There is something to be said about old houses. They have character that cannot be bought at Home Goods, and there is an undeniable appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into these historic beauties. Although everyone has a certain level of admiration for them, not everyone is equipped to or willing to live in one. Yes, I have hardwood floors and exposed beams that Joanna Gaines only wishes she could get her hands on. And I have a fully functional beehive oven in my kitchen that makes the most insanely delicious food. But, I don't have a square or level surface in my house resulting in shims under every stitch of furniture. Central air? Garbage disposal? What's that!? Antique houses are a constant project, and not something to take on on a whim. So why would I choose to live in a 1700's home? I didn't seem to have much of a choice. Both of my parent's grew up in homes built in the 1800's, and when I was just a young child they took on an 1840's house to renovate which was a reeeaaalll project. I grew up in a constant state of remodel. Dry wall, insulation, you name it, something was always being ripped down and installed. After college, I settled into my great-grandparent's early 1900's farmhouse that I planned on staying in forever. I have always lived in old houses, and didn't know any different. So when life took me in a different direction and led me to New England, it seemed only fitting that I again settle in an old house in the most historically dense area of our country.
While the exact year our house was built isn't entirely clear, there are varying records that put it at its oldest built in 1779 (that's three years younger than the United States!) and at its youngest, built in 1798. Record keeping wasn't exactly the best back then, but that's still only a nineteen year variation. Either way when you're talking about that long ago it doesn't really matter, the house is damn old!
Winter is without a doubt the hardest time of year to live in an old house such as ours. Insulation ranges from non-existent to primitive, and while I don't think our windows are original, they are the same ones seen in the picture above. So, our house is marginally insulated at best, with 20+ windows that allow cold drafts to enter the house. This means heating the house in the wintertime proves to be quite the challenge. Because our house is a four-square colonial, each room has a fireplace. That's eight fireplaces in total. Two of the fireplaces downstairs have been plumbed for wood stoves, and there is a Woodstock Soapstone Woodstove on each. Although this certainly helps warm part of the downstairs, it does little to nothing to the upstairs. Because our house is so old, it's not open concept like everyone has now. Each room is it's own room. This makes circulating that warm air from the stoves (that's trying to overcome the cold air sneaking into the house through the walls and windows) a challenge because of the layout.
In the winter we spend a lot of time in front of the wood stoves in an attempt to stay warm, yet our house still only stays between 55-58 degrees on average. People ask me all the time "why don't you just turn your heat on?" Yes, we have an oil burner and we do use it as a backup. There is always the concern in freezing temperatures that you're going to have pipes freeze and potentially burst. Because of this, we keep a "safety temperature" of 52 set on the thermostat. Yes, you read that right. Fifty two... 52... five-two degrees. So, unless the stoves can't keep up with the howling winds outside, or die in the middle of the night and the house dips down to 52 degrees that's when the furnace will kick on. I am quite aware that that is cold, trust me, I am aware. But, with the price of oil being what it is, I just cannot bear to turn the thermostat up anymore. To me, I might as well just flush money down the toilet. I have always said, and I still maintain even as I write this now a week into a cold snap where the temperatures have barely seen the positive side of zero in over a week and my house hasn't gotten above 57F: I would rather be cold than hot. If I'm cold I can add layers, stand in front of a wood stove, or move to get warm. If I'm hot I can only take off so many layers, and moving feels like an unsurmountable task.
Because we use our wood stoves as our (almost) sole source of heat, we burn through a lot of wood. Luckily for us, most of our property is overgrown woods that we are in the process of dropping trees and using animals to clear and turn into grazable pasture. We will have no problem using our own wood to heat our home for the next several years. The wood is ours for the taking, it's just a matter of finding the time to drop, cut, split, and stack it.
Our wood supply is stacked away from the house, in the old barn foundation where it will get maximum sun exposure throughout spring, summer, and fall so that it can properly season to burn. We then have two 1/4 cord racks close to the house that we fill on a weekly basis by shuffling wood from the foundation with the UTV. If it's a very cold week like we've been experiencing, we will burn through both racks in a week, which is a half cord. Because of this, we have a routine of filling and topping off the racks every weekend so we are prepared regardless of what old man winter throws at us in the coming week.
To some reading this, it may sound like a personal form of hell. I hear it all the time. People just don't get how I live this way. And my response is that you'd be surprised what your body can adapt to! Just last week I went into our bedroom to grab something and I thought "wow, it sure feels warm in here". So I went over to the thermostat to check the temperature and it was a whopping 54 degrees! Yes, you would be surprised indeed what your body can adapt to. So for now, I shuffle wood, and fill our racks in the house daily. I wake up in the middle of the night when it's below zero to fill the stoves in the middle of the night to keep them going, and I shiver every night I go to bed until my body heat warms up the sheets. But, this is only part of the year, and with the joy and beauty that this house brings into my life everyday it's totally worth it. We have plans in the future to someday soon (hopefully) put in an outdoor wood boiler which would make my life a whole lot easier and the house warmer. But, for now I'll keep trudging through and think warm thoughts :)
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