Rambling about Winter in This Old House

Our home was built in 1898. We’ve had the benefit of its shelter for almost 18 years now. Every winter has been an adventure, in that no two spaces in this old house are at the same degree of temperature at any given time. We did not ‘gut’ the house when we moved in, our slow renovation has certainly been no episode of This Old House. We fix what we can when we can or when something falls apart. And things do fall apart with regularity, we have looked outside to see our driveway spring a leak, I kid you not. Thankfully all major catastrophes have been spaced out in a timely manner into somewhat manageable chunks.

As far as insulation, when we moved in, there was none except for the torn bits of newspaper that had been stuffed between the walls decades ago. (I keep some in a glass candy dish in the library, it makes for fun conversation with visitors.) We insulated where we could without tearing the house apart. There were so many drafts my curtains danced. Years later, I reluctantly agreed to let go of our original windows for vinyl replacements and that helped significantly. Also I have, in the last few years, been acquiring thick wool rugs for all of the downstairs floors. I have thought many times about hanging curtains on the walls and over doors to help block the draft, and when I see tapestries and heavy drapes in old movies or read about them in books I think “I understand. COMPLETELY.” It may yet happen…

Insulation in a candy dish.

When we first arrived we had a gas only heating system for the winter. The cost to keep this house even moderately NOT COLD was well beyond our means. Talk about throwing money to the wind! We learned to skimp and sleep with the heat off, under layers of comfy quilts. I do love a cold, crisp room for sleeping.. not so much for anything else though! We liked the feel of gas heat over electric, and eventually installed a hybrid system that would only use gas when the outside temperatures dropped below 35 degrees. That does not happen with any sort of regularity in North Carolina. A couple of recent years we did not have more than a few days that low overnight, and we let our gas tank empty because the temps raised during the day. We were very comfortable! Marco decided to change gas companies and had our tank removed… but we are on a waiting list for the new company and have no tank in which to hold gas needed for our unit to work when temps drop. This year we have had several days drop below freezing, and have had many days of cold rain. That means: This house has been COLD this winter.

Walking into each room you will be assaulted with a changing temperature from the previous room. The den with the wood stove is thickly warm. The kitchen and foyer with the high ceilings and stairways are particularly drafty and cold. Our tiny tiled bathroom and the parlor are ridiculously cold. Our bedroom and Library are moderate. I keep scarves and blankets in strategic places, and have ‘house sweaters’ for different activities. I have been wearing a hooded wool sweater for days, hood up. Because I have chronic cold hands and feet, the coldest part to me is the wood floors. Wool rugs are THE BEST THING EVER. I positively grin with happiness and contentment when I step onto them from the frigid wood flooring.

We have a few electric space heaters to use when we are in a space that is not reached by the wood stove heat. (as in 80% of the house) We do not leave them running all day, they are moved about at random when needed. However I do have one for the parlor that I set at 58 degrees and leave running often because I have so many plants in here. There is a small one currently running beneath my desk keeping my toes from frostbite. I carry one into our tiny tiled bathroom occasionally, because it is so cold it would keep ice cream from melting. The dance of the electric heaters is from one space to the next must be specially choreographed because of the inconveniently situated and easily shorted out outlets– that’s another old house life adventure, knowing what to unplug before you use the tea kettle or the air fryer and which outlet can be used for the vacuum cleaner without turning off the refrigerator.

We have decided to get an all electric HVAC sometime this year before next winter. And if I can wish my dreams into reality, we will eventually use solar panels for some of our electric use. One day we will get more insulation downstairs, we have talked over many options. One does NOT involve ME crawling under the house, but I may consider that option. However I am leaning towards tapestry covered walls. (not really but I like to imagine.. well honestly maybe a little bit REALLY)

I usually love winter. I love wearing sweaters. I love breathing in cold crisp air. But this year I am very ready for slightly warmer temperatures so my house will behave itself. If the temps stay in the mid 40’s or higher, the house is relatively comfortable throughout because we keep never try to make it toasty in here, we keep the thermostat set around 65-67 degrees which is very comfortable.

I love this old house, and her many aggravations. I am not complaining, just laughing along with her at the absurdity of the situation. And I can’t help but daydream and wonder about winters in this old house in the years before electricity and central heating. With enough wool and coal at my disposal, I think I would have been quite comfortable here in the wintertime. However I sincerely thank God in heaven that He placed me here on earth in the time of the flushable toilet.

I had not planned to share anything like this today, I have been working on a post about the books I have chosen to read and have read in 2021, but I just was in a sharing mood. I do hope to share more intelligible did-bits about our home and our plans here eventually. This was just an impromptu Hilda Rambles episode!

2 thoughts on “Rambling about Winter in This Old House

  1. The house we moved into this fall was built in 1945 and has heating oil fueling an old water radiator system. It is nice, warm heat, but we have had to fill the oil tank twice this winter…very expensive even with oil prices where they are currently. And if they get higher…well, let’s just say we are looking at alternatives! I enjoy hearing your old house stories. The house I grew up in was built in the late 1800s, and I have fond memories of its many quirks and charms.


    • Old houses most definitely have personalities! Each with their unique set of quirks and charms. I hope we have learned all of the quirks here after 17 years, but I know better. I hope your 1945 is blessed with far more charms than quirks!
      My old middle school had a radiator system and I loved the warmth! We would love to move to solar but we are going to wait until our son figures it out for his circa 1951, 800 sq. ft. house before trying to figure it out for this large old lady.


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