Archive | May, 2011

How to Keep an Old House Cool in the Summer

May 27, 2011


Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. before the 1970s malaise and even before the Industrial Revolution, most homeowners focused more on keeping their homes cool in the summer than warm in the winter. Back then, wood and coal were plenteous, and labor was cheap (not to mention that families had dozens of kids back then), so heating the house was relatively easy. Houses were built to release heat. High ceilings were the repositories of warmed air; thin glass windows– the bane of our modern homes– and drafty rooms kept the house well ventilated. I’d even heard that the reason for all the decorative gingerbread features in Victorian homes was not for aesthetic reasons, but to give the impression of icicles and therefore the illusion of coolness. I am not sure if this is 100% true, but it’s what I’ve heard.


That's the closest I'll ever get to gingerbread on this house...

At any rate, the world is turned upside down, now. Thanks to the energy crunch, we homeowners must seal every crack, plug every hole, lower ceilings, install thicker windows with better quality glass…. and while there’s great benefit, in hot or cold weather, to insulating walls and sealing every crack, it does make the interior of the house rather airless during summers. Airless homes are not healthy. Mold and mildew love homes with temperate, stale air. Toxins within the home, such as natural gas and small traces of carbon dioxide, reach poisonous proportions in tightly-sealed homes. And since we are in our homes more frequently than previous generations, ventilation is all the more important for our health and well-being.

Close Up

Our old wiring could never have supported the large electric load of an air conditioner.

I have lived in old homes all my life. Old homes aren’t really built for the power-sucking, window-filling air conditioning systems of today. My old homes had outdated electric, unable to withstand the kilowatt slurping window-installed air conditioner. And unless we gutted the walls or purchased new fangled cooling units, we couldn’t install central air, either. So I grew up learning the passive methods of keeping a house cool in the summer. I remember my mom waking up very early on summer mornings to “batten down the hatches” before a particularly sultry summer day dawned. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:

1. Open the windows at night.
Summer nights are obviously cooler than summer days. I place fans in the windows, blowing cool night air in at night. I sleep better when it’s cool, too.

2. Close the windows before the sun rises.
After encouraging the cool summer night air to enter the house through open windows, I basically seal the cool air in for as long as possible by closing off the source of the heat– the summer day. All windows are closed and curtains are drawn. I may have one upstairs window open, with a fan blowing out.

3. Know the natural air flow of your home.

Every home has some kind of natural air flow to it. I have studied the flow of the drafts in my home, so I know what directions the air naturally travels downwind. If I work WITH instead of against the flow, I can save energy (and money). This helps me to position fans in the right areas, especially that upstairs “out” fan I mentioned in #2. There’s one room in the house upstairs where all the air goes into. I open the window in that room and point the fan out. The fan will blow the heated air that is rising up from the first floor out the window. This does two things: it removes the heated air, and provides a constant draft that makes the house feel cooler.

4. Hang heavy drapes.

Solar energy is a marvelous thing, but when it’s making you sweat buckets, it stinks. I close all windows and blinds during the hottest time of the day (from 11am to 5:30 pm). My current home is situated in the middle of a small business district, with large sections of heat-pumping asphalt all around me. Heavy drapes are my only barrier between comfort and that nasty, heat-belching asphalt.

Whew Exhaustion


5. Reduce heat-producing appliance use.
Obviously, the clothes dryer is a biggie here. If you have a laundry area right in the living quarters, it can get pretty hot, running that thing. Hang clothes or relocate your dryer to the basement. Don’t use the stove at ALL (you’ll really regret it!)– get a grill and cook outside. Computers generate a lot of heat, so turn off the ones you are not using. Lower your hot water tank thermostat. Use the “air dry” cycle on the dishwasher. Turn off lights. Regard anything that produces heat as an impediment to your goal.

6. Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house.
Deciduous trees will provide shade for your land during the hot summers. The nice about deciduous trees is that they will drop their leaves by winter, giving your home access to the warm sun that is welcome in the winter. Don’t plant them too closely to the house, or you may have roof and/or gutter problems when the leaves drop in the autumn.

7. Plant evergreen trees on the north side of the house.
Much like deciduous trees on the south, evergreens offer your home a little barrier. But while deciduous trees provide a barrier from the hot sun in the summer, evergreen trees provide a barrier from the cold north winds in the winter.

8. Install light colored roof shingles.
Black asphalt shingles retain heat and continue radiating it. Shingles in white, gray, or even red absorb less of the sun’s sweltering rays.

9. Insulate the attic.
And seal all holes and cracks from the attic to the living areas. In my old home, the insulation is both insufficient and disgusting. It’s the old cellulose crap– loaded with dust and it stinks like all get-out. Oh, how I hate cellulose insulation!


How I HATE this attic!


Well, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, seal the holes! In my home, the roof heats up and the backyard heats up thanks to all that asphalt, and the heat builds up to epic proportions in the attic. And I know all about physics, but in my house the heat actually DROPS. Must be wacky airflow. But the house sometimes smells like the attic and the upstairs gets really hot. When we gut the upstairs, I’m going to seal that blasted attic.

