on heating and cooling this old house

January 5, 2014

and rainy

The other day, fed up with being coooolllld at work (believe me, I’m not looking forward to going in tomorrow, with a high of 26° but thank goodness for those thick Ukrainian wool sock-boots R gave me for Christmas!) due to our new energy efficient heating systems I wrote this post. This winter at work has been tough for this little environmentalist. I have been seriously wrestling with the virtues of energy efficiency vs. actual comfort, when is it ok to turn on the AC or the heat, can I admit that i long for my incandescent bulb back in my desk lamp (i used it primarily as a heat lamp over my hands and have to psyche myself out now that the warm light from the LED bulb is at least a little warming?)? I long to know how much energy we’re actually saving, if our efforts so far are worth it and if we’re saving significantly enough to, well, turn on the heat.

RH is a big old stone house on Peachtree, it’s just 4 years younger than Sunshine and so comes equipped with similar old house features, like high ceilings and big windows with enormous panes of glass. RH also features those thick stone walls which help keep the place pretty cool in the summer and might help insulate in winter if the windows weren’t so numerous. So, this is what I’m saying, old houses are built for energy efficient climate control of a different sort than we have today, but in the South that mostly leans toward efficient cooling in the summer because indoor heating has been around for a long time, but indoor cooling was always a natural process (possibly with a little help from fans by the early 1900s) until air conditioning came along. Here’s a brief history of air-conditioning if you’re interested! So the building’s built for efficient cooling on their own, cool even better with the advent of air conditioning, but the same does not extend to heat because, well, heat still rises (and also we’ve abandoned certain winter measure like hanging heavy thick curtains over windows and doorways—RH had curtains between living areas adding/better insulation than the pocket doors AND allowing easier passage with less heat loss.) At Sunshine they closed off rooms and Vanny was known to keep a heavy robe on the back of the parlor door for shuffling out and through the unheated front hall to the dining room or kitchen.

So, we at the Trust are learning first hand the benefits and drawbacks of multiple heating and cooling solutions—in brief, we’ve gone from AC window units and radiators for heat to a mix of central HVAC and hotel-like energy efficient electric units in each office room—and I’m putting that knowledge into some serious brainstorming and research on how to heat (and, more reluctantly, cool) Sunshine. Below is a barrage of thoughts that could be applied to any heating and cooling conundrum, but first

current heating and cooling methods at Sunshine:

porch sitting keeping warm

and so, THOUGHTS:

Keeping in mind that heat rises, it’s not very effective to have heat at the ceiling, that said, no matter where your heat is coming from, it will rise so it seems like a fan in any room that’s being heated would be mandatory to push that warm air back down. Have you ever stood on a stool or a ladder in a cold but heated room in winter?? you just want to build a little loft up there near the ceiling is so warm! so, put that heat to use. As for cooling, this past summer was hot hot hot most every time we went, and nighttime heat is the most unbearable so cooling in bedrooms will be most essential as well as a living area.

We want to heat and cool the places that are most used and we also want to configure it to the EASIEST spaces. For instance, air ducts for central HVAC could snake through the attic much easier than the basement, however, the attic is also the super hottest place in the world and this might not be very efficient. The downstairs is more important too as, in extreme temperatures we can always hunker down down there as opposed to upstairs. We COULD heat the front hall(s) but all the heat will rise to the upstairs hall, which might be very nice, I think it’s worth doing to take the edge off the cold and allow neighboring rooms to heat have less cold air infiltration. Oh yeah, we could TRY to provide climate control over the whole house but honestly, i love the way the air drafts work through the house in the summer…

We need sufficient-sized systems to actually work in the spaces. Those little gas heaters in each (big) room surely were not sufficient in winter months (hence the closed doors and shuffling across the hall in your warmest things). If we’re going to heat and cool to allow realistic comfort levels (for a variety of folks), we might as well do it right or we will still not want to go to Sunshine at the times we use it.

