Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alaskan Weather: If You Don't Like It, Just Wait Five Minutes...

OK, see last week it was minus 34F.

That temperature was measured on my shop thermometer. I live on a hill and often see more extreme temperature fluctuations than the official NOAA values recorded at the Palmer airport - which I think last week recorded a low of -22F.

Minus 35 or minus 22, whatever. It was cold. And I realized that my attached garage was really, really lacking in the insulation department. The garage is finished and the walls are heavily insulated, but the garage doors were not, and the seals around both garage doors and the side door had seen better days. Normally, I don't really notice - but there's an overhead Mohler gas heater out there and with the cold snap that thing was running nearly constantly, even with the temperature in the garage set to 45F. Understand this is the attached garage I'm talking about here, where we park the convertible and the jeep. The shop is a separate building with fully insulated commercial garage doors and heavy duty "super" wall and ceiling insulation, the shop has better insulation than the house.

Natural Gas isn't exactly free here in Alaska, despite what some outsiders seem to think, and we've recently had a significant (22%) cost increase. I try to be resource conscience, but that price increase combined with the cold snap really brought things into focus for me, and I realized that I'd better stop procrastinating and get things squared away. So, I bought insulation and new seals and some other things and spent a day upgrading the garage insulation. I covered the inside of both garage doors in flexible silverbacked 1cm insulation, added exterior neoprene trim type seals to prevent leaks around the edges and then I replaced the gaskets with upgraded neoprene seals on the side door. Total cost about $150.00.

Those upgrades made a big, big difference, right away.

The Mohler went from running four times an hour, to roughly four times a day. Wow.

So, of course, the weather immediately warmed up.

Today, here in Palmer, it's 46 degrees at the moment.

For those of you not good with math that's roughly an 80 degree difference. Eighty degrees, Fahrenheit, It's raining right now. On top of the ice. Slick doesn't even begin to describe the conditions outside, frictionless to a degree that simply defies all known physical laws is more like it. Also the wind is howling.

This is playing merry havoc with the National Weather Service who really isn't able to deal with Alaska, and especially the microclimes of the MatSu, very well at all. Example? You want an example? Ok, right now the NWS prediction for Palmer shows a projected high of 32F today, and projected low of 38F and the current temperature at 44 (that 46 degrees above comes from my own weather station here at Stonekettle Station which is about 6 miles uphill from the Palmer Airport tower). So the high is lower than the low which is a lot lower than the current. Confused yet?

Yeah, now you know why Alaskans carry boots, gloves, jackets, snow pants, rain gear, shorts, flip-flops, swim trunks, and a sun hat in the back of the truck all year around - and we usually don't bother to listen to weather reports unless we are in need of amusement.

Schools throughout Anchorage and the MatSu are closed (and schools in the MatSu are never closed due to weather. 300 "in-service days" those we got, but never weather). The Glenn and Parks Highways are nigh impassable. Businesses are shut down. My son is singing and my wife is working from home today (which makes me happy because I do not want her on the road into Anchorage. Really, I don't).

All of which means I probably won't be getting much writing done today.

Oh well. I figure it's a good day to do a few more upgrades. I'll pull the molding around the Kitchen window and fill the gaps with blow-foam. That window is due for a complete replacement next summer which we'll probably upgrade to one of those green house planter windows. I've been replacing the upstairs windows a few a time, as we can afford it and intend to the do the main floor next year.

And then I'll be in the shop turning for the rest of the day.

So, you, what to you do to save energy?


  1. I put less than 6,000 miles a year on my vehicle.

    We use CFB's.

    That's about it.

    We're kind of environmentally unsound around here, actually.

  2. I moved from California a couple years ago to Washington state. As such I was completely unprepared for conditions around here, we had slab foundation in Ca and the idea of having to put insulators over the vents in the bottom of the house never occured to me until our pipes froze.

    We don't have anything like what you have, glad you are doing ok..

    I would be interested in what kinds of precautions you take for living in those conditions. Doesn't unprotected skin freeze instantly at those temperatures?

  3. I insulate like crazy. I've been using flourescent bulbs for 15+ years. My thermostat is on a timer (has been for 15 years)

    OMG the toilet down the hall from my office sounds like it's exploding.

    It's supposed to be 40 above up here today. After being -60 last week. Freaking chinooks.

  4. The house I built is essentially a foam box with all my stuff inside so Ditto on the insulate like crazy - the walls and floor are foam core panels that are from 28 to 48 in R-value - the ceiling is conventional blown in cellulose to about R-40 and I reassess every 2 years to see what needs touching up or refill/replace.

    I quit using oil this year and switched to pellets. Now I have one boiler to heat 3 buildings (2 for now) The shop is still using a Monitor but even that's going into backup-only mode this summer. Low-E glass all around. I need to swap out the thermostats (Thanks, Tania! :) for programmables.

