Post 69: Are You a Winter Wimp?

I am! I hate being cold, even just a little bit. You’d think growing up in Minnesota would have toughened me up a bit, but no. As soon as I was old enough, I escaped to a warmer place: this Sonoran Desert. (We still have winters here, but they’re mild—nowhere near as cold as the Midwest and Northeast. Especially lately.)

I think my hatred of the cold had something to do with me choosing the small house I still live in today. Small spaces are easier to heat. We (my then-husband and I) could have afforded a somewhat bigger house. But the bigger ones struck me as harder to manage altogether. Harder to cool as well as heat, harder to clean and renovate.

This place was built in 1949, when most houses were built more solidly than today’s, but “central heating,” at least in this area, was done with something quite different from the big basement furnace of my Minnesota childhood home. Not only does this Tucson house have no basement, but that size of furnace would have been overkill for this climate. This house had, simply, a gas wall heater. One side radiated into the living room, and the other into the hallway. Hallway? Who needed a heated hallway?

Well, two bedrooms and the bathroom opened into the hallway, so I suppose the whole idea was that the heat would reach into those rooms, too. That assumed an intimacy of residents, willing to leave those doors wide open in order to get that warmth. Even if they were, the warmth didn’t reach the far corners of those rooms. When sleeping, I counted on two old quilts to keep me warm, one made by my grandmother and one by my great-aunt. They must have done the job; I have no memory of shivering once I crawled under them.

Then one day the gas company “dropped by.” It was a routine check for homes in the area, they said. But they found a leak and cut us off immediately, with no way to heat or cook or take a hot bath or shower.

We had to change everything to electric, and quickly. I bought a double hotplate for cooking and space heaters for the living room and bedrooms. Suddenly we had warm rooms to sleep in. I liked the way I could turn them on and off at will, since I was fine without them during the night. I could choose the right-size heater for the rooms, and use the dial to choose the amount of heat depending on what my body needed. I installed a solar hot water heater on the roof and eventually had the gas stove converted to propane—though I made a simple solar oven for baking (they’re so easy to make—anyone can do it.) I never liked to use the gas oven in the summer; imagine heating a west-facing kitchen when it’s 105 degrees or worse.

Electric heat takes a phenomenal amount of energy—more than gas—and more than electric appliances that don’t involve heat. But now we’re being told that gas stoves produce unhealthy fumes. I could have used that information fifty years ago, guys.  We’re also encouraged to convert our other stuff—cars, among other things—to electric. If we’re gonna do this, we’d better all start working very long hours setting up solar panels, wind turbines, wave power, and any other alternative energy sources. Otherwise, before too long, we’ll be blowing some kind of planetary fuse.

In any case, I did hear someone say that it’s more ecological to move away from central heating, I think he meant of any sort. It makes sense not to heat unused rooms. Our electric “saves” when the gas company left may just be good that way. Luckily we can afford right-size space heaters for most rooms so we don’t have to drag one from room to room, where we are. We just switch them on and off as needed, and usually don’t need two on at a time.

Because I’m such a wimp, however, we have additional tricks for staying warm. And this brings me to your Rebel Hack for today’s post. Pick and choose what works for you.

Rebel Hack #2: Tips for Winter

I dress warm inside. I have to admit that when I wear this ridiculously warm jacket, I sometimes knock things off shelves and it’s hard to do the dishes. But sometimes it’s exactly what I need. Of course, there are vests, sweaters, warm underwear, and many other options that won’t keep you from what you need to do.

Use a screen to divide a large room to make a cozier, smaller space to heat. I have three of these Japanese screens, but never bought one—they’re out there in the freebieverse. Start looking now for next winter! Or get creative and make something to exactly suit the room you have in mind.

 I like to use curtains to prevent heat from escaping into spaces that don’t need it. I got the curtains really cheap at Goodwill, and the tension rod is one of many I’ve collected over the years. This rod fits the doorway perfectly and goes up in seconds. What’s the curtain blocking? That aforementioned hallway that nobody spends much time in.

This curtain blocks the kitchen doorway, but the tension rod is too big for it. Luckily, it fits between a wall on the left and the side of a bookcase on the right. Ah, but you don’t want a cold kitchen? There are options. Push the curtains aside ahead of time. Dress a little warmer. Do the chopping and prep work on the living room coffee table and let the heat of your stove and/or oven warm the kitchen for eating and doing dishes. (Remember, you’re rebelling—chopping veggies in the living room, especially if there’s a movie you wanted to watch there, barely counts.)

In researching this post I found multiple sites that claim there’s a new trend in home-buying: smaller houses, bigger yards. This is monumental for the United States. This is wonderful. For decades most Americans have wanted the opposite, giving up yard space for more square footage indoors. People are finally seeing the sense of it,

I see this as true vindication for my friends who have championed small houses for so many years. I believe all of us who take steps for our planetary future—even baby steps—will be vindicated, too. These rebel hacks could put us out front, in the avant garde.

You’ll see.

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