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December Electric Bill 

Ninetyfive dollars and seventytwo cents.  That’s what it cost in December to heat the house, turn on the lights, and keep all of our electrical gadgets humming.   This bill included several weeks of rotating houseguests, a Christmas tree, holiday parties, two weeks of teenage vacation, and the shortest solar gain days of the year.  Granted, it has been the third warmest winter on record since NOAA started collecting statistics in 1895, but before the house was stripped naked of its vinyl and wood clapboards, even forty-degree air meant cold feet when the wind seeped through our porous walls.  I hate wearing socks, even in the winter.  

Once disrobed we saw why the house required reconstructive surgery, but the bare beauty of 140-year old wood is seductive.  Our boards were the color of sweet dark caramel; at first glance we paused and wondered aloud if we should leave them uncovered.  I loved the patina of the aged, notched lumber, cut to fit the slant of the roof.  I was drawn to the romance of metaphor, of story hidden in the planks.  However, the holes left by the notches were a stark reminder that despite their allure, the antique sheathing needed new a new skin.

The procedure required multiple layers to insulate and protect.  High tech modern replaced antique chic when green Zip System Wall Sheathing was nailed over the old wood.  Zip panels are engineered to form a water resistant air barrier after they are sealed with a specially designed black tape.  Next came a four-inch fat stretch of IKO Enerfoil, a rigid polyisocyanurate foam sandwiched between thin coats of aluminum foil. Fastening the “polyiso,” as it is fondly called, required nine-inch screws.  Once the polyiso was in place it was covered with Typar house wrap striped with three quarter inch wood slats, running from roof to foundation, allowing water behind the siding to flow down the wall.  Add a bug screen at the bottom edge that lets water drip through and we were ready for the fancy dress - cream-colored Nichiha fiber cement siding.  Fire and bug proof, it has the charm of New England clapboard and the appeal of keeping fly ash from coal powered electric generation plants out of the landfill.  Choosing the material was one thing, fitting it to the house another.  Its mature body has bulges and wrinkles in all the wrong places.  I can still hear Scott and Pete toss about incremental measurements of five eighths of an inch or less before they cut the clapboard.  Skillful surgeons, they nipped and tucked, making it ready for another century of admirers.






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