I almost forgot to mention, insulation is the first step before any of this can occur. Sunshine has NO insulation, and the recent insulating of the attic at RH made such a huge difference (in the attic) that one really begins to understand the value of the stuff if you didn’t already. The biggest hurdle at Sunshine will be the walls, the interior and exterior walls are so thin that insulating them seems very necessary (even though by all accounts most of the heat escapes through the ceiling and floors) but insulating walls is trickier, esp when they’ve been home to animals.

Still working on a Solution.

cold cold sunshine


peas and carrots

October 21, 2013

as I munch on some leftover chicken pot pie from Lake Tiak-O’Khata (prone: tia-khata) that Mom so brilliantly ordered for Friday night dinner. I realize an update is in order. The weekend—with Mom, P, BC, and Ruby—was cool and perfect. We taught BC how to play Rummikub and she caught REALLY FAST, we got maybe 100 more pickets primed, did some weed-pulling and planting, and enjoyed a little wine on the front porch until it got too chilly. Honestly though, we were so tired after dinner both nights that one game of Rummikub was about all we could squeeze in before crashing.


As for the picket painting, Mom’s got a system. paint the front, then turn every 2 pickets up back to back and paint a narrow side, by then the front might be dry so you can flip all over to paint the backs and then flip around back to back the other way to paint the other narrow side. If this is all done in the warm sun between noon and 2:00 you’ll probably have adequate results, however, on a cool October day where the sun was slow to come out, we had to take breaks (lunch, a beer, play-with-Ruby) to let paint dry. or just watch it.

Ruby, Mom’s new pup, was life of the party. She’s still small and timid enough to stay close and also get underfoot. She got a little paint on her and helped me pull weeds, sort of. She’s attached to Mom like nobody’s business and didn’t poop in the house once.

By the way, this chicken pot pie from the Lake, well, you must be SURE to order it with peas and carrots, they may tell you, as they did Mom, that they (the kitchen) don’t DO peas and carrots, but who wants chicken pot pie WITHOUT peas and carrots??! no one. so tell them, as Mom did, that they ALWAYS put peas and carrots in when she asks and you won’t take it otherwise—cause who wants a chicken pot pie without any color? (wait, did I say that already?) So, now you know.



October 10, 2013

So I’ve tracked one branch of the Cavett family across Alabama and back to Georgia. Not surprisingly it’s almost entirely through maternal lines. My grandmother’s mother was probably born in western Alabama, and her mother was born in eastern Alabama near Anniston where HER mother is buried. That woman, Cynthia Knox Borders came from Georgia, where she was born in Jackson County, the youngest(?) of the Knox children. Her father and mother moved to Georgia, near Jefferson, after the Revolutionary War. They came from NC before that and Cynthia’s grandfather, John Knox, immigrated from Scotland where he was born in 1807.
Cynthia Knox Borders
Sitting here with this Civil War-era image of Mrs. Borders, I’m trying to imagine what kind of woman she was, how she lived and what she was like to her children. The pinched face of my great-great-great-great grandmother bears no resemblance that I can tell to me. Her expression and style leave her person indiscernible as life is from that time. Imagine marrying and leaving behind your family possibly forever, while you moved out into the frontier, the no-man’s land of Alabama and beyond… well. Don’t think too hard.

falling apart

October 3, 2013

to get back together
that’s what’s happening at Sunshine right now.

brief report:
Sunshine’s moved up 6″ on the North side, a few inches in the middle under the stair, up in the kitchen, and is due to go down on the South side to make up for the 9″ difference between the left and right. So, 9-inch difference across a roughly 50-foot facade is a slope of… (y = m(x) + b ? no, slope = rise/run… ) .015. Hm. A slope of .015? that doesn’t sounds like much. Let’s stick with the NINE INCH DIFFERENCE!!

In the process things are falling apart. The mantle in Vanny’s room fell off, the hearth’s been knocked out of the yellow room and, lo and behold, all those crooked windows? straightening out! which means the sashes, cut over the years to fit the crooked frames, no longer fit. sigh.

and 2 [of the smaller] columns fell off the porch, they were rotting anyway.