  5. We use a computerized thermostat in the house. I need to install one in the shop. We use a lot of CFBs too. I do have a polychromatic incandescent bulb in the lamp next to my chair for reading - I like the yellower light over CFBs which can give me a headache. I use florescent lights in the shop exclusively. I'm hoping that LED based lights become cheaper and widely available soon. I use those in a couple of applications and they are far superior energy wise. Halogens? No thanks. We also have switched to flat screen monitors and a plasma tv. Huge difference energy wise. When the plasma is off, it's off. When the tube is off, it's not really off. And the flat screens draw much less power (and take up a lot less space).

    Mark, this is normal for us. Alaskans find this kind of weather amusing and fun. Sort of. Mostly. As far as special preparations, yes, you do need to know what you're doing if you're going to be out in subzero temps. -15, -20 isn't too terrible bad even if you are just wearing the average coat and gloves. But once it gets down to -30 you really need to pay attention and be prepared. -40 and below, you need special equipment and you can get into trouble damned quick. -60 and below is deadly serious, especially with wind chill, you need to be covered up.

    My extreme cold equipment (which is always in the back of the truck in winter) consists of insulated carharts, a Outback insulated vest, a 300-weight polar fleece inner jacket, expedition weight polywool long johns and shirt liner. Insulated snow bibs. Sock liners, polar fleece socks, water proof thinsolate sock shells and -120 knee high Baffin boots. Glove liners, polywool thinsolate rag gloves and military issue quilt-insulated Antarctic grade grizzly mittens (I have to be especially careful with my hands, I've been frostbit before and I have circulation problems in the left arm - which makes my hands very vulnerable to the cold). A polar fleece lined neoprene balacalava for the head. similar gear for my wife and son. That equipment can be put on or taken off in layers and provides full protection down to -100.

    We've been in conditions in the interior that came pretty close to that.

    I also keep a jet survival stove, some MRE rations, and various other survival tools in a kit in the back of the truck. This is my Earthquake Kit, just in case. My wife also has gear in the back of her jeep, since she commutes 120 miles round trip each day over the Palmer Hay Flats.

    Normally though, technology allows us to be as stupid and careless as anybody else. I see kids getting out of cars and going into school on -30 mornings in shorts and a sweatshirt. God help them if there's a major earthquake and the power fails and they're stuck outside or exposed for any length of time. I make my son take a jacket, gloves and hat at a minimum - this pisses him off and apparently makes him uncool and that's just too damned bad.

    The dog needs special equipment too, especially for their feet. Dogs can get frostbit feet pretty easily at -20 and below. I've got little polywool socks and neoprene boots for my dog. Some people put jackets on their dogs, but my is shepard/husky and bred for the cold. Last week at -30 she was laying her back ontop the ice with her feet in the air, sound asleep. Stupid dog.

    There's a lot of other things you need to do to prepare for the Alaskan environment if you're going to be out in the bush or the islands. Remind me to tell you about winter on Shemya sometime.

  6. Mostly I walk to work (and anywhere else I can get away with).

    Since I live in an apartment, there's aught I can really do to the apartment itself, which works pretty well as it is.

    But yeah. Not fun walking to work this morning.

  7. Huh, almost warmer at your home than mine today. Weather.com claims it's 50, but I've long thought they get that airport reading from beside a jet engine, and don't believe it. Thanks for sending the cold wave to Atlanta. We'll have single digits by Saturday morninig, haven't had those is several year.

    As for how do I conserve energy? I haven't owned a car for about 7 years. Atlanta mostly has decent public transportation, and there are only a few places I can't get to by train or bus.

    On the home front, I'm switching out bulbs to CFB's as others burn out and even found mini-CFB's for the chandelier and ceiling fans lights.

    -Turn off the UPS to the computer table when I'm not home.
    -Only run full loads of clothes & dishes.
    -Turn down thermostat when I'm not home.
    -Draft stoppers at windows and doors when needed (which reminds me, need to get the complex to redo the front door).
    -The usual stuff you can do when you're an apartment dweller.

    Did find out this past weekend that the place is insulated pretty well...the furnace was on the fritz and the temp never went below60 the whole time, even during 23 degree nights! Not bad, and having been raised a Buffalo gal, know how to add quilts layers!

    And see, I KNEW I liked you! Had a very fine shepard/husky mix myself for many years. She was smarter than we were. The next dog I had was too stupid to come in out of the rain.


  8. Flat screen monitors, walk when I can, CFBs. Since so much electronic equipment uses power even when turned off I'm going to be investing in smart power strips that monitor usage and automatically cut power to devices in so-called "vampire mode." Temp is a 68F. As for anything else, I live in an apartment, so not muh else I have control over.

