Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mmmm! Nice and warm in the house

I just came in from digging out a bit in front of the mailbox. Too late, as it turns out. The mailman had already dropped off the mail. Why would he be early on a day when many of the roads on his route are probably a mess? And a day where he needed arms like an orangutan to reach into most of the mailboxes.

When I went to the Post Office earlier to mail off three books I found that the Collegeville PO has the very best snowplow guy in the United States, or at least one of the best. By 11:00 he had that parking lot completely cleared and wet. Meanwhile, the road outside the post office looked like it got ahead of the Collegeville Municipal plow guys. It was thick with ice and crusted snow.

The guys at the Post Office told me the plow guy should do a good job considering what he charges. Whatever he charges it wasn't enough for the job he did on this snowfall.

Three stems out of the whole clump bamboo grove down by the garden managed to shrug off the wet snow and stay standing. All of the others in that clump, and all but two of those in the long grove of the evil linear spreading bamboo on the other side of the yard, are bowed down to the ground. By appearances it seems impossible they will ever be able to straighten up. Appearances have been deceiving in the past; but I'm not sure I've ever seen the bamboo so thoroughly smashed down as it is today.

The pine trees turn out to be pretty vulnerable to this sort of snow. The pine grove behind the house is strewn with broken off branches up to four and five inches in diameter at the base, and the pine trees along the driveway have large branches still bowed down to the ground. There are also a good number of big branches broken off the deciduous trees. I'll cut the deciduous wood up for firewood next year; but I can't use the pine because it makes too much creosote.

Maybe I'll cut up those pine branches into six foot lengths and we'll make a bonfire with them to celebrate the beginning of spring. Or perhaps we'll hold off having a bonfire and weinie roast til the beginning of April when Jas and Kathy will be back up from Florida.

As always at this time of year the good news about snow is that the sun melts the heck out of it pretty quickly. The driveway was like a toboggan chute this morning when I went out; but it is already getting much less daunting. Tomorrow it should be pretty much normally negotiable, although it will be narrow for a while. The banks of snow on either side of it are pretty high and dense.

Somehow I got completely sidetracked from the reason I sat down to write. When I came in I had to take off my sweatshirt because the house is so warm. The downstairs is now at 72 degrees, down from the high of 73 that it reached an hour or so ago. The upstairs is at 78, down from 79 that it reached earlier. The sun really warms it up a lot when the ground is covered with snow.

I have noticed that the house doesn't hold the heat the way it did when it was new. Back then it used to go up into the 80's (downstairs) on a sunny day and it would then hold that heat until well into the evening. On such days I used to light the woodstove at eight or nine at night and that, in turn, would keep the house in the high 60's til it really got cold outside late at night.

All this is a long way of getting at the fact that a lot of alternative energy things, solar especially, are being written about and analyzed based on the energy production in the first year when the system is new. But just like this house, those systems will degrade as they age. In the case of solar cells I read somewhere that it only takes a very little scratching on the surface of the cells to cut their energy production significantly, because the scratches scatter light rather than letting it go straight through. Naturally those solar cells will work best in the hot and dry areas like the Southwest, where, as it happens, there is lots of sand and dust being blown around that can scratch the surfaces.

I keep an eye on solar power stuff because 24 years ago when we designed this house I specifically settled on a roof pitch that is pretty close to the optimum for solar cells in this latitude. Back then I expected to eventually install solar panels on the roof once they got economical. Well, here we are, a quarter of a century later, and solar panels are still not even close to being a good investment in this area, even with the government tax credit subsidy. Solar assisted hot water would be just barely a good investment, given that we already have the properly sloped South facing roof; but only if it could be depended on to function without problems for fifteen or twenty years, which I don't believe it can be.

Update: I had to go out and put the bucket back on top of my wrapped up fig tree. for some reason that tree is bending over this year.

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