What The Cold Snap Did to My Carbon Footprint . . .

Looks the Northeast is finally pulling out of the epic year end cold snap that started around Christmastime. Temperatures here in the NYC metro area plunged below zero, and NYC recorded its longest sub-freezing streak (14 days) since 1961.

What does this mean for my personal carbon budget? I spent most of the cold snap at our cabin in the Adirondack north woods, heated with wood, so you’d think I avoided the cold-snap carbon surcharge. But actually, it worked the other way around – not being home to feed the woodstove downstate meant that we had to burn more gas to keep the pipes from freezing in our (mostly empty) house.  Our new state-of-the-art internet connected thermostat only goes down to 50 degrees, so I played a little thermostats roulette, turning the heat off, and watching the temperature remotely to be sure to turn it back on if the house got below 40. We had a nervous stretch when the internet connection to the thermostat went down (turns out the power was out), but we got connected and turned the heat back on in time. We also left an electric space heater running in the cellar as extra insurance against frozen pipes.

I checked my gas meter today – looks like we have gone through 95 ccf of natural gas since my last meter reading on December 8.  This compares to 19 ccf we used in November for cooking and the water heater. So there’s an extra 70 ccf or so I can blame on the cold snap. At 12 pounds of CO2 per ccf natural gas, that works out to about 820 pounds of CO2. My personal share of that is 410 pounds – about five percent of my 4 ton personal carbon budget for the year. That 410 pounds is the GHG equivalent of 20 gallons of gasoline or 15 pounds of  beef.

Meanwhile, at our cabin upstate, we burned through our pile of hand split seasoned firewood much faster than I expected. It was . . . cold. Overnight lows outside were in the minus 20F range. Our little woodstove could not always keep up, and we started keeping track of how much impressively warmer it was inside than outside (seventy degrees!), rather than thinking  about the absolute temperature (don’t even think about it).

Apparently, other wood heated homes in the northeast were also burning through wood piles faster than expected. We are lucky though –  red pines surrounding our cabin include a number of snags – standing dead trees. Many of these have been drying out upright for years, and are dry enough to burn immediately after being cut down.  It is a little bit of a crapshoot though, since many of them are also rotten and waterlogged (actually ice-logged at those temperatures).

We have a tree corer at the cabin, and I had the idea of taking cores and thawing them out before choosing which deadwood to cut down.

There was one nice sized – and dry-to-the-core – pine right near the cabin. It was dry enough to hand cut (mostly) and yielded enough pine logs to heat the cabin for most of a week.

I am back downstate for Spring semester classes, and the temperature is supposed to get close to 50 degrees this weekend, so I think this cold snap is over, and I won’t have to freeze my carbon budget for the rest of the year!


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