10. Open the basement door.
Before we had our sneaky cat who is always trying to get outside, we would open the basement door and place a fan in the doorway. I really can’t believe how wonderfully cool the basement is. When the weather gets really oppressive, I sometimes go down there to cool back down to 98.6.

FTK 3.26No2

Of course, sitting in the refrigerator is a great way to cool off...

11. Install awnings over south-facing windows.
Believe me, this works. My new kitchen window at 4 feet by 5 feet is so wonderful, but it faces south and receives the full brunt of the hot summer sun and asphalt.

So there ARE ways to keep the house cool without busting your energy bill. After all, you’ll need to save every dollar you can for the winter’s heating bills!

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Find the Kitty Friday 5/27

May 27, 2011

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Unless you are an experienced cat finder, you may have trouble with this one…


And YES, as is obvious from all the boxes I have in my photos every week, we are STILL unpacking from the renovation. Just this past week, we had to scour through the stack of boxes in search of a microscope for school. Ugh. The house is just a disaster, still. I haven’t had time to clean it and organize it, it just seems to be a monumental task. Oh, I’ll get to it sometime… but in the meanwhile, we’re still “dumpster diving” in the stack in the garage whenever I need my gardening books or my furnace installation instructions or my summer shoes, lol.

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Get Rid of It. Yeah.

May 26, 2011

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WHAT IS IT with all this crazy weather?? Will someone please tell me?! Flooding here, flooding in the Mississippi?? Vicious tornadoes and I saw that they even had snow in Colorado?? In late MAY, for pete’s sake.


My area is still cleaning up from late April’s flash flooding. Everything is just so messy. Like everyone else, we’re chipping away at the messes, but we really don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to cleanup.

I recently heard about a very nice junk removal business– – Affordable Junk Removal and Hauling. These guys look amazing! They solve the problem of junk removal, which, as you might suspect, can be very painful on the budget as well as on the emotions. Many people think their only recourse for removing junk is to hire a (very very) expensive professional hauler. We paid THROUGH THE NOSE last year for dumpster service. Ouch.

Well, the guys at give you the ability to find more affordable junk removal teams in your area. has a list of companies with excellent ratings based on price and customer service. It’s pretty easy to find junk removers in your area– just visit the website and type in your zip code. And if you are an ambitious entrepreneur looking to start up a junk removal business (and it’s looking like a pretty lucrative career, these days!) you can sign up your company to get on the’s list! Check out more information on the website. This is a good website to bookmark, too. Because even if you don’t have a natural disaster or renovation going on, you’re going to always need a helping hand to get rid of the old furniture, barbeque, busted bicycles, broken lawn furniture……

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Is Home Security the New Necessity?

May 26, 2011

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As a very young and fresh-faced new homeowner with a passel of kids and low income, if you had asked me if home security was a necessity, I would have laughed you off the property. Our solution to ensure against the possibility of theft was “have nothing of value!”

Well, it seemed funny when I was 25….

Now, 3 or 4 years later (*snicker*), I’ve changed my thinking. Not that I own much more of value, mind you. Unless you count the “new” curbside furniture collection or the 10-year old computers and monitors, lol. We do have a new washing machine and hot water tank, but I’d like to see someone take off with those in our nosy neighborhood, uh huh.

Anyway, home security always seemed reserved for celebrities or high-profile homeowners with home stuffed to brim … but I’m seeing a lot of gadgets marketed for the “average” Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner. In my tech news magazines, home security devices are hot, filled with how to install your own hi-tech system and how to monitor cameras wirelessly both in the home and while away. I’m interested because… well, I’m always interested in home technology. It’s fascinating.

What do you think of home security? Do you think the best policy is to “own nothing of value”? I personally have a few home security devices around for kicks, but I’m certainly interested in building a whole mega-system, Tim the Toolman Taylor style. But let’s hope I don’t blast a hole through the roof in so doing…..

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A Little Discouraged About the Gardens

May 21, 2011


For the first time in years, I’m seriously thinking about skipping all gardening this year, even the vegetable garden. It’s been my custom to add a little bit to the yard every year. When we bought the property, it was horribly overgrown. Neighbors used it as a semi-park and dumping ground. It took a heck of a lot of work to build this yard, to convince people that NO you cannot use my new lawn as your doggie doo despository, NO you cannot use my lawn as your next NASCAR racetrack, NO you cannot give your kids saws to chop down my new baby trees just for the fun of it. It’s been a ferociously uphill battle, but I had some major victories. My Secret Garden is my pride and joy.

Blooming Garden

Two years ago. Mmmmmmm. šŸ™‚

But a number of things have really discouraged me. The flooding, for one. Every few years, my property is flooded with several inches of flood waters. It wipes out EVERYTHING. I’m tired of it. I’m so tired of battling the town, begging them to solve their stormwater drainage problems and slow down the McMansion uber-development up the hill. I’m tired of cleaning the silt and the mud from the house and yard. I’m tired of all the weeds that take opportunity on the wings of the flood waters to sink their gritty roots into my lush flower beds.


My gardens are under there... somewhere. See how close the water is to the house.



