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Old 06/07/10, 04:35 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 11
100 year old farmhouse

In western North Carolina mountains. Could rent for about what our apartment costs. Ten acres, good barn, about four acres are flat and pasture / garden. Landlord used to run goats and pigs, big garden. Pond, spring house, house is in dang good shape.

But: wood heat, wood stove, no insulation, old windows. I say electric blankets, five pair wool socks, and go milk the goats - I'm crazy enough to think cold and grumpy is a good trade if it won't kill me. My partner says the winter means it's non-negotiable: he won't stand to be that cold.

Got a while to think on it anyway. Are there options for insulating? Gonzo hippy quilts on the walls or other crazy solutions? We're negotiating rent lower than asking price as trade for a LOT of work. Partner says insulation would hold too much moisture, rot the wood. (True? Anyone insulated a very old place?)

I'm thinking, it didn't kill my grandmother...he's thinking he'd like some creature comforts, please. Also: have toddler. (It didn't kill my grandmother...) So we'd have to move the beds into the room downstairs in the winter.


Last edited by marie_p; 06/07/10 at 04:56 PM. Reason: adding child...
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Old 06/07/10, 04:50 PM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 168

splitting wood has always kept me warm and it's good exercise for the body and brain. Keep the fire stoked and a pot of water on top for tea or oatmeal. And there's nothing wrong with snuggling at night. I think you are lucky to have found the place.

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Old 06/07/10, 05:37 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 680

Ya know...........cold is a relative thing...........up here in northern MN we're talking cold. We just laugh at what folks down south call "cold". Anyway, from reading your first post about wanting to try homesteading, this sounds like a good place to start. If the rent is cheap and going to save you some money, if the commute isn't too bad, then give it a try! Like the above post said, splitting firewood warms you twice. Keep the kitchen nice and warm with cooking and baking. You can get that plastic stuff to put over the windows in the winter, use draft stoppers by doors, close off rooms you aren't using and dress warm. Put lots of quilts on the beds. Sleep downstairs in winter. You guys are young and energetic. This might be a good learning situation. If you don't like it, you can always move elsewhere. Nothing is etched in stone (until you are old and have been there, done that and you are tired of moving and ain't moving any more! Ha!)

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Old 06/07/10, 05:39 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Galion OH
Posts: 1,066

I'd rent the old farmhouse in a heartbeat. Since you're just renting, you can always change your mind later and move if it doesn't work out. It'll be a learning experience so you'll know what you want and don't want when you get ready to buy a home someday.

As a kid, I visited my grandmother in her old farmhouse heated by a wood stove and it actually overheated the house sometimes so that we had to open windows to cool it down. Also, since heat rises, the upstairs bedrooms received enough heat to be comfortable, though I admit we did have quilts on the beds too. It was a mite chilly in the mornings though. First one up got the fire going again.

I don't know what to say about your husband's concern that insulating the house would cause moisture to build up and rot the wood. It will be interesting to see what others have to say about that. But would the landlord want you to do that anyway? Usually renters don't pay for repairs and updates. You'll need to negotiate those things before signing a contract.

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Old 06/07/10, 06:51 PM
Brenda Groth
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Michigan
Posts: 7,817

our first house was a 100 year old farmhouse..that is the one we lost to the housefire..we had totally remodeled it inside and out.

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Old 06/07/10, 07:50 PM
Self-sufficient newb!
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Maryland
Posts: 722

Cold means more snuggling and sprinting to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Quilting on the walls works, I've seen some people hang blankets over doorways. In the winter a black rug hit by light from a southern window helps but not a major cure. If the place has a porch there is the option of covering it with plastic to act partially as a blanket and a buffer zone between freezing outside and not as cold inside. Rooms with a southern wall will be a little warmer from the sun light.

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Old 06/07/10, 08:36 PM
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Montana
Posts: 1,495

We bought an old farm house back in the 70's and lived in it for several years. It was a mess -- structurally, bad foundation piers, no insulation, awful inside. We put a lot of work into it, and I have to say that of all the homes we have lived in its the one I have the best memories of. It was a lot of work, but I'd not give up that experience for anything. We had two small kids who had no trouble with the house at all.

You should be able to insulate. You can blow cellulose in the attic (after sealing up infiltration leaks in the ceiling). You can also blow cellulose in the walls. You can paint the inside of the walls with vapor barrier paint to reduce water vapor travel outward.

Lots of stuff here on insulation, window treatments, heating "personal spaces", ...
All this stuff qualifies for for the tax rebates, so the owner should benefit by that. The Bruce Harley book "Insulate and Weatherize" is really good -- very hands-on.


