Snow in Saratoga

“A veritable dusting” as Time says of Friday’s snow in San Francisco (“the first snow in 35 years“), but that was at 900 feet (in the Twin Peaks neighborhood). Here’s a picture I just got from some friends on the western edge of the Santa Clara valley (“Silicon Valley”), fifty miles south of San Francisco:

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Early Saturday morning, Saratoga CA, exact elevation 630 feet according to Google Earth. Light snow melts in the morning sun.

Overall, we’ve had a balmy winter in California, balmy enough that when my furnace went out, I was able to get by for a month just by leaving all the “heat balls” on:


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Heat ball central. 195 watts of up.

I have 15 bulbs I can turn on in my two most occupied rooms for about 1500 watts of warming. Remember, according to the British government, 95% of ot the electricity that powers an incandescent bulb is “wasted” on heat production, making them very efficient heat producers.

Leaving all my lights on yields as much heat as this 1500 watt space-heater, with the added benefits of a lot more light, and a lot less danger:

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I didn’t even use the space heater except when company was over. Now I’m using this:

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Ahhh. That’s better. New 2-stage furnace, of the standard non-condensing variety.

If warmth is “wasted” energy then so is life, which explains why the greens don’t account the cost of stripping every household of the equivalent of one or two emergency space heaters. “This wasted energy adds to your carbon footprint,” says the Downing Street gang, and if the occasional furnace failure reduces the occasional serf’s carbon footprint to zero, the accounting is even better!

Lunatics. If incandescent bulbs create too much heat in summer, people can turn them off. There is plenty of natural light during the long day and the psyche does not crave more than enough to see by. Those free people who can stomach the sallow dinge of the swirly-cone CFLs can decide for themselves if they want to switch bulbs for the season, but in winter, lots of light and lots of heat are the perfect combination.

Snow in Palo Alto?

Just for the record, I’ve been predicting snow in the flatlands of Palo Alto for the last two years (hence the picture of snow from my friends in Saratoga). My prediction got derailed last year by El Nino (though Texas, Las Vegas, D.C. and the rest of the country still made me look good).

I don’t WANT snow. Unlike warming, cooling is actually dangerous. But with the sun going quiet, history says that cooling is what we are in for.

Make your next furnace a 2-stage

My new 2-stage furnace is great. The old furnace was rated a modest 70,000 btu, but was still on the large side for my small 1300 sq. ft. house, especially since there isn’t a lot of call for heat around here. So the old furnace would blast hot for a couple of minutes, prompting clothing adjustments while failing to circulate warmth evenly before clicking the thermostat off.

The new furnace uses the same two-wire thermostat but has a timed delay before turning the heat on full blast. It comes on at about half-heat (40,000) and half fan-speed. If five or ten minutes of that are not enough to click the thermostat back off (you can set the delay) then the furnace goes into high heat mode (70,000 btu, same as the old furnace) until the job is done.

So far the only time the furnace gets to high heat mode is when I turn the thermostat up in the morning. From there the furnace just keeps topping off the household heat with the low-heat mode, creating much more even heating than the old furnace. Highly recommended. And just in time.

“It’s frickin freezing in here Mr. Bigglesworth”

Had to scrape frost off the windshield this morning, and when I got in the shower, the words just came out. More a matter of California construction than the temperature outside (no heat in the bathroom). Maybe I’ll install a few more heat balls!

33 thoughts on “Snow in Saratoga

  1. In late January, 1961, measurable (well, almost) snow fell where we lived in Sunnyvale, CA which is a few 100 ft. below Saratoga and practically at sea level. No more was seen there before we moved in 1977. Of course, we had to go out driving in this rare event.

  2. I don’t know what part of Saratoga you live in but where I live (literally one block from Saratoga) it hasn’t been a “balmy winter”. We had a warm week a couple of weeks ago but this winter has been consistently below normal. I have run my furnace more this year than I have in the past 10. Oh, wait, your friends live in Saratoga … you don’t. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that overall California has had a balmy winter. I have friends up North who have seen more snow this year than they have seen in ages (Mendocino County).

