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Live blogging a snowstorm

With the best will in the world, there is not much Aunt Toby can do this morning about the weather in the eastern US. I’m frankly hunkered down in a motel room near an airport, lighting candles and hoping for a break in the weather in time for the DH and I to take a plane to London to make the acquaintance of the newest member of the fam. It is uniformly horrific everywhere and I have every belief that our flight will get cancelled again.

Such is the way with climate change and travel.

So, since I have absolutely no tools at my disposal (no can opener, no shovel, no gas grill, nuthin’) to do anything for readers today, I do have access (obviously) to the archives of KCE and I’ve pulled out a couple of hopefully useful and perhaps even a bit entertaining posts which might help someone out there over the next couple of days.

Take care of yourselves out there.
Cooking on an outdoor grill: cooking on the grill in the snow

General Prep and Operations: What to do

Oh yeah – dress warm, ok?

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!!

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

Safety First

For those of us who have ever had babies and toddlers in the home (or the “soon to be” or ‘brand new” moms and dads), the whole world of ‘kid safe’ or ‘baby proofing’ a home is a whole lot different than it was for parents from the 1950s and early 60s. Between ‘plug stoppers’, ‘drawer locks’ and ‘door locks’, you would think that you are pretty well covered as long as you take anything breakable off any tables or shelves that are within the reach of someone who is able to pull up and walk the furniture. (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…)

Flood Remediation

If you have a serious flood, hurricane or other related event in your area, you might be faced with having to do remediation on your own home, or that of a neighbor, friend or family member. Or, you just might do what the DH and I did yesterday; we traveled to a nearby village that was devastated last month with a horrific flood as volunteer members of a team doing demolition on a home owned by a very elderly couple. The entire village was consumed, basically and they are still digging out and cleaning up. A lot of history has gone down the river with that flood and many homes (many of which are very very old) are still not dug out and cleaned up. (more…)

Flood, Paint, and Honey

OK, we’re back. Actually, Aunt Toby never left, but things both here at Chez Siberia and in our area have been, shall we say, challenging for the past couple of weeks. Hurricane, tropical storm, biggest flood ever recorded (at least locally), and DOG help us, FROST IN THE GARDEN. I’m amazed I’m still standing straight up. (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…)

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