little window machine (cheaply made overseas), installed it, and ran it, feeling guilty and defeated. But you can only stand in a cold shower for so long.

I don't like having to have the thing here, but there it is. What we would have done without it, I dunno -- maybe go to nearby Fall Creek:

Much of this has vanished along Fall Creek, alas.

But the Jones Fire pretty much burned up the Fall Creek recreation zone (and then there was the record snow, which smashed a lot of the weakened trees) so a lot of it's not open to this day.

Many go to the coast when it gets bad, but we have chickens to take care of.

This machine was rated for one room, not a whole house, so we hung old sheets in all the doorways, making the living room into our summer camp. The dining room, where the wood heat stove lives, is our winter camp, and sometimes we sheet up in there for cold snaps -- down to ten below zero, say.

People of means in our neighborhood have been installing ground-effect heat pumps. We aren't people of means. And what do we all do when the power goes off?

This year Stony Run has been able to get along on windows-and-doors combined with sheets. Who knows what next year will bring? I don't -- but I don't like the odds.

It's 65 in here right now, while outside it's 82 and climbing. While I can, I think I will go cut some willow foliage and layer it over the fall garden. Then come back in and reach for a cold switchel.

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Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre

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