As Mom says, progress is a mess but worth it.

yellow room hearth gone!

September 4, 2013

frame up


know your pickets

August 30, 2013

What is a fence? it is utilitarian, keep kids in and animals out, a rabbit board for instance, like our picket fence has touches the ground all around so that rabbits cannot get into the yard. Whether this was ever successful I don’t know, but most of our rabbits live in the hedge now, just inside the fence, and give us no trouble. Most importantly for a decorative picket fence like Sunshine’s, is that it ties together the domestic scene. As Dad wrote in one of the booklets, “it competes with the house for the viewers attention” and “delineates the main entrance (with two gate posts), the front yard, the flower gardens on either side of the house and backyard…” It was the longest picket fence in Noxubee County, measuring (as we recently did) 100 ft across the front, 180 ft down the South side (by the driveway), and another 120 ft of pickets on the orchard side. The backyard is, and probably always has been an easier to maintain wire fence.


How do you rebuild a fence? On the verge of starting the fence project Uncle J fessed up that he’d been part of the team (in ’69 or ’70, anyway, he was still in high school and able to the be recruited for little or no compensation). Turns out we are doing it 2013 the very same way they did it back then, which make us feel a little relieved, like surely we’ll be spared the wrath of the grandmother for doing something as drastic as taking the fence down to the ground! After dismantling, we are rebuilding the frame from new wood but we have salvaged all the pickets we can, have sanded them and will prime and paint them and put the back up. Old pickets are historic pickets which we like so those will go across the front first, then newer pickets down the driveway side. Back in ’69/’70 they made the opposite decision and put the old pickets along the most hidden side, by the orchard, and that is where we found most of the most historic pickets. Hand-cut pyramids grace the tops of pickets that were the original true 2″ width instead of the now standard 1 1/2″ (or 1 3/4″?). In between (years or just flukes of the earlier craftsmen?) some narrower 1 1/2″ pickets also have pyramids and few c. 1969 have perfectly cut pyramid tops that we all suspect are Dad’s work.


And guess what? those oldest pickets, worn as they maybe on the exterior, are much harder wood—bois d’arc (bodark) or cedar—and passed our “smack test” far more often than the c. 1969 pickets which were not even on the damp, vine-covered, orchard side of the yard. We shouldn’t be surprised by the superiority of 100-year-old building materials compared with those of the last 50 years, but we always are.

nail saga

August 27, 2013

lined upguest post 2. The fence would still look like this (oops, i mean this) if it weren’t for J, who took up the call to fence-build without even being asked. He’s measured and counted and planned, sourced cypress pickets and had them cut to order, bought sanders and invented devices to speed the sanding of old pickets, and he’s organized all of us in the process. Yes indeed, he’s come a long way from his formative years in new york, but that’s a whole different story, for now here’s a glimpse into his world today, sourcing stainless steel nails for framing up the fence, this weekend’s project:

I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say after numerous calls: 1) unlikely I can get stainless steel nails in hand by Friday, and 2) I have been advised by two knowledgeable, disinterested gentlemen, the second one is with Follen, that hot dipped galvanized, covered with paint, is as good. The first guy, with Fastenal, used to work at Southern Fasteners, which could get us stainless by next Tuesday. He said that in his years at Southern the only time they sold stainless was either on high end government jobs, like the Governor’s Mansion, where cost and good sense were out the window, or unfinished/unpainted decks where the owner wanted to look down and see shiny nail heads. Both guys said, on a picket fence to be painted white, stainless was unnecessary, costly overkill.

Now it’s back to HD or Lowes looking for hot dipped 21 degree hot dipped galvanize to fit Paul’s nail gun.

