Off topic, I love the light at the cottage. It’s been consistently magical.
Acquiring real estate is always risky business. Who knows what dwells behind that lovely wallpaper and under that parquet flooring? So you can't smell mold or fungus, but that doesn't mean it's not under there, lingering and waiting for the perfect time to eat your house alive in under 12 months. So your foundation is pretty dry? Well, there are house funguses that create their own little pipeline with water so they can keep devouring all that you hold dear, quietly channeling the water they need from meters away. It's not until you ask your partner if he's dropped cinnamon on the floor again, that you realise that it's not cinnamon at all; No, it's house hell, spreading its devil-spores into your living quarters.
So the seller has used bathrooms and the ventilation and electricity for years before selling? I'm not that old but have still managed to, as an adult, move into two houses with lethal electricity, that wasn't obviously lethal until one started breaking open paneling and detaching appliances and the shiny, de-insulated live cables showed themselves to our terrified eyes.
What I'm trying to say is, houses (and DIY-owners) are fickle creatures. Nature has its silly little fingers in everything, incessantly breaking down everything by means of weather, flora, fauna and the passing of time. In colder climates like Sweden, a tad too much wrongly placed insulation to keep you warm in the grueling winter months may mean that your house is instead melting with the help of mold because that tad of moisture and warmth that you exude by living, hits the cold outside air in just the right spot inside your walls to keep them constantly wet, and it's all a secret until you find a weird smell that won't go away. It's the recognizable smell of empty wallets, cancelled vacations and carpenter farts.
It's one thing to see things go downhill, and it's another to helplessly chance it if you can't get into the foundations of the house or into the chimneys to see if they're ready to crumble or not.
But in spite of knowing this, it's exactly what we did. We chanced it.
A hasn't been forced to acquire quite as much knowledge about accommodation-entropy as me, but since we moved into this house, his journey has begun for sure. Arriving at the cottage that first time, I brought my experience from living in chaotic houses and we went on to look at that little dwelling that seemed to fulfill everything we wanted in a simpler vacation cottage.
I stared, sniffed, poked, crawled, knocked, listened, flashlighted, stepped around, tugged, opened, closed, lifted and looked under, squinted and felt the cottage. Yeah, the windows are quite literally on the brink of falling apart. Yes, the paneling has started its final countdown to demise. Yup, the roof has to be cleaned and painted and that's a fucking mess to do. The barn has to be cleaned and the little workshop building has to be fixed because it has insulation exposed to the elements. All that is fine. I can see it, and fix it. Of course, I can't see the foundations or the inside of the chimneys or how the walls are insulated, but from what we could gather, it was worth chancing.
The cottage is an old house that has been a summer home for the last 25 years. You can't expect it to be in great nick, in need of no renovations, and we're on board with a hefty dose of pessimistic pragmatism. The house is 120 years old with renovations in the '40s, including the chimneys we think. This makes the entire thing I'm about to tell you just more flabbergasting.
Let's start this way: I want to lounge in the cottage during the colder months. Things one need to lounge in a cottage specifically during the colder months is; a heat source.
Because in all it's simplicity, the house manages quite well without the modern fancy stuff. There's an outhouse loo, no running water inside (though we still need a hand-pump for the well), no fan-driven ventilation and I have a rocket furnace to cook on outside. That combined with an underground food cellar that holds refrigerator temperatures even during the summer, I don't need electricity to survive out there, of course not counting the need for 21st-century entertainment.
In the summer that's all fine and dandy, but in the other nine-ten months of the year, one needs a heating system to survive in the great wilderness that is Sweden. I mean, I COULD bolster myself in survival-burritos and accept around-freezing temperatures inside too, but the motivation for that is a little lackluster when knowing that I have a warm home with all life's necessities and modern luxuries just 35 minutes from the cottage.
So, we need a heat source. The cottage has three! Great! We've stared at the two cast iron stoves and the masonry stove since we bought the place in late June, but haven't been able to use them since we had no movement of air in the stoves and no idea what shape the chimneys themselves were in. Also, we're guessing that no chimney sweep had been there this generation (In Sweden you do need to either prove you've done it yourself sufficiently or have a professional sweep your chimneys in order to legally utilize fires inside), since there were no ladders on the roof and I'm pretty sure that they've demanded ladders to do their job for a long time, for obvious reasons; less risk of dying.
Haplessly assuming the chimneys and chimney/stove joints were in bad condition, I imagined not being able to hang out in the cottage until next summer when we'd had the chance to sell our souls and a few of our belongings to afford someone to redo the chimneys and re-set the masonry stove. Patience, dear, I thought to myself. We're in it for the long haul after all.
Yes, there is a portable radiator to plug in but the electricity was installed in the 1940's so we don't want to use that more than is absolutely necessary. The coffee maker is necessary (ahem, lazy) but not much else.