The vegetable garden today. *sigh*

It’s been raining just about every day in Upstate New York, since January. When I step onto the lawn, my feet sink a little into the squishy mud. We can’t mow sections of the lawn because it’s filled with sticky mud. What do I do? Shovel out the lawn???

Then there’s the deer. We are inundated with deer. I live in town, for pete’s sake! But there are woods (albeit small lots) in the back. Dozens of deer come to my property for their munch fests. I think word has got out there’s a feast of free vegetation to be had here. They eat like there’s no tomorrow. They even eat the plants that deer aren’t SUPPOSED to eat. Oh sure, I could spend $6,000 and put up an 8-foot fence around the perimeter of the property…. all 2,500 feet of it…. but we put up a small fence in the front, and THAT was agonizing enough. No can do.

Then there’s the fact that I work a few jobs now. Working, coupled with doing all the mom and housewifey stuff like cooking and cleaning, coupled with all the renovations this old house desperately needs has me depressed and frustrated most of the time, when I stop to think about it (something I try to avoid!).

I can’t keep up with it all. I’m too old. I’m not even sure if I can keep up the house anymore. While we have *most* of the downstairs gutted and renovated (except the windows and bathroom and some trim work), the upstairs awaits me. And the house beams are sagging and need to be supported (a major undertaking). And the basement foundation needs to be remortared outside (requiring excavation). And the roof needs replacing. And of course, we need new siding and we have got to get gutters to direct all this water away from the house. I really wonder if it’s all worth it. Why fix up a house and yard when it floods so bad that it wrecks everything you’ve done? I just want to patch up the holes, sell the place and get something situated on a hill. It’s SO discouraging.


We can't mow yet because there's a ton of mud sitting on the lawn still.

I guess this is normal for people experiencing flooding and other problems. I don’t see any way out and it’s terribly depressing to think about it. I think I’ll just get my zucchini at the store this year….

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Find the Kitty Friday 5/20

May 20, 2011


Can you spot her? Where could she be?


Hint: It’s where cats love to be….


Isn’t she the sweetest thing?! She often hops onto the clothes dryer to nestle in a laundry basket. She cares not if the basket is filled with socks, just as long as it’s warm and cozy. Gotta love cats.

We took her with us on our trip to Virginia. Yes, a 10 hour drive EACH WAY. She was…. vocal. We didn’t need to lock her in a carrier, she behaved well enough with her harness and leash. But we think she howled during the ride because she probably got carsick. After a few hours, she settled down and snoozed. She even used the litter box! What a good girl!

When i told my brother in Virginia that I would be bringing Livvy, he was incredulous. “You’re bringing your cat?!” he said. I explained that Livvy was a member of the family, that Siamese are special, etc etc. He doubted, can you believe it! But as soon as he saw her, he said, “Oh my gosh, what a beautiful cat!” And by the time we were packing up to go back home, my brother asked me if he could have Livvy. šŸ˜€ I said of course not! What would all her blogging fans do without her?!

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Taking It Easy This Week

May 12, 2011


After dealing with the flooding, the piles of assignments for my jobs, the domain name transfer hassles and the massive amounts of work that did (and still must do) with yard (mud) cleanup and such, I’m taking Marg’s advice: We’re taking it easy this weekend. šŸ˜€


Livvy is, too. She’s such a good example for us all.

Relaxing Livvy 1

We’ll be back, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, early next week. Have a great weekend, my friends.

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Find the Kitty Friday 5/6

May 6, 2011


Typical cat. šŸ™‚ Gotta love it.


So how’s the blogosphere been? I’ve hardly been on, as my assignments have increased lately and I haven’t had much time for blog reading (and blog writing). Hence my late Find the Kitty post. The weeks have floooooooown by. Wasn’t yesterday Earth Day? Where did the days go?

I really need to slow down…

We had a horrible fright with Livvy the other night. Someone left one of the back doors open, and she was gone. No one noticed for quite some time. My son came to me, asking where Livvy was after he saw the door. Needless to say, we all freaked out. It was late, about 9:30pm or so, dark as anything. Oh Lord, my precious cat…

We eventually found her, skulking behind some shrubs at the property line. I was so angry, I could have throttled her. Sheesh, doesn’t she realize what a terror she causes us sometimes? Anyway, she’s safe and sound. As soon as she came in, she plopped by my feet (warm spot) and bathed herself. And slept soundly all night.

That’s enough adventure for me.

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My Little Cupcake

May 3, 2011


She’s such a sweet baby. šŸ™‚

Livvy Cupcake

I didn’t want to have those flood photos up as the first post, anymore. :-p I’m sick of the mud and rain and cold. I have this terrible longing to hop in the car and drive far, far away… to some warm, sunny beach where I will sit on the sands and watch the ocean waves crash on the rocks. ***sighhh***

We’ve got good news: our insurance will cover the basement cleanup and damages. We have water back-up coverage, THANK GOD. Unfortunately, some of our neighbors do not, nor do they have flood insurance. šŸ™ Please keep them in your prayers. It’s bad enough slogging through mud and more water… it’s horrible to have to pay out of pocket for the damages.

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