Jesse Rivest's Blog
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Wellington (New Zealand) is cold, but relative to Albertan cities it is an autumn day in the park. In the Canadian winter I would not be able to cycle like I do in Wellington. But still, it's cold in Wellington - the humidity and wind drag that 10 degrees Celsius down to about 1 or 2 degrees - strangely, I've often longed for a crisp, dry, -5 degrees day in Calgary. However, the real cold in Wellington isn't so much the outside temperature and moisture... it's the inside temperature and moisture.
[Commence rant on superiority of average Canadian homes over average Wellington homes, all the while quietly minding the fact that most Wellington homes are quite old. Begin with analogy of camping in the Canadian Rockies to winter mornings in a Wellington home.]
I wake up in the mornings in a tent in the Rockies (my bedroom in my house). I can see my breath (yes, in my house). There is condensation dripping at the tent seams (my windows are smothered in beads of water). If I stir a bit to the left or right, my sleeping bag (my bedding) feels like ice. When I finally muster enough ambition to dash up, I prioritize a cup of hot coffee or tea to wrap my hands around - never mind that I need to pee, I'm gonna warm up first! When I finally walk to the outhouse (washroom in the house), the toilet seat is extra cold and I am shivering (yes, in my house). I am hunched and tense; I recall that if I try to relax, with deep and measured breaths, then I might warm up. I light the campfire (the toaster oven in the kitchen) and warm myself over it while waiting for breakfast (toast). I've eaten and I've put on most of my clothes - it's now time to air things out. I open the tent flaps (house doors) and windows to let the morning air move through it. Okay, enough of my analogy.
The temperature is somewhere between 1 and 10 degrees and, every morning, the house needs to be aired out - windows and doors open. Otherwise, all that warm moist air from last night's dinner, plus all the farting (admit it, you fart, although I'm not convinced that my flatmate does) and breathing while sleeping stays condensed on the walls and windows, plus in the sneaky spots you forget about - like in your wardrobe closet, where your favorite suit is. Mold grows. If Wellington homes had insulation, combined with ventilation and heating systems, this wouldn't be an issue.
The Canadian homes that I've lived in all my life have not been like this. They were well insulated (walls, floors, ceilings) and all windows were comprised of two panes of glass, with weatherstripping to seal them. Doors had weatherstripping, too, to stop drafts. As a result, moist air was unlikely to condense on any walls, ceilings, or windows. Especially if you'd been heating the house. Heating ducts serviced each room in the house, directing rapid hot air from a central convection furnace. Thermostats in the house regulated when the furnace would fire and blow, thus keeping a near-constant temperature - and the warmth dissipated very slowly thanks to all the great insulation. To aid in ventilation, one-to-several main rooms in the house had air intake ducts. When the furnace was blowing, it was also sucking (and filtering) old air. I'm told that many cold countries have similar home standards.
I'm complaining, right? Sure, maybe a real man wouldn't complain. He'd keep warm by keeping busy - working on man things, like chopping wood, building shelves, yard work, hauling things, etc. Sure, I like chopping wood and keeping active - but I'm a writer and a musician. I prefer a warm home - my fingers don't work on my guitar when they're cold, and I can't sing when I'm coughing. My equipment suffers from condensation. I'm a real man, too - I like camping in the Rockies, with bears and moose and cougars - but when I'm at home, I want to be productive in my own way. It breaks my heart (and my wallet) every time I turn on a heater in Wellington, because the rate of heat dissipation is tragically high. For such a "green minded" country, I have to say that there is a lot of heating energy being wasted here in Wellington (kudos to those folks that just sit huddled in all the clothes they own, under blankets... but is that really living??).
If you're a Kiwi and you hear another Canadian complain about how cold it is here (in Wellington, or in many places in New Zealand), then do remember this (if I may generalize). A Canadian can handle some shocking cold weather - imagine blinking and having your eyelashes stick together; sniffing quickly and having your nostrils glue shut; apparent dead skin tissue on your cheeks and ears after a 2o minute walk; a bleeding lip after prying it from the metal zipper on the collar of your jacket; spit freezing the moment it hits the ground; cat's missing ears and tails due to frostbite; the oil in your car being so thick that the engine won't turn over; shovelling snow several times per week. A Canadian can handle some very cold weather, but a Canadian is accustomed to buildings and homes being warm and comfortable. And such general warmth and comfort make the extreme cold rather fun!