Weird, still weird in Maine: not enough houses where people want them (intown Portland, pretty much, or a second home on water); and too many, faaaaaar too many, in much of the remaining acreage of this post-industrial landscape.

I often wish it were easier to slide houses around, or helivac them to where they’re wanted. Whenever we visit my inlaws in Glens Falls, NY, I get misty about the fabulous old Victorians, Greek Revivals, Brick Behemoths, and Umpteen-Gabled Bungalows. Many of them are empty, crumbling, bed sheets across the windows. If they were in Portland, they’d be inhabited, and adored.

People used to move houses a lot more than they do now, by ice or water, or ox-team. Now that houses are quicker to build and expensiver to move, we’ve kind of quit.

Since humans left home, our species has faced this problem. We’re restless by necessity. We must follow food, whether it’s in the form of wildlife or jobs. If our shelters can’t be rolled up and dragged along, they must be left behind.

The abandoned and unloved houses haunt me. They were built to solve an urgent human problem, and often the artistic ideals of the builders were recorded in the process–as were the additions and subtractions of future inhabitants. And then they’re left, these rooted, semi-living things, to die.

Pretty philosophical, for a sheet of number, perhaps. I plead extenuating circumstances.


Marsala (lower right) and prior offenders.

Marsala (lower right) and prior offenders.

Murderers take note: In 2015, should the color-mavens at Pantone have their way, hiding blood spatter at the murder scene should get a whole lot easier.

This year’s color is actually named Marsala, so cleaning up wine spatter should go a little faster, too.

While I like this color as a lipstick, (in which world it would go by “plump raisin,” “bruised plum,” or “blood stain”), without some pretty lively friends I think  it’s going to seem high in gray, and low in happiness. An accent color? Maybe. But what would the main color be? What color, really, goes with blood? Cooling Corpse?

If you had to pick a color to inspire your 2015, right now, what would it be?


Heat being heat. [PD] Wikimedia

Heat being heat. [PD] Wikimedia

Of course it’s not that simple. It’s all about mass. And the mass of one house can be arranged quite differently from the next. It’s particularly the hot mass you need to keep in mind.

The Umpteenth Law of Thermodynamics says every speck of matter  in the universe is trying to arrive at the same uniform temperature. Hot things are forever shedding heat, and cold things are forever absorbing it. We try to arrange our homes in a way that prevents heat from radiating out into the cold air, snow, trees, cars, and the black universe. But heat escapes nonetheless.

And the warmer your house is, the faster heat will pulse outside to achieve harmony with coldness. That’s why it saves energy to turn the thermostat down when you’re sleeping or working: The closer the inside temperature is to the outside temperature, the less ambitious the heat is about cooling off.

The big, fat caveat, especially here in Maine where many old houses still hiss and thump along with steam heat, is that mass messes up the thermodynamics (which weren’t particularly tidy to begin with). Steam has to heat up hundreds of pounds of cold, iron radiator before much heat can pass into the air and the walls and the toilet seat. Same goes for radiant heat in concrete floors: The heating mass takes a long time to cool off; then a long time to heat up.

Even so, turning the thermostat up and down for an old steam system doesn’t make the furnace work any “harder,” or burn more fuel in the long haul. It truly does save energy (money), says the Department of Energy–about 1% savings per degree if you turn down for eight hours a day.

The problem is that you may not love the sluggish changes in temperature that result from a massive heating system: By the time the bathroom gets warm in the morning, it’s time to go to work.

The cool news is that new thermostats are much better at physics than I am. Brainy new appliances can continuously calculate the ideal timing of your furnace’s bursts of effort.




[PD] wikimedia

There’s a silver lining to the six feet of snow that have dropped on our heads these past few weeks: It’s free insulation.

In fact, I shovel mine right up against the house. I guess I learned this from my mom, who each winter would circle the crumbling foundation of our derelict farmhouse shoveling snow against the walls.

Snow has a substantial R Value (insulating power), averaging 1 R per inch. Fiberglass and cellulose insulations are only in the 3-to-4 range. Bazillions of animals and plants have evolved to use only snow insulation to survive the winter.

A bazillion plants and animals and my mother can’t be wrong. If you have a leaky basement, as many of us do, because Maine has the most ancient and decrepit housing stock in the nation, you might be concerned about your snow insulation ending up on your cellar floor. That could totally happen.

1: So what?

2: The next time it’s physically feasible, bank the earth around your foundation so that melting snow, rain, and cat pee will roll away from your basement.



fixer upperIt’s too cold to work on the outside of your house. In fact, it’s too cold to work on the inside of your house. But it’s just right to leave your house, and wander around the Portland Civic Center* thinking of all the things you could do to improve your house, given a hospitable temperature, and all the time and money in the world. Thinking about improving your house is better than nothing, and since your brain burns a ton of calories, it’s a double-winner: You’ll be improving both your house and your health.

Saturday 10-6

Sunday 10-4


*Cross Arena. I may never get used to that. While “Civic Center” is all democratic and civical-sounding, Cross Arena just sounds short-tempered.