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Old 06/08/10, 06:41 AM
7thswan's Avatar  
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: michigan
Posts: 21,565

The part about the moisture is untrue, just read up on it. This house is 100 yrs old, was insulated in the 70's not enough tho. We heat only with wood and in the winter also use a woodcook stove.It's plenty warm in here. Get the insulation, all the rest of the issues you can easly deal with.

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Old 06/08/10, 07:34 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 5,083

If all you are doing is blowing insulaion in, then, in a 100 year old house, I would say it is only a superficial type of thing. You really should be looking at the wiring, plumbing, maybe a window upgrade, and the condition of the sills. You will have to blow in under each and every window, and if it is a two story, you should make sure the insulation goes all the way down (That bothers me in an old house--balloon structure, with no fireblocks between stories) Also, your partner is partially right, you will have no moisture barrior in a blown in insulation job. The house would be more comfy with a Tyvek wrap on the outside, for moisture and air blockage. Air entry in an older home is almost as important as good insulation. Keep in mind, that effective im August(I think), any rehab of an old house, built after 1977, by a commercial contractor has to be certified as "lead free"--you should expect that for your toddler as well, and if you do any dusty remodelling, take that into consideration and negotiate for that.....

Good luck in whatever you choose.

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Old 06/08/10, 07:49 AM
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: the other side of the river
Posts: 1,278

Wood heat is the warmest heat there is. If its a decent stove, you'll be running around in boxers in January like I do.

The house I'm in now was first built in 1877. The upper floors were rebuilt in the 1940's and there is very little insulation. In winter, I close off the upstairs and heat just a small space with a pellet stove. I have a pellet stove for convenience since I'm single and come home from work late at night. I also have a wood stove in the basement. The heat is adequate but I feel the drafts and get them sealed off. Drafty windows are easily fixed.

If you are going to be living in a wood heated home in winter, finding a quantity of Quality Firewood is your first concern. Dont skimp on wood and buy the best that you can get.

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Old 06/08/10, 07:57 AM
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: East TN
Posts: 6,977

Is someone going to be home ALL of the time in the winter? Do you have a GOOD woodstove installed correctly in a GOOD chimney? It's June, not exactly wood cutting/splitting weather, do you have a good dry supply of firewood for the coming winter?

It's all romantic sounding until you have to do it and you're freezing and on and on. Since your partner sounds apprehensive I would be sure you answered yes to the above questions before jumping in.


"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self confidence"
Robert Frost

Last edited by Beeman; 06/08/10 at 08:00 AM.
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Old 06/08/10, 08:10 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: VA
Posts: 6,971

We lived in exactly what you describe a few years ago. The best thing to do is to close of the upstairs (door or heavy curtain), and all of you sleep downstairs. Put bubble wrap on the windows, it really works. Heavy curtains in front of the doors and have plenty of well seasoned wood for the stove. To save money, you can cook on the woodstove too, heat beans, casseroles etc.

I would jump at this in a hearbeat too. Move now. That way you can maybe get a garden in. Buy warm clothes for everyone from the thrift store, extra blankets, comforters and so on. All can be washed before use.

Most imortant. Buy a nice comfy wool rug for in front of the woodstove, for those romantic evenings when your toddler is asleep!

You only live once.

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Old 06/08/10, 08:54 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 11

Ronbre - I'm very sorry you lost your home.

Thanks y'all for the encouragement! Partner grumbles because, while he grew up in a well-insulated wood heated home, he spent a year living miserable in a rambling farmhouse with no insulation and a single electric monitor. Doesn't sound terribly okay to me.

As far as repairs - I'd be thrilled to work for this place. There's experienced contractors in my partner's family - a certified electrician very close. And I don't think it's a bum deal for us to insulate/weatherize/get the garden in so in a few years she can sell it for much more than she'd rent. (But she's got us asking for cheap rent in exchange for work, and some folks from Florida who will pay full cost and only live there in the summer. Florida people might be better for her)

Beeman - Very good points. Someone will NOT be home all day during the winter. This winter we'll be gone from around 7am to 3pm. We're talking to people about firewood, and I checked out some books on how to tell if your wood stove sucks. There are gas logs downstairs but need a new propane tank. No cover on the fireplaces, they're at the center of the house and the fireplaces are very shallow and wide.

Our Little Farm - bubble wrap, that's hilarious.

Heck. I'd take a sabbatical this winter for this place...might not be too practical

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Old 06/08/10, 09:34 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Northern Michigan
Posts: 362

Well, life's about having experiences. This will be one. One that probably won't kill you or fincancially destroy you. Since you're only renting so you won't be stuck with it. You can pack up and leave for greener pastures when your lease is up if it doesn't work out.