  9. And it's -9F here in Ely now, with lows tonight expected between -37F and -42F.

  10. I'm wondering if flat panel displays are an option for me yet. Right now I'm using a large honking Trinitron CRT with the Octane.

    Thing is, I really need that display to show 12-bits/channel RGB color depth, and support at least 1600x1200 (maya takes up much much desktop space) and sync on green.

    Does something like this exist?

  11. ScottE, yes. The average decent flat panel is pretty close to those specs, and a high end one significantly exceeds them. As a general rule, look for a LCD flat panel that is HD capable.

    Dell UltraSharp 2408WPF exceeds your requirements (though I don't know if it syncs on green). It's a 24" widescreen active matrix flat panel. It looks more real than real with the right video card. It ain't cheap though, about $550 or so.

  12. I'm big on trying to do as much as possible to be efficient.

    We have a small house (about 640 square feet) which is very easy to heat.

    We've got a computerized thermostat (not as useful as it was before my grandmother moved in, since temperatures stay warm all day now, but AWESOME in the morning.)

    Lots of florescent lights (The lamps by the bed are incandescent, but that's because I haven't been able to find a low wattage pink florescent bulb yet [hey, it's relaxing to read by as I fall asleep!])

    All the doors have storm doors, which helps, although I have to admit that the front door just needs flat out replaced.

    We have storm windows on all the upstairs windows, and replaced the basement windows when we moved in.

    We've got a down comforter on the bed (ooh!) and heavy curtains in the bedroom, so we can drop the thermostat at night (though not as low as I'd like, since that would be too cold for Grandmom, who gets up frequently in the middle of the night.)

    When we created the rooms in the basement, we insulated the walls, floor, and ceilings, so those rooms stay warm with very little heat.

    We've got smart strips for the computers in the basement, and a wall switch to turn everything completely off if we're going to be gone for awhile.

    We unplug the chargers for our cell phones when we're not using them (I have a cute box to put them in, which helps)

    I'd like a smart strip for the TV, but Grandmom has a hard enough time with the electronics as it is. Adding another switch is Right Out.

    And we have a wood stove to heat the basement, which helps to upstairs because it makes the floors warmer.

    We have replaced every major appliance in the house, from the furnace to the dishwasher, since we moved in. Getting rid of twenty year or older appliances was a huge help.

    Umm.... only one car and it's a Corolla because they're very fuel efficient; although we should walk more, I hate getting to work all sweaty, and since it's up hill to and from work, that's right out.

    Oh, and I hang dry about half my clothes, (undies, towels and sheets MUST go in the dryer. I LIKE soft towels, sheets and underwear.)

    Plus, I have occasional furry foot warmers.

    Of course a lot of this happened as Michael and I were struggling to pay bills, and so was done slowly over a long period of time (like replacing appliances, one same-as-cash-for-12-months deal at a time.)

    Would I want to do this all at once? Hell no. But it does make a huge difference in our bills, so I'm glad we stared from the time we bought the house.

  13. Oh, Michael would LOVE a flat panel TV and flat panel monitors, but the TV is right out, and monitors are waiting for a Best Buy sale and so we can put 'em on our card for 6 months same as cash. :)

  14. Dammit. Second time in two days that Google -- Google! -- reported a server error and I should just bit the back button and repost. Of course, the post I'd written was gone. (sigh)

    I think I have four parkas in the back of the Blazer these days, sufficient to make a nice nest if I get stuck. I've lived through a 60 degree surge in the U.P., but not an 80 degree rise in temps. We do get too much of the rain on the snow trick. This is not Friction Season.

    Right now we're doing single digits. Two Alberta Clippers going through, laying down a thin layer of fine new snow on the glass glaze that's already on the roads -- which gets pressed into the glass and improving it into a newer class of frictionless materials.

    I hate all fluorescent lights, including CFLs. They give me headaches. Our 15-year-old house is pretty well insulated, and the furnace works well in pulse mode. Last year we put in a Rinnai on-demand hot water heater.

    On the other hand, I do the 154-mile a day commute in 4WD Blazers, and go through a tank of gas every two days. Yeah, I am the prince of conservation.

    Dr. Phil

  15. Believe it or not, I miss Alaskan weather.

    We use CFBs and a programmable timer on our furnace. We recycle, use our own grocery bags, and try to buy local when it's an option. I probably put less than 3K a year on my car, and that's just to and from the airport; Bryan's car gets more. We take mass transit from the Bainbridge park-n-ride - the ferry and then either walk or bus in Seattle.

    We probably could do more, but life is short.

  16. "about $550 or so."


    Well, it's good to know it exists, anyway.

    (In retrospect, sync-on-green is less important, since I can compile my own profiles with vfc. Though I couldn't really find any info on 36-bit RGB support...)


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