Posted by: Li Ling Young | February 2, 2013

Energy Freakshows That We Have Known

This week a friend stopped by to pick up his daughter, who was visiting our daughter before she goes away to boarding school for the semester.  While Nik chatted with him in the living room I was in the kitchen working on a silkscreen for a big run of tshirts for our local Penguin Plunge team.

Wisps of conversation floated in to me, and when I heard the secretive, self-conscious tone in our guest’s voice my internal tape recorder switched on.  “I’ve started using bubble wrap.  I’m putting it in the cracks in the foundation.  You’re actually the first person I’ve told this to.”

Bubble Wrap

Bubble Wrap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What struck me was the implied kookiness of the effort.  He hasn’t told anyone because he’s using a product used to ship consumer goods in an effort to save energy and increase the family’s comfort.  Some people might scoff at that, but it’s also possible he has discovered the secret to the universe.  After he has stuffed enough of it, maybe he’ll release his findings to the public and world peace will ensue.

The actual kookiness isn’t very high on the kook scale.  I’ve seen a lot of different stuff tried out as insulation: animal hair, newspapers, blue jeans, straw, and, yes, bubble wrap.  It’s also not high on the effectiveness scale, but who of us can resist the suggestion of a breakthrough idea waiting to be discovered right under everyone’s noses.  Yeah for experimentation; it’s a wonderful form of optimism.

A different friend used to live in a quirky cottage down by the lake.  It had been built as a summer vacation home but my friend and her husband had turned it into a year-round residence.  It was terribly uncomfortable but the softly rolling fields, lake view with teeny island offshore, cedar forest  behind the house and general fairyland-like dimensions of the house itself were so charming that she loved her home anyway.

However, the effort to make the home comfortable never ceased.  Every year there was a project to improve something.  Most of these projects were undertaken without taking the bigger picture into consideration.  One year she put a solar tube in the kitchen ceiling because her kitchen was very tiny (having been a vacation home), and the natural light made it feel bigger.  Another year she put an unvented gas log in the fireplace.  I thought that was for ambiance, but I think it was really for the heat, because the next year I was hanging out in her office when she said, “I think I need a heater in here.”  I saw then what I hadn’t ever noticed before: there was a space heater in almost every room of the house, and the outside of the house was ringed with fuel tanks concealed by fencing, shrubs and lattice walls.  There was even a heater in the sunroom, which was the most comfortable room in the house, but also completely uninsulated.  They had never-ending problems with roof leaks.

It was a wonderful house, but when she finally moved to a different house, I think she was looking forward to having an actual heating system.  That house has a lot going for it, but in the first year she had to have a major mold situation in the attic cleaned and encapsulated by an environmental company, and about six years later she called me to let me know the mold had returned in force.

She still loves her house, as she did her cottage.  And our bubble wrap friend loves his house too.  I guess even freaks deserve to be loved.


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