Just over a week ago, I re-ran a post “How Not to Freeze” about what to do if you don’t have central heating in the winter in cold places. I was fascinated by the responses I got from people who by necessity and desire were living with minimal heat.
My assumption about “how not to freeze” was that most people wouldn’t being doing this by choice. And that’s probably true but I found yesterdays New York Times article, about people who trade warmth for aesthetics, bigger spaces or other considerations to be fascinating (and not just because they gave some cred to La Crunch for her “Freeze Your Buns Off” Challenge)
The article profiles people – most of them living in extremely hard-to-heat spaces, who have voluntarily foregone central heating in cold places.
“SERIOUS cold, Justen Ladda said, is when the sponge in the kitchen sink feels like wood or the toothpaste freezes or the refrigerator turns itself off, as it did one particularly frigid day last winter. Not that Mr. Ladda, a 56-year-old sculptor who has lived heat-free in his Lower East Side loft for three decades, is bothered by such extremes. “Winter comes and goes,” he’ll tell you blithely, adjusting his black wool scarf and watch cap. (Along with fingerless gloves, long underwear and felt slippers, they are part of Mr. Ladda’s at-home uniform when the mercury dips.)
Mr. Ladda, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, decided long ago to live without central heating. Proper temperature control, you see, would require insulating his wooden ceiling, and ruining its fine acoustics. “I know this sounds really lame, but I listen to a lot of music and it just sounds better,” he said. Also, the rent on his unimproved live-work loft is only $300, well below many people’s winter utility bills.
But beyond thrift and acoustics, what is perhaps most notable about Mr. Ladda’s chilly interior is that like, say, tepee-dwelling Mongolian reindeer herders, or perhaps some very rugged environmentalists, Mr. Ladda has come to thrive in the cold.
As Americans across the country wrestle with spouses and their thermostats over how low to go — as they join contests like Freeze Yer Buns, now in its third year, a challenge posed by Deanna Duke, a Seattle-based environmental blogger who calls herself the Crunchy Chicken, to lower the thermostat to around 55 degrees, or follow the lead of the Maine couple trying to live comfortably in a furnace-free house and blogging about it in their Cold House Journal — there are those who are living nearly without heat by choice, and doing just fine, thank you very much. Indeed, 55 degrees would qualify as sauna conditions for Mr. Ladda and others whose interiors hover around the 30- or 40-degree mark in deep winter. “
I’m a little wary about talking about my own house temperatures. As some of you will remember, last year I got burned in a New York Times Profile – a writer claimed to be talking about “the kind of changes we’re all going to have to make” but turned out to be writing about “carborexia” or the pathological inability to use enough energy. The author used the term “huddle together for warmth” to describe my children, who voluntarily sleep together most nights, summer and winter, and implied that we were borderline abusive because we heat with wood, and while the house has extremely warm spots (near the stoves) it also is quite cool in some areas. Several people threatened to call Child Protective Services, and we spent an anxious week waiting for a call.
I realized afterwards that the most ardent of these people assumed my children must feel cold all the time. In fact, that’s not the case – and proof positive that one does adapt to the temperatures around you. My son Simon is actually chronically warm. When temperatures pushed up to the high 30s last week, he asked me if he could wear a t-shirt – outside, with nothing over it. I declined. But while all my kids enjoy time in front of the fire, my skinny (my kids tend to the long and lean) boys also go out in the snow in their pajamas if I let them (or don’t catch them), and beg to wear less clothing.
While we don’t do without heat as some of the people profied do, we do use primarily radiant heat – mostly wood from our own property or cut down the road by a neighbor who sells firewood for a living. We have two wood stoves, and almost never run both at once. In the spring and fall, we use our wood cookstove mostly to take the chill off. In the dead of winter, the larger of our two stoves is started in late afternoon and early evening, as we are finishing cooking dinner and letting the cookstove go out. The big heating stove, which is sited in a room with excellent insulation is used to heat one area of our house until it is quite warm, at which point we close the doors and allow the stove to burn down, and the heat is generally retained into the next afternoon. In the morning, we start the cookstove, to maintain temps in the house, and again, run the big stove in the evening. This reduces our use of wood to a comparative minimum for our large house, means that when we are tired and less able to regulate our body temps, we can retreat into a warm spot, and keeps the house tolerable.
We do not heat the upstairs sleeping spaces, and all of us have strongly come to prefer this. I find it very difficult to sleep in a room above 60 degrees in the winter. I also work in my bedroom, a room that is a comfortable 50 degrees right now for me – dressed as I am in sweats, warm socks and a fleece bathrobe over it, with a cup of hot tea next to me and a blanket on my lap.
The fact is, I like it cold – I’m not as hardy as some of those profiled in the Times story, but I enjoy the cool air, the sensation of my nose being cold under a pile of warm blankets at night, the agreeableness of having my husband and cats against me. I enjoy coming down to the cookstove to warm my hands and get more tea water, and then I also enjoy going back up to the refreshing cool of my office. And apparently, I’m not the only one.