Climate Zones

One of the interesting, if not endearing, aspects of living in a 155 year old house is the array of climates one can experience moving across the building. The progression of climate change has caused considerable temperature variations this winter, with temperatures ranging from well below freezing (typical for this time of year) up to the 60's. That variability has been good for our LP Gas bill, but the variability makes the temperature differences in the house more apparent when it gets cold, as was the case this past week. For most of the week we would bask in tropical temperatures in the kitchen and dining room, and periodically make forays into the chilly, autumn climes of the living room. Any time spent there typically involves sweatshirts and blankets, and a lot of entertainment was sought via iPads, since the TV resides in the living room (thanks Steve Jobs!).

This all flipped on its head Friday morning, when I walked downstairs into the kitchen to make coffee, only to be embraced by normal winter house temps (we keep the thermostat set at 63). To be honest, having not donned a sweatshirt prior to this journey I would have sworn it was colder than that, but a check of the thermometer in the kitchen said otherwise.

This may seem like over-dramatization, but I assure you it's not. At times we can see a nearly 30-point difference in temperature from one side of the house to the other - temperatures in the high 50's in the living room, and hovering around 80° in the kitchen and dining room. A day later the entire situation can change.

Mostly this has to do with two separate factors. The largest component to this feature of our 1800's house is the direction of the wind. The living room - where the thermostat resides - is on the northwest corner of the house. When it is being struck by a strong, persistent, prevailing, northwest winter wind, the temperature in the room drops below the thermostat setting, and it's often the case that, while these conditions continue, it is not possible for the furnace to catch up and heat the room to the shut-off point. As a result, the furnace runs the entire time, and rooms that aren't being pelted by nature's malevolent majesty see a dramatic rise in temperature.

The second component is that the dining room and kitchen are on the south side of the house, in the direct sunlight. In this house of windows that can make a significant difference in daytime temperature on its own, without the wind as a factor. The dining room in particular has a large picture window (which replaced the original bay window on the home). That window offers unfiltered access to sunlight for three-quarters of each day, and offers a lot of heat gain. On such days the dining room is almost certainly the warmest room in the house.

An older picture of the dining room window

None of this is to complain - this is a reality of living in a 150~ish year old home. My Grandma Marie spent a lot of her time in the kitchen, as I recall, and I suspect this was in part because the prevailing west wind made that eastern room more comfortable the other areas of the house. In our own old country house across the field a search for my mother in winter would often find her sitting atop the furnace registers, reading a book. I learned to emulate this myself, though often with comic books rather than novels. It's a pleasant enough activity right up to the point that you realize it is indeed possible for your buttocks to fall asleep...

And - to be clear - we don't simply allow this phenomenon to persist. When it becomes clear that the furnace is unable to catch up in the living room I will turn the thermostat down so that it will stop super-heating the rest of the house. Then we relocate to other rooms - one of the lovely things to a big, drafty old house is that there is always another pleasant space, away from that draft, to curl up and relax.