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Do this now – get those cracks!

windowframe In the photo, what you are seeing is the light of day, streaming through the crack between one of the windows in the basement at Chez Siberia, and its frame. Then, underneath the frame itself, you see a line – that’s the seam between the frame and the concrete foundation.

As far as energy is concerned, I may as well just open the window this winter and let the let all the cold in. We will not discuss why we are, all of a sudden, paying some attention to the windows in our basement. Like everyone else, it’s ‘down there’ and we don’t think about them much. For anyone who has a furnace in the basement, however, it might be a really good idea to check (and it’s easy enough – just do what I did, go down to the basement during the day, keep the lights in the basement off and check around the edges of the windows – if you see light from outside, then you have a leak going on there.

So. What to do now? It’s October!!!

Well, first thing is that it’s not that cold yet – as a matter of fact, here in the eastern half of the US, next week, it’s going to be positively balmy. Any temperatures over 55 degrees F. and you are good to go to seal up those cracks with silicone caulk, spray foam (the cans with the little pipette tube at the end are great to get the foam EXACTLY where you want it, rope caulk and the like. ‘

The first question you need to ask yourself is this: Do we EVERY open these windows? EVER? OK, so if your basements floods every spring and you need to get fresh air inside to dry things out, you might need to open the windows, but a lot of people do NOT ever open their basement windows. They are merely there to provide some ambient light. If you open the windows (or only certain windows), then use rope caulk like this. You just split the roll into the little ropes and press them, a piece at a time, around the seam around the window frame. Then, in the spring if you need to open that window, you are good to go; just pull out the rope.

However, if you only need to open one or perhaps two windows in your basement, I’d advise a) using rope caulk on those and then sealing up the rest with caulk or spray foam. First, examine the windows themselves. Are there loose panes of glass and so on? Well, the best method is to take out the window and repair the caulking around the glass panes. That will require you to chip or scrape out the old caulking (and you may break a pane, which is…a pain), and then putting in NEW caulking. Or, you could take the lazy person’s route and get a couple of pieces of plexiglass sized to cover the window, screw those in and the window panes are sealed. Then shut the window firmly (you might need a shim or some other stuffing to get it to hold tightly in the frame) and seal around where the window meets the frame with spray foam or silicone caulk.

And what about that seam between the frame of the window and the foundation – Ditto. Seal that baby up with caulk or foam. Remember: even if you do everything upstairs from first floor to the roof to keep the warm air in and the cold air out, if you have not sealed up the seam between the foundation and the sill in the basement, you may as well just leave those windows open all winter long. Wastes a lot of energy AND it makes the floors on the first floor feel very cold.

Until next time…

Insulating Basement Floor Joists

And..back to cold floors and a cold house and what to do about that. But first, as is my wont, a little story.

A couple of years ago, we had a huge flood in our area. Chez Siberia, being on a hill and not near the rivers involved, was not hit, but many people were and a big coordinated effort was put together to send teams of the able-bodied to homes that frankly were under water and needed wrecking out. The DH and I volunteered to be part of one of those teams. This poor little house was old, with a laid-up stone basement (the worst sort; I have grave misgivings about any house with a laid-up stone basement, mostly involving water and snakes but that is another story for another time). The flood had filled the basement and the first floor to almost the ceiling. We won’t discuss the logic of doing anything with this home other than bring in the bulldozers and roll-off trailers. The DH and I were part of the team that went into the basement, which at this point was like something out of “Alien” if you recall the early scene in the hold of the ship with the eggs — foggy, dark, drippy and dank. To say it gave me the creeps is to put it mildly.

All over the floor, in the six inches of muck, were hunks, chunks and long pieces of fiberglass insulation. There was also wet, moldy insulation hanging from the ceiling joists. There was also a part of the house that had been built over a dirt crawl space, which had been turned into a swampy combination of mud and insulation. Handling that stuff was a lesson in the shivers, I can tell you and there was a whole part of the under-story of that house that we did not touch because the crews upstairs started their work with saws and crowbars, which caused all sorts of stuff to start raining down on our heads. We bolted for the stairs and told the crew chief that they’d have to either cease work upstairs and send everyone down to the basement, or just work upstairs and do the basement later. After looking at the basement, the crew chief decided to send in a request for professionals to come down since it was probably going to require some engineering.

