Baby it’s cold outside…

​Greetings my fellow classic Christmas song enthusiasts!  Today we’re going to explore another oft-overlooked aspect of farming – winter living in an 1820’s farmhouse.  We’ll also touch on the roles of feminism in firewood splitting, technology to prevent pipes from freezing, the infrared light spectrum, shivery puppies, and providing farm animals with water when the pasture looks like Antarctica. Right then, off we go.
I must speculate, a farmer from 200 years ago was cut from a tough cloth.  Consider a house with no insulation, no modern HVAC system, Thomas Edison hasn’t fought Nikola Tesla yet to invent electric blankets, and you’re basically relying on a few fireplaces throughout the house and whatever wood you split from the back 40 to survive the winter.
During a recent New Year’s Eve celebration at BOTL Farm, our resident hydrologist brought some of her fancy electronics to do thermal spectrum imaging.  We pointed them at the house to see if we could find any insulation.  We didn’t find any insulation, but we did find some amazing numbers.  Here’s a picture from January 1st 2018 of the backdoor into the farmhouse:
​You might notice two things astute reader.  The first is the wheeled firewood cart that we use to bring in fuel for the woodstove. The second is the temperature scale on the right.  We can see the boiler driven hot water heater chooching out an impressive 103 degrees.  We can also see the baseboards around the door are sitting comfortably at 1 deg Fahrenheit.  Please note that this picture is INSIDE the house.
Let’s have a look at one more picture:
​This is the kitchen counter in the farmhouse.  You can see a cellphone cranking out yub dub, a toaster oven, and our set of measuring spoons.  You can also see the electrical outlet in the center of the picture is 33 degrees F (no insulation in the wall), and that the highest temperature visible in the kitchen is the toaster oven and an actively charging cellphone at about 64 deg F.
The heating system in the farm house is a fuel-oil driven hot water boiler, that circulates water through three different baseboard loops.  During our first winter in the farm house, we discovered it costs a lot in fuel oil to keep the farm house at 54 deg F.  This temperature was selected because it is the lowest temperature we can go to keep the plumbing in the walls and basement from freezing.  Most of the time.  The plumbing has frozen at least 4 times.
For this the second winter, we saved by switching to a woodstove.  This was a considerable investment, because a chimney liner was needed to use the 200-year-old chimney in our living room with a modern woodstove.  This does seem to have reduced our fuel oil costs though, and we’re using mostly wood split from the back yard.
Splitting wood with hand tools is a vigorous physical activity, but fortunately our farmers come from a long family line of wood stove users and wood splitting enthusiasts.  There is a certain zen about standing in a 10 deg backyard, swinging a chunk of cold metal, hitting a frozen log, and trying to split it gracefully without inducing personal injury.  The exertion makes one feel at peace with the world, and we might venture it brings more satisfaction than giving the thermostat a turn and watching it slowly light your bank account on fire.
So we continue on, combining as much modern technology as we can to try and keep the farm house affordably thawed through this unseasonably cold CT winter, and trying to keep the chickens and rabbits thawed until that time where we see fit to intentionally place them in the chest freezers.  Everybody stay warm, spring comes soon!

Page Last Updated on 2024-06-14

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