But if we could get the stoves going, we'd be able to heat rooms, cook, have warm water for doing dishes or bathing or cleaning, and just have a nice time all in all. Home and hearth, ya know.
Being responsible homeowners, we brought in the chimney sweep to see if he could at all determine if we could make fires, but he couldn't. There was no ladder on the roof so he couldn't safely access the chimneys and he couldn't do it properly just from below. So we took in a handyman that mounted a ladder and ramp on the roof, and then a company to look at the chimneys and the masonry stove and give us an offer to redo stuff (FYI: It's expensive, hurr) but he thought the chimneys looked okay with the need of some renovations and that things will need maintenance within the next couple of years so why not do it right away right, like a person selling expensive services would say. So then we called in the chimney sweep again because now we could.
Last Friday, he showed up again, merely minutes after the time window he stated earlier had begun, impressive in itself! Climbed the ladder to the roof, gushed over the lovely ladder and ramp, and filmed down the chimneys. Muttered a little to himself. "Chimneys that have been covered are often in worse shape because of moisture getting caught..". Then he went silent up there. I stood on the lawn below, nervously fiddling with things. It felt like an exam. If we passed, we'd be able to really spend time in the cottage right now. If we didn't, at least a year would go by before being able to, and a huge load of money was to be thrown at professionals.
He filmed both chimneys in silence and then decided to come down. Before he went down, he took the boards that had been covering one of the chimneys and threw them off of the roof. A smidgeon of hope flashed inside me. Why would he throw them down and say "You shouldn't have flammable things laying around on chimneys" if we weren't risking setting them on fire?
But I didn't dare hope for reals. We went inside and he took on the first stove. Shoving meters and meters of pipe cleaner devices into the outlet behind the stove, connecting them to a screwdriver and funneling the bristles to the top of the chimney, vacuuming and all that jazz that chimney sweeps do. The soot escaped his attempts to keep it contained in the soot drawers and the pleasant smell of extinguished fires filled the kitchen. I love that smell. It's the scent of life and every day and a sense of connection with the past when electricity wasn't here to solve all of our worldly problems. Don't get me wrong, I love all that jazz, of course. I love having hot showers and being able to make grilled cheese when I'm too lazy to use the regular stove to boil and fry something, and I love having a system that automatically regulates the inside temperature with just the poking of a little lever. But there's a time and a place for winding down and doing things the slow way too, and I really enjoy it.
He poked around and I tried not to hover as intensely as I felt like doing, because being hovered over is truly annoying. Chatted a little about the cottage and what our plans were and ya know, made the time go by on what felt like a path of forever leading to a paper saying "Fires prohibited". But he collected his things, and just said: "So yeah, that's fine". I stared at him. "It's approved?" "Yes!"
You know that moment when you realise how little you believed or dared to hope for something and then it comes true anyways? Blankly I stared at our functioning stove.
He continued into the main kitchen and did the same procedure there with all shoving stuff into holes and screwdrivers and vaccuming. I tried not to hover this time as well, finding ground on a chair that kept me in my place. He crawled around and did his thing. Talked a little about stoves in general, how to retain heat in them etc etc. And then, almost passer-by-like said "Well, you have around 6kWh here", waving a little towards the small kitchen and the stove nearest.
What! Gosh darnit whowuddathunkit! SURE AS HELL NOT ME.
But then, it was time for the masonry stove... The main hero when it comes to survival in the colder months, because of its heat retaining properties. You only light two fires a day in it and it keeps ya toes from frostbite! It's like magic! The iron stoves are for cooking and heating water (for radiation heat!) and more short-term warmth, while the masonry stove gives off warmth for hours and hours after lighting it.
On he went, with the same procedure there too. I sat on an old chest to not hover this time as well, but the nerves tickled my inside. If this isn't okay, we still have to redo everything and can't get a stable temperature in here until next year. He lit balls of paper to get the draft going, made a little fire, lit a smoke capsule and checked everything.
Then he got up, patted the stove and said: "Well, this stove isn't gonna kill you either".
"I'm surprised too! What a nice way to end the working week, I didn't think it would all be in such good condition!"
I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT. I still can't believe it. Oh man. The joy! The day after I tried making hot water for chai for the first time in a cast-iron stove. And ya know, I made it. I did it! ... A and I sipped our cups of hot chai and listened to the crackling firewood like two old people. Well, not long before that it was an experience not far from the warlike conditions of the battle of Lützen in 1632 from what I've heard, but it sorted itself out when the draft got going.
I think it's some sort of remaining disbelief that's made me not try and make a fire in the masonry stove just yet, but it's coming. Soon. Yes. Soon. Very soon.
It looks like a regular cup of chai latte, but it’s really the start of a new era. No dramatization!