But (and back from the digression), for me, it was lesson learned: fiberglass insulation should only be used in areas where it is dry, expected to always BE dry, and not subject to ever getting wet. Ditto for cellulose insulation, which had been blown into the walls of the first floor and which had acted like a wick, pulling floodwaters right up the walls into the ceiling.

But, back to our own little corner of Hell in our basement. This area, which frankly, no matter how much drainage we have done, is for geographic and probably other reasons outside that corner of the house, is always damp, and tends to leak up through the floor when it rains. So, there was no way we were going to use fiberglass bats in the ceiling joists of that area to try to keep the cold from penetrating the floors.

Enter: Styrofoam insulation.
OK, this would not be my first choice, either, and I’m not going to get into the whole ‘I’d rather not give my money to companies such as xxxx’ discussion. This is a lesson in how to get this done. Styrofoam insulation, to be blunt, is faster, more efficient, and quicker than anything else we’ve ever done. I did not want to bring in the spray foam folks – that stuff is amazingly effective in terms of sealing up and if it were the summer and we were going away for several weeks, I’d think about it. But it’s winter, and I host extremely small children in this house. Not the time for something like urea foam.

Here’s how you go about this. You’ll need:
Steel tape measure
Small knife, with or without a serrated edge
Chalk snap line or some other way to making a line to follow for cutting
Mallot (optional but really useful)
Piece of wood – chunk of plywood or masonite(tm) works well

Step One: Check under the floor joists
for nails sticking out. There may be ones not only pointing down from the subfloor upstairs, but also sticking out of the joists themselves for various reasons. Either pull them or figure out how you will slide the piece of foam over them because you need to get the foam right up next to the subfloor.

Step Two: (see photo at the top) Measure between the floor joists just under the subfloor. Believe it or not, that measurement might not be the same as between the floor joists at the bottom of the joists.

Step Three: Mark the styrofoam insulation
.Using your knife and the measurement from just under the subfloor, mark both ends of the piece of insulation. The DH is kneeling on the basement floor. Make sure you do NOT put your knee into the insulation.

Step Four: Snap a line through both those marks
. This is your guideline.OK, so maybe you don’t have a chalk snap line. You can use a meter or yard stick and a pencil; just be careful, again, not to step, lean, or put your knee into the insulation.

Step Five: Cut the insulation
. No one’s arm is that long and you’ll need to get to the center of the insulation. Put down the plywood or masonite(tm) and carefully lean down on that so that you can reach the center and cut along the guideline. Then go to the other end of the guideline and do the same. If it’s a little bit jagged, then use your knife to even it out.

Step Six: Install. First, test the piece up against the space between the joists to make sure it’s going to actually go in. If it’s too big, the piece will snap into pieces if you force it. If you need to shave off a little bit from the long edges, take care of that now with your knife. Then, sliding it over your head, get the short end right up against the end of the space right next to the wall. Make sure that is snug and that, as in the photo, one long side of the piece of insulation is snugged up against the inside of one of the floor joists. Raise the other edge. If it jams, do NOT force it. Take it down and shave off a little bit more of the insulation and do this again. Don’t get too enthusiastic with that knife – you want the piece of insulation to fit against that other floor joist, but you also don’t want to end up shaving off too much. To finish off, using your mallet and piece of wood, put the wood up against the insulation and tap it, all along the surface, to make sure it is good and tight against the subfloor.

First piece done. Now, before you lose your nerve, do the rest!!

Bits and Pieces

It’s been one of those weeks (and weekends), my little wombats. So you get odds and ends, bits and pieces, random thoughts, and whatever I’ve cleaned out of the fridge. Lucky you.

If you are from the Southern Hemisphere, them please forgive the following statement which is on the one hand, one of those obvious items but for you folks, it’s rather cruel since you are basically burning up and have dead bats falling out of the skies and kangaroos dropping from heat prostration. My condolences.

But for those in North America, I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, that it has been cold. Brass monkey cold. And here at Chez Siberia, it has been ten days of energy discoveries the likes of which I am sorry to say, have taken us by surprise. The house was not only cold, it was ‘crouching over the oil heater and choosing which side to cook first’ sort of cold.

For those of you who have followed us since we got started here, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Wait a moment there, Aunty — you folks gutted the house and put in massive amounts of insulation in the walls and replaced all the windows and doors and shouted “Halleluiah”. How could you be cold?

