Monday, December 22, 2008

Jack Frost's Fingers

I hope I can call last night a "worst case" scenario for this winter's weather. Actually, I hope that description fits for the next decade of so.
We had two Arctic cold fronts pass through in the past day. At 3 a.m. on 12/21 we were at 31. Twelve hours later we had fallen to 14. The trouble wasn't the temperature so much as the wind: it gusted as high as 43 mph giving us wind chills to -25.
Last evening we watched the thermometer continue its dive: by 9 p.m. it was 1 degree and the poor furnace, which tried nobly to hold our 64 degree setting, finally decided enough was enough. The thermostat in the dining room fell to 63 and the furnace - already switched to electrical back-up - ran without stop.

Time to do something! The "Pipe Brigade" - which I wrote about in Pinehaven - was called into action. We fired up two portable kerosene heaters, placing one near the bathroom door and the other at the north side of the kitchen. Each was turned low, just enough to add some needed supplemental heat. I put an electrical heater (upright, oil-filled) on the enclosed porch and turned the 600 watt switch on. I pushed two panels out of the ceiling so that some heat would rise into the pipes in the second floor bathroom. Finally, a trouble light and muffin fan were turned on beneath the first floor bathtub to keep those pipes warmed, too.

Both Dad and I were nervous about all the equipment running, especially the kerosene heaters, so I lay a blanket on the living room floor, got two pillows from my bed, pulled an electric throw atop me, and slept right there. The last time I slept in that same spot was the night of 12/31/86 when we first moved here.
At 2:15 a.m. I awoke to my alarm and checked the pipes. All was well. I climbed the steps and found that Mom had already checked the second floor plumbing. All was well there, too. By 5 a.m. Mom was awake and we traded places: she came downstairs and I went up to my bed.
So, what's the bottom line? Well, we used 241 KWh of electricity. At our current 9.6 cents/KWh the last 24 hours cost of $23.27. That's a lot of money but not quite as bad as I feared. I truly think this will serve as a worst case benchmark for electrical usage. We couldn't have turned much more on. Electricity costs will rise - and so will fuel oil - but I think we've now got a figure I can trust.
We bottomed out at zero. We should be getting up to about 39 on this date and as low as 19. So the 29 normal for this date can be compared to a figure I expect to come in at about 7 degrees for yesterday, 22 degrees below normal. This is December?
For my own notes, I've found that closing the door to the second floor allows the first floor furnace to cycle better, to have a rest. Since the second floor has its own furnace, there's no additional risk in doing this. With the door open, cold air seems to fall down the steps like an invisible ghost, blanketing the dining room and causing the thermostat there to keep the furnace running.
We'll have other very cold nights this winter but I'm hoping we've already recorded our worst.
By the way, the pictures I've posted are taken through the second floor bathroom window. Jack Frost's icy fingers have been busy there last night. The top picture is a higher-resolution image cropped from the second so you can better see the icy threads.
When I stepped into the shower this morning - not three feet from where this picture was taken - I heard the Fiberglas floor give an icy crunch. I think the bottom has a layer of frost on it where the wind made it into the west wall.
But given the conditions, we're pleasantly warm in Pinehaven this morning and the pipes are in fine shape. The Pipe Brigade is ever vigilant, of course, and that makes all the difference.