The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

What I learned from the arctic outburst

Winter scene

I always like to write a recap of how we weathered power outages or other extreme events right after the fact so we can slowly work our way toward doing better next time.  The recent arctic outburst really wasn't so bad as these things go, but I did learn a few things.

1. Now I know why people like rugs and carpets!  I detest them and tore the carpets out of our trailer as soon as we got our mobile home.  However, our feet were frigid during the cold spell.  If this type of temperature became a fact of life in our area, we'd put more effort into insulating and skirting the underside of the trailer, and we might consider throw rugs on the floor.  We'll do the insulating eventually anyway, but it would be top of the list if we regularly hit negative digits!

2. Our wood stove isn't cut out for heating below 0 F.  I chose a tiny wood stove for the trailer because it's more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly to select a stove that's the right size for your space than to buy a larger stove and damp it down.  However, I had to keep the wood stove roaring and still turn on a space heater to keep the trailer up to 60 degrees during days in the low teens.  On the other hand, the space heater accidentally went off during the coldest night and it still stayed (barely) above freezing inside, so it's good to know that in a pinch, the stove could keep our canned goods from freezing even when damped down for ten hours.

Ice crystals

3. It's not the end of the world to be outside below 0.  Since we never get wind, there wasn't any wind chill to deal with, and I was able to do my chores as usual.  I did go inside to warm up my hands between feeding and watering the tractored chickens and the cooped chickens, and I curtailed Lucy's morning walk.

4. We're used to frozen water.  In the blogosphere, I heard a lot of complaining from people whose pipes were frozen and who didn't have any water.  Between the five gallons of drinking water I had stored up in the kitchen, another five gallons of drinking water in the fridge root cellar, and wash water Mark could haul of the tank, it was no big deal to live without running water.  I'd say we could go for about a week to ten days with these stores, then would have to replenish our drinking water supply.

5. The fridge root cellar can't handle the cold.  Even with the space heater inside, temperatures dropped down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit, so I was glad I'd moved the contents of the cellar into the kitchen.  I suspect we could have tweaked the arrangement of the space heater to keep the fridge above freezing, though, if we'd had to.

Leaf delivery

6. Driving supplies in during the cold is a mixed bag.  It was great to get three truckloads of this and that back to our core homestead, but it was so cold that when the truck drove up out of the ford, water immediately froze on the slope rather than running back down.  Now it's like a skating rink walking up and down that part of the driveway.  Hopefully the ice will thaw soon....

How did you weather the cold?  Are there things you want to change on your homestead before the next arctic outburst comes through?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I think, about rugs, that first the sealing off of cracks all around the perimeter inside, does help. You can actually put down a layer of cardboard on the floor under your futon in your living room. You can buy pretty good rugs at Dollar Stores, fairly large--or linoleum. Altho I, too, hate a carpet, wall-to-wall, because of maintenance, I have found that if I put a light-weight rug (an old Oriental rug) over it, I can use the top rug as one I shake outside, to get the tracked-in dust out. (My vacuum cleaner needs maintenance! But I do vacuum, too, over the bedroom carpet. The answer to that, of course, is to remove shoes at the door, and slip on "house shoes" inside.) Good you did have your little stove! Very good about your water... Tell about Lucy!!

Comment by adrianne Fri Jan 10 08:53:58 2014

Hi Anna and Mark,

I love your posts. So timely :).

I too don't do carpets. A BIG dirt magnet. We have always used rugs on wooden floors for the reasons you state.

I did a test of floor heat quite a bit ago. I put light bulbs under a small floor section on the cement basement floor. I used a variac to control how much heat was in the floor.

It was incredibly comfortable !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So while insulation under the floor is a good idea, I would suggest a sandwich with a false floor on top of the insulation and heat in the false floor. I would NOT use light bulbs. Short life and might get too hot to be safe. That said one could duct warm air through the false floor or use the electric floor heat panels ($$).

I still really miss my heated floor!

Keep warm.

warm regards to you both from even colder NH, John

Comment by John Fri Jan 10 09:40:04 2014

Rugs do help with cold feet. Alternatively invest in really good/heavy soled slippers; something with quite a bit of insulating loft. They would take less storage space and be easier to maintain (and only be pulled out when you needed them, as opposed to rugs, particularly if you aren't too keen on rugs otherwise (though a lovely area rug where one's feet hit the floor in the morning can be appreciated.)

Check out this blog post from Alaska on maintaining the insulating effect in their slippers/indoor footwear -

Comment by Charity Fri Jan 10 10:48:09 2014

We have radiant floor heat and I love it. It's efficient and I love how easy the floor is to keep clean (great with five kids, one dog, and two cats). But the drawback is that if we have long term water problems or water heater problems - no heat (though we do have a woodstove).

