Daffodils bloom: The end of the heating season is near

The Ice Follies daffodil bulbs burst into bloom during the course of the day and have so far proven resistant to the local deer herd's nibbling.

The Ice Follies daffodil bulbs burst into bloom during the course of the day and have so far proven resistant to the local deer herd’s nibbling.

When I biked off to work this morning I had only an inkling of the flower display that would welcome me upon my return. Spring is really here! I turned off the minisplit heat pumps and ventilation system and opened a few windows for fresh air before heading to work. Although freezing temperatures are still in the forecast for the next week, the weather was picture perfect today. The house is insulated enough to comfortably survive the freezing nights without the heat pump when the sun shines and warms the outside air into the 60’s (°F) during the day.

The electric bill came again yesterday; 7470 kWh were needed to power our house and life in it (still including some construction work) for the last year. The water bill arrived shortly beforehand, too. We are averaging about 1000 gallons of treated water per month, or about 17 gallons per person per day. Soon the rain barrels can be set up again to collect water for the garden and indoor plants. I just planted some lettuce seeds in the rooftop garden planters on Monday and look forward to nurturing those seeds into salads. More rain should arrive here in Southern Indiana tonight to help. By contrast, the news from California is bleak today as the governor announced mandatory water use reductions for the first time in the state’s history. Fortunately, this house has so far taught me that small changes can reduce water usage significantly without reducing quality of life. Perhaps some agriculture will have to shift back to the Midwest from California, but my former home state should be okay given only current technology and some creative will. Designing our houses and lives for greater resiliency is clearly the future.

Spring cleaning

From snow to snowdrops! Last Monday showed this sign of spring near the drive. Few of the snowdrop bulbs I planted in fall 2013 actually bloomed last year, but with a year to adjust, many of these harbingers of spring are brightening the woodland floor.

From snow to snowdrops! Last Monday showed this sign of spring near the drive. Few of the snowdrop bulbs I planted in fall 2013 actually bloomed last year, but with a year to adjust, many of these harbingers of spring are brightening the woodland floor.

With spring comes spring cleaning, from airing out the wool clothes for storage to yesterday's window cleaning chores. Passive solar heating of course works best when the windows are clear. The smallest operable windows can be cleaned from inside. The other windows were all designed with hardscaping (decking, patios, paths) below to safely host a chair or ladder.

With spring comes spring cleaning, from airing out the wool clothes for storage to yesterday’s window cleaning chores. Passive solar heating of course works best when the windows are clear. The smallest operable windows can be cleaned from inside. The other windows were all designed with hardscaping (decking, patios, paths) below to safely host a chair or ladder.

Spring is here! The snowdrops are blooming and garlic and daffodils are sending out green leaves. The Coral Sunset peonies planted last fall are also starting to show reddish-colored signs of life. Last weekend I turned off both minisplit heat pumps and opened the windows when the temperature soared to over 70 °F (21 °C) for a day. Since then the upstairs minisplit has been on only intermittently when the temperatures outside stay cold and the clouds insist on hiding the sun’s warming rays. The thick walls of insulation and triple-pane-glass windows keep the house comfortable now that temperatures are rarely dropping below freezing. Happiness!

Clearing snow from cobbles

Half a foot of snow came down on the cobblestone drive, but was easily cleared with a standard snow shovel.

Half a foot of snow came down on the cobblestone drive, but was easily cleared with a standard snow shovel.

Winter suddenly came in February. The weather all month was unusually cold compared to average and snow has covered the ground for weeks. The usual question we get though is how we clear snow from the cobble drive.  The cobbles have turned out to be much easier to get traction on than a flat concrete surface. The gentle undulation of the stones makes it easy for a wheel to find a spot to push off on even with a layer of ice. When only an inch or two of light snow came down, a broom easily cleared the drive. When half a foot of snow came down, a snow shovel (or snow blower I imagine) over the surface of the stones did the trick. The remaining thin layer of snow could be swept off, but easily melted when the sun came out. Earlier in the month a single cobble came lose, but was easily set back into place. The drive has been surprisingly easy to manage in winter.