Saturday, January 17, 2009

-15 and counting

We've lived in Northern New England for the last thirty years, mainly in Dublin, New Hampshire, in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. Our small house in the hills (which we still use and own) is perched on the side of a hill so we never experienced incredibly frigid temperatures. It would be ten or twenty below in Keene (a Pleistocene lake bed), but at our house the temperature would be at least ten or fifteen degrees warmer. Indeed, the coldest temperature we ever recorded from 1979-2006 was about ten below zero, and the number of evenings below zero (in total over all those years) was surely less than twenty.

The last few days all of Northern New England has experienced some of the lowest temperatures I've ever seen. This morning at 9 AM it was -15. I went out snowshoeing for twenty minutes just to say that I experienced that temperature. I really enjoy extraordinary weather, as long as its short-lived.

But more to the point, how are things at the Unity House? Usually if the temperature is that cold it's because there's enough radiational cooling for the heat to escape into the atmosphere. We've experienced three consecutive frigid, but largely cloud-free days. By 9AM the solar gain is sufficient in The Unity House that the electric heat pump will not be needed again until about 8 PM. Yesterday it was a balmy seventy degrees. There is no draft of any kind as the house is so well insulated. Hence on brilliantly sunny days (even when the temperature doesn't rise above 5 Degrees Farenheit, there is no need for electric heat until well into evening. Also, the solar panels are generating about 4500 Watts of power. I can safely say that when the sun is shining in the middle of winter, the Unity House is carbon neutral.

Still, we have slipped behind on our scorecard. As of yesterday, we have drawn more energy from the grid than we've generated, but not by much. I fully expect that as the days get longer and warmer we will redress the balance and wind up way ahead.

It's time to leave the computer, head over to the chair by the window, and soak up some of that mid-Winter sun as I gaze over the frigid landscape.

Mitchell Thomashow

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