Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It was a long time coming, but we have finally received our first dose of frigid weather. 

We live in an old house, built in 1900, refurbished (by us) in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 ... and counting ... and I know when the cold hits because you can feel the puffs of frosty drafts in different areas of the house. Mind you, our house is no sieve. It's insulated pretty well, as far as I can tell. I checked the attic, and it's dry, with lots of puffy, yellow insulating material. The previous owners installed double-paned storm windows before they sold the house to us. Still, you can feel places where the cold seeps in, slithering along the floors with chilly tendrils. I can feel a draft just now, as I'm sitting at our kitchen table. And I know exactly where it's coming from, the cracks of space between the baseboards and the wall. In the dining room, now Natty Lou's playroom, we have a light switch plate located at the base of stairs where there is a small opening that the plate doesn't quite cover. You can feel a little draft there. In the den, where the hardwood floor doesn't quite meet the wall, you can feel a draft there. We have little carpeting, which is a good thing, although that means a cold floor in the winter. Especially with an unfinished basement below. 

Yet by far the most serious chink in our house warming (get it?) strategy is with the window in the stairwell. It's one pane, an old pane, a pretty pane, irregularly shaped. There's still rope on the sides of it that was used as a pulley of sorts to open it back in the day. So, you could say it's got some historical, or perhaps nostalgic, significance. That window happens to face west, where in many cases the direction from which the coldest winds of winter blow. We can hear that pane rattle when the wind gusts. And I can see those heating dollars just sail on out...

So, this year, I tried to address that. I bought some of those plastic sheets and tape job kits at the hardware store. Perhaps you know about them. There supposed to be simple, and indeed, the instructions are so minimal, they're displayed by way of cartoonish sketches on the back of the box. It's plastic sheeting and two-sided strip tape. All you need is a tape measure and scissors. Any fool can follow those and follow cartoons, right?

Well, as with many things in life that come with fail-safe directions, the task is anything but simple. I started with the two windows in Natty's room. The idea was to further insulate the room, to add an extra layer of protection against the cold. I surveyed the window. OK, I can do this. I started to unspool the tape. Then, I realized that the blinds we have in his room, which I think are Roman blinds, the ones that are cloth-like and accordion into a roll as you pull on a string and unfurl when you let the string out, well, those have brackets that have been drilled in at the top. In other words, the brackets (and the blinds) block me from being able to seal the window frame at the top. That is a problem.

My solution was to tape the plastic sheet over the window and go as high up the pane as I could without interfering with the blinds and the brackets at the top. So, the plastic sheeting goes about 4/5 of the way up the window. This may sound to you like I solved nothing with this setup, but here are my thoughts: a) cold air drops, so whatever comes in will dive down the window into the plastic seal and b) the heavy cloth blind catches any cold air that would escape from the top. Of course, I have no way of testing my theory, but it makes me feel that what I did wasn't completely in vain.

The next job involved two windows in our bedroom. One of those windows was a necessity. It sits above my head when I'm sleeping, meaning it runs perpendicular to the length of our bed. And my head has little natural covering, so I'm especially prone to feeling any cold plumes. I covered that window and another with the plastic sheeting, but I'll be damned if the sills are cracked, uneven wood, and the tape doesn't stick too well to it. So, here I was, my arms outstretched with this plastic sheet, trying to stick it on to a tape strip that kept peeling off. Adding to my frustration was I was listening on the radio to the Patriots losing to the Dolphins. Perhaps because of that, I really botched the window near my sleeping head. I had to use packaging tape to adhere the bottom of the plastic sheet to the sill. It looks ugly, but at least it's covered by a red curtain. Again, questionable how much cold is being kept out. 

The last window was the one on the stairwell. Our stairwell is high, perhaps 15 feet to the ceiling, and the window sits a good 9-10 feet up where the stairs make a very sharp L-shaped bend. Can't put a ladder there. So, I balanced a chair on three legs on a stair and reached as high as I could, placing my first strip of tape across the window frame. That strip is probably 3/4 of the way up the window. Much to my surprise, considering my debacle in the bedroom, the rest of the taping and the placing of the plastic sheet went seamlessly. I am proud to say that one looks nearly smooth enough as to be mistaken for glass. And I really think it's made a difference. Whereas before you could feel a tunnel of chilly air whooshing from the stairwell and spilling into the room below, that channel has largely been cut off. 

At least I think so. We'll see with the next western wind.

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