Monday, March 21, 2011

Windows and Heating

Winter, 2009 - 2010, 2010 - 2011

It's amazing what a difference windows make. And it's funny how the Kazakhs do heat.

As I found out last year, most people (maybe all?) do not get to determine how much heat they use. Some agency controls this. The heat is turned on in mid-October and turned off sometime in April. You don't get to decide.

The agency or whoever it is, determines how much heat you get. You don't. So if you're boiling hot, you must open the windows. Even if it's -20 outside. And, yes, it is possible to get boiling hot when it's -20 outside.

You must pay for the heat that you use, although you have no control over how much you use.

So, if the weather starts to cool off before they turn the heat on, you suffer in coldness. I was quite miserable for most of October this year.

And if, by some chance, your heater doesn't turn on when the building's heat gets turned on, you need to know enough to ask for someone to help. Both years that I have been here, my heat didn't come on when it was supposed to, and I didn't know that everyone else's heat had been turned on. So I suffered the cold for a couple extra weeks, before I learned that everyone else was warm. Then some maintenance guy came over and fixed my heaters.

And, both years, I was only warm for a little while.

Both years that I have lived here, my windows have let in cold air. (FYI, I've lived in two separate apartments.)

So, as the air outside got colder, so did I. In around-freezing temperatures--October, part of November--I was fine. And then, as everyone else stayed warm (and complained of being too hot), I got colder and colder.

Last year, the science teacher came over with some stuff to seal the windows. This worked so magnificently that I became one of those too-hot people, opening the window in -20 weather.

And I didn't pay attention to the name of the stuff he used, assuming everyone here knows what it is.

This year, as I became colder, I started asking about that stuff, but no one at my new school knew the name of it. And first, we had to check that my heater was working. This took weeks, as the maintenance people never showed up when called.

Finally, they sent one of the guards to my house to tape the windows. He used a tiny bit of masking tape, which did nothing.

When I returned after Christmas break, my house was as cold as if I'd had the windows open for all of break. Lying in bed, covered by dozens of blankets, too cold to shower even though I'd been flying for 30 hours, I considered quitting my job, just so I could get on a plane and go someplace warm.

I came to my senses and instead decided to tape the windows myself, with some gorilla tape I'd brought with me. I could feel the winter wind blowing in through the windows (where the glass meets the edge). I taped and taped and taped. The tape became really cold. But my house warmed up.

I used two mini-heaters and the principal gave me a huge heater that he said could heat up my entire apartment. He said it was safe to leave on during the day. So I went home, turned it on and--poof! Out went my power. After last year, I was quite used to sudden power outages that can be fixed by flipping switches in the fuse box. But this didn't work. Thankfully, the school secretary answered her phone and called the maintenance guy until he came over (and then talked to him since obviously I couldn't). I decided that the mini-heaters were good enough.

I could still hear the wind howling on windy nights, and after a few weeks of using mini-heaters and listening to the wind, I got out the ladder and taped the tops of the windows. The wind had been blowing inside for so long that the ceiling was cracking and turning black.

Now, the wind no longer howls and I can wander around in shorts and a t-shirt even when it's -30 outside.

Yet, I don't get boiling hot. I'm comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, not sweating. So I don't have to open the windows.

But it's amazing what a well-sealed window can do.

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