This, my little cupcakes, is a reasonable question. And rather timely and a reminder to us all. You will see up at the top a not very artistic picture of one of the ducts which goes from our old fuel oil furnace in the basement to some particular part of the house (probably the livingroom but that is not important here). As you can also see, it is NOT insulated (you can get special batts to wrap ductwork so that you are not spewing (my word for the day) heat into places where you are not. We’d always planned to do this (cue violins) but never got around to doing it in the front basement (versus the back basement which could be rented out as a meat locker even under the best of circumstances, and which we did insulate – not only the ductwork but also underneath the floor joists under the dining area (known in the house as ‘Fairbanks, South’).

Now, here is another, also unartistic shot. which, other than the foam insulation around one of the copper waterlines, shows the underneath of the subfloor for our first floor.

Also, uninsulated and also something we had always planned to insulate.

Now, when we first got all the work done on the house, it made a HUGE difference in warmth and comfort upstairs. It really did. Why is it that now, the first floor feels like a garret? Besides the horrific cold weather we had?

One thing changed, and it was one thing that we did not take into account when we did it.

We stopped using the furnace in the basement (ahhhhhhh). We installed a wood pellet burner in the fireplace in the livingroom. We love it and it puts out tremendous amounts of heat (it also dries out the air in the house like fury so we have to run a humidifier as well but that’s another deal entirely). But, it’s obvious that what happened was that when we ran the furnace in the basement, that was heating the basement and that was heating up the subfloor and regular floor on the first floor, making the first floor much more comfortable. I never thought about that issue.

So now, with no furnace going in the basement, it’s extremely cold down there (I measured it this morning and it’s 45 degrees F. What it was during the “Polar Vortex” when the wind chill factors here were minus 35 degrees F, I don’t know and don’t want to know), so the subfloors are cold, which makes the floors upstairs cold, which makes the house chilly and uncomfortable.

Lesson learned. Next big project: Insulate the subfloors in the basement. Since we have a certain amount of humidity issues down there, we will be using foam insulation and for the moment adding wool sweaters for everyone.

Odd bit number two (and a more pleasant one): Another bit of comfort food. Here’s a dessert I have not made in a very long time but which is just lovely. It can be eaten as/is or dressed up with a bit of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream. It has the added benefit that if you are cooking with little ones, they are amazed that you just dump everything in the baking dish, throw it into the oven and voila.

Denver Chocolate Pudding

You’ll need: Some sort of 2 quart, deep baking dish. I use a Corningware(tm) casserole.

Sift together:
3/4 c. white sugar
1 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 T. baking cocoa

Melt: 2 T. butter and throw that into the sifted ingredients along with 1/2 c. of milk and 1 tsp. of vanilla and mix up with a fork.

Spoon into a greased baking dish. Then throw on top:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
4 T. baking cocoa
1.5 c. cold water (or, if you want to live on the wild side and have it around ‘at hand’ (as my Mum used to say), use cold coffee instead)

Bake, uncovered in a 350 degree F. oven for 40-50 min. The signal that it is done (you don’t want to overdo this) is in the picture above – you will start to see the chocolate sauce stuff coming through the crusty top of the cake.

Serve by spooning up the cake at the top and cover with the chocolate sauce that will be underneath.


Timely suggestions

OK, folks, sometimes it is good to, as they say in the classical music biz, ‘recapitulate the theme’ before we go on to the ‘variations.’ In your Aunty’s case this weekend, it hit me (literally; the calendar fell off the fridge) that we are now half-way through August, which means many things to many families:
1. School will be starting soon and many of you will be head-first in those lists that get sent out from schools for what your child is expected to have with them when they go back (if they have not gone back already – some school districts have started I think).
2. Even though it is still warm (and still very warm) in many places (except for our readers in Australia and NZ who are moving into the spring), fall and winter are making their inevitable march.

So, as I seem to do every August, your dear Old Aunty is here today to remind you of a couple of things which may be useful in terms of the next 8 weeks or so (depending on where you live):

First, it is still warm, which means that we have a window of opportunity (as they say) to use substances such as caulk, paint, wood putty and so on, which require temperatures of at least 55 degrees F to cure.

