Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

This morning I had the pleasure of going to the post office to send an inscribed copy of Washington Irving to a former U.S. Ambassador to Spain, who was thrilled to learn I had written about his illustrious predecessor. I’m always pleased when Irving gets recognition beyond his literary accomplishments, and it’s an honor to send my book to the ambassador.

Even closer to the home front, we’re in the process of having a geothermal heating and cooling system installed here at Chestnut Hill. Our house was built back in the late 1930s, well before the days of air conditioning, so we’ve spent our last few summers improvising ways to keep the house cool. We settled on window units for the bedrooms, which works well enough for sleeping at night, but the rest of the time . . . well, let’s just say we have an understanding of what life was like in the 19th century.

Heating was another matter. Our house was built for steam heat, meaning we have hot water running through radiators throughout the house, all heated by a boiler in the basement that burns heating fuel. When we moved in five years ago, the boiler in the basement was the original, a half-ton monstrosity that looked like it could power the Titanic. Since then, we’ve replaced the boiler with a new, more efficient model, and it all works well enough . . . but with fuel prices going through the ceiling, we’ve been working hard to get the heating fuel monkey off our backs.

We decided on a geothermal system, as opposed to a traditional heat pump, because we wanted to get a system that was not only more efficient, but better for the planet. Unlike a traditional heating/cooling system — which sucks in hot air which it then cools down to blow as air conditioning in your house during the summer, and cold air, which it then heats up to blow as heat in the winter — a geothermal system takes air from the rock-steady 60-degreeish temperature of the earth and converts it into air conditioning or heat.

So this week, the hammers are flying, saws are rasping, and drills are, er, drilling as our crew of HVAC fellows retrofit our 1930s stone farmhouse with ducts, vents, blowers and returns, squeezing ducts into tight corners of our crawl space, and fitting vents into thick horsehair-plaster walls. Next week, the drilling crew comes to drill two 350-foot wells in our back yard, from which a pipe will run, carrying a water/alcohol solution over to the AC/heating unit, which will then be blown into the house to provide the correct amount of heating or cooling.

I know. I don’t understand how it works either.

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