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.

Heating degree days, weather extremes, and thermostat temperatures

The latest power bill arrived last week. January is usually the coldest month of the year and last year was particularly brutal. We used 2102 kWh during last year’s billing period for January. January here usually averages 1107 heating degree days (HDD: the number of degrees in which the day’s average temperature is below 65 °F/18 °C). Last year we had 1291 HDDs with record-breaking lows for many days; this January had only a few more HDDs than average at 1133 and only a single record-breaking cold day on the 8th. This January the billing period was only one day shorter, but we used much less electricity: 1252 kWh for this milder month. The downstairs minisplit thermostat was set a bit lower than last year, but mainly we have avoided the string of record lows of last winter so far. The minisplit heat pump works more efficiently when the temperatures do not approach its -13 °F (-25 °C) low operating temperature. The larger the temperature difference between inside and outside temperatures, the larger the heat flux through the windows and walls of the house, too. Of course, the only control we have in narrowing that delta T is by setting the minisplit temperature as close to the outdoor temperature as possible. It is always nice when the weather cooperates to make that outdoor temperature closer to comfortable!

A milder, more usual January also means that the annual energy usage now is only 7914 kWh, or 10.8 kWh per person per day on average. Last February was also brutally cold whereas this month is shaping up to be more the norm. It will be interesting to see how the house performs in an average year after the initial year of unusually high HDDs to find out what might make sense in terms of solar panels.