Second, if you have been cudgeling yourselves over the head with doing something about making your home more energy efficient, now is a bloody good time to actually take steps to doing it. There is literally nothing worse than laying on your back in a crawl space in December putting in insulation (well, actually, there IS something worse and that is laying on your back on a filthy barn floor when it’s 0 degrees F. at 2 a.m. and trying to help a ewe have her lambs. But we don’t do that anymore, hey nonnie nonnie and a fiddle-dee-dee). Doing this in August, September or October is much less nasty.

If you’ve been thinking about getting into canning or freezing (even if you don’t have a garden yourself), now as as good a time as any to do this. First – the farmers markets are exploding with gorgeous produce and so-called ‘U pick” is humming out there with fruits and veggies. Check with your county Cooperative Extension to see if they are having any canning, freezing, jam making etc. sorts of classes.

Let’s say you do have a freezer – now is a very good time to check it out and bring all the older stuff (you DO label what you put in there with what it is and when you put it in, right?) to the top or the front (depending on what sort of freezer you have) so that you can use it up before winter starts.

If you have a garden or beds or planters of plants, you may look out and feel that all the flowers are looking just a tad peaked at this point. Deadhead the perennials and cut back the annuals and give everything a good dose of organic fertilizer like compost tea or fish emulsion in water. That should give them a good pick-me-up to carry them into the fall.

For those folks looking for some posts to help them along, here you go:
Saving Energy

Freezing, Canning


Fast and Furious: Are you ready for Sandy?

This is a quick and dirty post, pulling up several of what I think are the most useful of my prior posts of being ready for weather related emergencies. For readers living between about North Carolina and Maine, I think you need to think seriously about what will hit late in the weekend up through Tuesday according to the National Weather Service (or whatever weather provider you trust).

If nothing else, I think we can all count on losing the power.

So here are my best thoughts on getting prepared. If nothing else, you’ll get a good laugh with the video. Stay safe, my friends.

No power – cook with your grill
Are you ready

Saving Energy: Basement Windows

Depending on the age of your home and your location, you might have windows in your basement. Frankly, for most people, windows in the basement are an after-thought unless someone locks himself out of the house or there’s an accident with a baseball or you have a flood and need to get ventilation into the basement to help with drying things out.

THEN, you’ll remember the windows in the basement. (more…)

The Gift of Warm Feet – Part 2 – Fiberglass

What you choose to do insulating with depends, to a large extent, on the conditions you’ve got to work with in the area that you are insulating. The DH also wants to do the ‘old/old’ part of the basement, which was built in 1939, has a positive jungle of electric wiring, ductwork, and water pipes in the ceiling. So, there are weird spaces, angles and just sheer ‘stuff’ to get around. For this, he felt that his choices were a) fiberglass insulating batts cut into pieces and b) expandable foam. If we were working in the summer, where we could open every window and door in the house, use fans to pull the chemical vapors out of the space and so on, he might have chosen the expandable foam. But we aren’t and we can’t and between the very little regular visitor who stays with us several days a week and our trying to hold onto every brain cell we still have, we went with the batts. (more…)

Give the gift of warm feet – part 1

No, this is not a post about wool socks (though goodness knows I love ‘em). This is about an odd bit of house anatomy that many times get forgotten in the insulating operation. People at this point are very familiar with insulating attics, walls, around windows and so on, but if you live in an older home (and Chez Siberia has two flavors of older: the original part of the house built in 1939 and the newer part of the house, added in 1987), one place that is often forgotten is the sill. (more…)

It’s That Time of the Year

OK, folks — we have a window of opportunity here; let’s not waste it. Right now, in a lot of the US, it feels like the picture at the top. Even at Chez Siberia today in Upstate New York, it feels like this. We had taken the awnings (curtains, deck drapes?) down for hurricane Irene and I figured that it would cool down enough so that we would not have to put them back up.

No such luck. Today is breathtakingly hot here, so out came the step ladder and the drapes and up they went…again. (more…)

Every Month is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Well, next month is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so I’m getting the jump on everyone here to talk about skin cancer. Part of this is that I feel that EVERY month should be one where we remind ourselves that we can get skin cancer, not only during the spring, summer and early fall. Temperature has nothing to do with the risk of skin cancer. As a matter of fact, if you asked a thousand people in this country what states have the highest rates of skin cancer, they’d get them wrong – they’d pick Florida or Texas or California. The highest rates of skin cancer are found in states such as New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont. Cancer by state

And don’t ask me why (more…)

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