Humans can tolerate cold temps even in their living environments. Having lived in a cold home myself a few times, I can tell you that it takes a bit more determination to get things done when you are uncomfortable so be prepared to force yourself to get up from under your blankets to cook dinner and fold laundry.

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Old 06/08/10, 11:10 AM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: north Alabama
Posts: 10,305

Some people are built for cold weather, others aren't. For those who think that cold is something that EVERYONE can tough out, you are WRONG. After my dealings with cold weather as a kid in Vermont it took twenty years of heat in Florida before I could face another winter. Metabolisms are different. Stuff like post-frostbite and reynauds make life difficult for some of us.

I'll try to put it as succinctly as possible. If I, as a boyfriend during those twenty years of recuperation, had been forced to choose between living with a girlfriend in a cold climate, or living alone in a warm one, it would be "Pack your bags, honey. I'll miss you." Even now, I know that living north of the Mason Dixon line is impossible for me, and keeping the house warm in winter is vital.

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Old 06/08/10, 11:24 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: central south dakota
Posts: 4,096

i'd of moved in already!!

i stayed 9 months in a 16 foot travel trailer, starting in feb., in a very nasty south dakota winter. my biggest issue was then going to places like church, i'd burn up as i was now used to the cold. went riding one morning, bareback and DH came over, said 'do you realize what the temp is?? its -14!!' nope, had no idea, knew it was cold but not that cold!

i did get used to it. mornings were rough as i didn't run the heater once i went to bed, didn't want to be woke up to being on fire, thank you! i'd shower and put on my good thermals, then went to bed. that way i didn't have super cold clothes to put on asap in the morning. also put my day clothes in the bed iwth me, so they'd be a bit warmed too. wool is my friend.

as for being gone, so what? baby aint' staying home alone, he can wear his coat til the house warms up.

this will be something you'll remember for a long time, good or bad. it will teach you plenty, too. go for it.

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Old 06/08/10, 12:09 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: east ont canada
Posts: 7,380

depending on the rent! first thing i would look at was the house wiring,, fuse box says a lot and knob and tube wiring says run like fast or old cloth covered wire (2 strand especially) !! replacing any wiring is very time consuming and expensive!! storm windows help a lot!! friend of mine bought an old farm house with arch top windows and could not keep the house heated, asked me to keep an eye out for storms and was elated when i told her there was a full set already here!! cut her heat bill by a 1/4. then the wood heat, furnace and clearances of the duct work, many old houses have very scary duct work!! just finished installing a new furnace, water heater and a wood boiler system in the old farm house here, plmbing all done and just a little more wiring to do then good for the next 50 years!


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Old 06/08/10, 05:00 PM
ldc ldc is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: S. Louisiana
Posts: 2,237

marie p, I live in an 18ft sq cabin in South LA where the humidity is close to 100% for 6 months of the year, and above 65% the rest. I blew a foot of cellulose insulation into the attic 15 years ago, and it has been a lifesaver in the winter AND summer; keeps heat in, in wintertime and makes it cooler in summer. The intense humidity has not effected the cellulose, even without a vapor barrier. I'm originally from the North and for my first 6 yrs never felt cold; now I'm like the native born Louisianians - freezing here in the "winter"! Well, it's extremely DAMP! Good luck w this! And I didn't ask permission, I'm the caretaker here, I just insulated. The owners would have never done it, and there are no laws pertaining here. ldc

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Old 06/08/10, 05:33 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Mountains of Vermont, Zone 3
Posts: 8,563
Originally Posted by marie_p View Post
But: wood heat, wood stove, no insulation, old windows. I say electric blankets, five pair wool socks, and go milk the goats - I'm crazy enough to think cold and grumpy is a good trade if it won't kill me. My partner says the winter means it's non-negotiable: he won't stand to be that cold.
If he can't stand the cold then that is a big issue. Your climate is mild compared with ours here in the mountains of northern Vermont but we're acclimated to the cold. I have heated with wood almost my entire life and like it. I would go for it but you'll have to decide if you want the place or the person.

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Old 06/09/10, 06:40 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 11

Thanks to this thread I was at least inspired to check out a pile of books from the university library, including a rather fascinating book about masonry stoves and the 1980 Rodale "Wood Heat." There's a lot I didn't know.

My partner vetoed the house, mostly because his summer classes have reminded us that we're really insanely busy with school. We talked everything else out about the house and decided that we just won't have the time to handle the experience. But I'm doing more research into wood heat, which is fascinating!

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