Gotta go, clients calling, all from big cities and they don’t understand any of this.


attic ladder demo

July 2, 2013

Previously, access to the attic was through a small square opening in the back corner of the upstairs hall, first one had to haul the tallest ladder upstairs though and remove the door at your own risk before squeezing through in the hot hot room above. Now, we have O-fficial Attic Access Ladder. Below, P demonstrates the operation of this unusually long attic ladder.


oh, you want to see the ATTIC??
tah dah! this is what a room full of hot air looks like.


work weekend #502

July 1, 2013

FRIDAY, 6:00 pm:
the rain started just as I opened the last window, a good thing, the house needed some serious cooling off, though now that the storm is full on gale force winds beating down on us from the northwest mom is running around shutting all of them. alas.

regroup downstairs.

now I’m sitting at the kitchen table, wind blowing comfortably around me with only the door open, that storm certainly did the trick getting air in here! on the radio the national weather service is issuing a severe thunderstorm warning for southeast Winston County, meaning, I guess, that that’s what we just got.


I woke up on Saturday way too early, but the sun from the upstairs blue room, was so high I was worried it was late. By 8:30 I’d unloaded the uhaul, mom was headed into town for the days supplies, and I was helping MC with some carpentry work on the upstairs porch. I hadn’t yet had my coffee though.

By midmorning everyone had arrived and we had folks working at all stations on: brick cleaning and stacking, hole digging (with the 2-man auger), sawing up limbs, hedge-trimming, weeding, setting posts, puttying pickets, installing an attic door in the upstairs hall and various other house repairs.

digging real holes brick work attic access

Back to that attic door installation, the last time MC was here I finally got my questions answered about the silver paint (primer) and a confirmation of the muted color on Sunshine seen in the oldest photos and exposed when we repaired the upstairs porch (mustard with probably green trim?). This time, as they cut a hole in ceiling, the boys uncovered the original ceiling of the upstairs hall: canary yellow painted beadboard. Picture that yellow ceiling, with the dark wood trim that still exists upstairs, and those simple but elegant gasoliers hanging from the ceiling. This was one Victorian house. Ceiling paper was applied later of course, just as wallpaper had probably always existed on the walls (yet to uncover any scraps of a possibly original pattern there.

yellow beadboard exposed

It was another good work weekend, though I find myself missing my leisure time at Sunshine more and more and am so jealous of Mom, D and D, who get to stay through the week and do all the other things there are to do in Macon! (visit M Unruh’s garden, swim in the H’s pool, sit on the porch in the evening, sit on Mil’s porch with the aunts and uncles, take a nap, read, go to the welcome center and the museum)

beadboard ceilings

June 5, 2013

are not the easiest to paint. IMG_5259

I’ll get back to the pickets when I get some photos I guess, but for now I’ll tell you about our last workday of that weekend: Memorial Day itself. While others were visiting cemeteries, waving flags and eating bbq, we woke up to a warm morning and, like good workers, promptly asked what tasks needed to be done. After 2 days of starting work on the fence mid-way through our first cup of coffee (that’s when our “fearless leaders” arrived!) we were trained not to delay. Of course, this also meant we didn’t waste those cooler morning hours when working in the shade was downright pleasant. So, when it was all sorted, N and I took the can of blue paint upstairs to get that ceiling looking good and P set up a nice brick-cleaning station in the shade of the pear tree.

Our painting set up was nothing like MC’s scaffolding when he and P installed the beadboard ceiling, but a ladder proved just adequate for reaching to the front corner, perched precariously over the sidewalk below. Turns out beadboard is pretty hard to paint. The ceiling looked pretty small, but we soon learned it was way too big for paintbrushes, and those brushes by the way, couldn’t even get in the grooves of the beadboard! One little short-bristled paintbrush was all that would work for filling the grooves, so one of rolled and the other touched up, until we had a fairly well-covered ceiling, had used the last bit in our roasting-pan-paint-pans, and company was waiting on the sidewalk below for us to come down for lunch.

Bella was the only one not tired when we finally got in the car back to Atlanta around 3:30, she’d had a good Mississippi adventure and is looking forward to us finishing that fence.