My main lesson from this cold snap was to worry more about water. Our pipes freeze when it drops too low and we have stored water and rain barrel water (thought that was frozen too). But I couldn't believe just how much water we went through and that wasn't using it for cleaning (the house or bodies). I'm not sure what we would do if they were frozen for a long time or we were out of electricity for a long time (the well's too deep for a handpump).

What is that tank Mark is drawing the water from? Is it a cistern or a tank you have to fill yourself, etc?

Comment by Karyn Fri Jan 10 14:01:27 2014

Interesting to hear people's thoughts on cold floors!

Karyn --- That's our wash water tank, which we pump full from the creek every few weeks.

Comment by anna Fri Jan 10 19:13:15 2014

I grew up in Minnesota where we prepare for such cold temperatures, sub zero is not uncommon in the winter months. Homes have basements for the most part, and pipes are buried to a depth the frost does not reach.

We had no running water in our small barn and I recall having to fill five gallon buckets with HOT water in our basement house shower, carrying them up the stair and out to the barn for the livestock in the cold times. The cost of having to dig 4' deep to trench water in the distance to the barn (200') was cost prohibitive for a small hobby farm.

A snowless or low snow winter there with sub zero conditions will cause problems, in 2007 this happened and many suffered frozen septic systems in rural areas due to the lack of snow insulating the ground.

I now reside in Savannah, Georgia where extreme cold is rare, our 1950's home has a crawl space, and the pipes are uninsulated. The only thing that froze was one of my kitchen pipes near an outdoor wall.

My folks with my older siblings (which were 2 and 5 yrs at the time) spent the winter of '64-'65 in an uninsulated cabin with no indoor plumbing. So my frozen kitchen pipe is no big deal!

Comment by Eric Fri Jan 10 22:43:01 2014

I keep hearing you mention your reliance on space heaters in the root cellar and for backup heat, but I never hear about a generator. Seems to me you especially have way too much to lose to not have a generator, in late summer - fall with your freezers full. Do you have a gas powered generator? I finally got one about 3 months ago at auction - $80 for a 3500W generator. (It wouldn't start at the auction because the gas shutoff was off.) It might not be worth the $450 that lowes wants for one, but you guys seem like perfect candidates for a generator.

And re: cold floors, our kitchen has a slab floor, and was not one of the two rooms we heated in our 4600 sqft, 200-year old house during the cold snap. (THAT was fun to cook dinner in) We live on a ridge and always have gusty wind... Coupled with many original windows... cold house. The weather was interesting, but give me my 20's and 30's back!! Lol

Comment by Scott Fri Jan 10 23:40:47 2014

We have a log cabin that is heated entirely by our wood stove. Well, ok, there are two electric baseboards, but who can afford to run those? So in the morning, when the woodstove has died down overnight, it gets a little chilly in here. When we had below zero temps overnight outside, it was 47 in the kitchen come morning. I get used to wearing lots and lots of layers. We have big south facing windows, and if I can hold off till about 10:30 or so, the sun warms thins up nicely. Even so, it is rarely more than about 62 in here overall. Our food storage is outside in a sort of closet off the barn....well insulated, but even so it will get below freezing with these temps, so I run a 100 watt lightbulb when it is close to zero or below. That keeps things above freezing. I learned that Keeping sensitive things higher up on a shelf and off the concrete floor helps too. . Right now, I have two frozen deer hides that I want to KEEP frozen until O have gathered supplies for tanning, and wrapped up in two plastic bags, sitting on the floor, inside a box, they seem to be staying that way. I wish we had a way to create different climate zones in the food storage locker.... Potatoes would probably be happier not quite so cold.... But the craft beer my hubby brews stays nicely chilled! And I agree about slippers. They make a world of difference. Get good ones .

Comment by Deb Sat Jan 11 02:10:32 2014
DH & I love weather. The more extreme it is the more excited we get. Cold, not so much. We survived a horrific ice storm in negative temperatures for two weeks with only hot water. DH & I lamented so many times if we were homesteader's we would have sailed through that epic ice storm with no problems at all. We were taking care of somebody at that time with special needs so full time homesteading was out of the question for us. Now, we can homestead (urban homestead on the fringe of country living) it is much better. How did we survive the polar vortex -25 degree windchill. We survived it just fine. Our pipes did freeze but we had them thawed in five minutes. We were toasty and safe. We even went outside and played because we were not going to miss a historic event like that. We are going to get more insulation. You can never have enough. My DH can insulate a home professionally. I do have wall to wall carpeting, except in my bathroom & kitchen and tons of insulation underneath our home.
Comment by DeeAnn Sat Jan 11 03:50:17 2014
Scott --- We have a generator, which we use to top off the fridge and freezer (and keep blogging!) during power outages. Luckily, we haven't had an extended outage in a few years, so you haven't heard about it lately.
Comment by anna Sat Jan 11 10:47:36 2014

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