  3. I am always fascinated by how people around the world arrange their heating and cooling.

    You use around a 20kw furnace whereas here where we seldom see much snow mine is 50Kw and quite capable of keeping the whole house, about 300o sqf, at the mid 70’s even with outside temperatures of minus 5 C which are so rare I have only known it happen a couple of times in 30 yrs here.

    In a bad winter, which this has been I burn about one tonne of oil, kerosene a month, In milder ones two thirds that.

    My system is very basic, the heating is by pumped hot water through radiators with thermostatic valves and a central thermostat which calls in the pump so the boiler cools and lights to meet the load. Off pump load it simply cycles to supply by thermo siphon the hot water tank: which also has a thermostatic valve and an electric heater set much hotter which I sometimes turn on to ensure the system is sterilised.

    But whilst the boiler and its thermostat is simple the central thermostat has a little electric heater in it which cuts in as soon as it turns on so causing it to shut off very quickly, the amount of heat and so time delay is adjustable. Since my system takes around five minutes to reach the most distant parts I have set it to about seven minutes and the result is pretty good at keeping internal temperature stable.

    Which is why I fall about laughing about politicians saying they know how we should heat out houses. Not, to be fair, that they do here.

    Kindest Regards

  4. 18.7″ of snow to clean up here in New Hampshire the last few days. 6.81″ of water in the snowpack. Not much by Sierra standards, to be sure, but enough to cause big touble it it melts all at once.

    Cold rain tomorrow.

  5. Across the Pacific, Victoria has had its wettest summer on record ….

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/28/3150282.htm

    along with other areas of the continent …..

    http://www.bom.gov.au/jsp/awap/rain/index.jsp?colour=colour&time=latest&step=0&map=decile&period=3month&area=nat

    Temperatures also have been below or well below average over large areas ….http://www.bom.gov.au/jsp/awap/temp/index.jsp?colour=colour&time=latest&step=0&map=maxdecile&period=3month&area=nat .

  6. I have a three stage condensing LNG boiler that feeds my underfloor heating and supplies all the household hot water requirements. Total annual consumption is just under 1,000 litres of LNG per YEAR! I have just one thermostat, in the lounge. This is allowed to turn OFF the heating if I forget to do so myself. It is this set at 17C (63F). I keep a standard mercury thermometer on the floor of the lounge, in a corner where it is unlikely to be trodden on. When that thermometer shows 20C (68F) I turn the underfloor heating off. about 2 ~ 3 hours will do it. Air temperature will rise to 20C in the house and remain at that temperature until early evening when it starts to fall off. Down to 16 ~ 17C by 6:00am the following morning. If my wife or I feel chilly in the evening, we are both in our seventies, I light the wood stove which keeps us warm till bed time.

    The temperature outside, as I type, here in Milford Haven, is 2C (36F) and the underfloor heating is on. :-)

  7. Which is why I fall about laughing about politicians saying they know how we should heat out houses.

    Aye, was just thinking about that this morning as I was clearing enough global warming off the drive so the nuclear reactor could get it clear before the next batch of global warming sets in. I was just thinking about whether or not putting a white roof would be worthwhile. The hundreds of dollars I save on A/C bills would be enough for me to buy an A/C, and A/C would nice on those 5-6 days a year when the temp gets into the high 90s (F). But with a white roof I wouldn’t be able to use the nuclear reactor to melt the global warming off the roof so I’d have to get onto the roof about 4 or 5 times a year to shovel off the parts which aren’t steep enough to use a snow rake on. Hmm, a few days a year of A/C which I don’t really need versus a few days of shoveling global warming off the roof, what a hard choice – thankfully the US government is well on it’s way to making it for me.

  8. Also, Saratoga gets snow practically every year if you include the houses up on the hills. Saratoga is in an area that while the village itself is down in the flats, between Cupertino and Los Gatos, it has quite a bit of area in the Santa Cruz Mountains foothills in its boundaries. I can go out in my front yard and see tops of hills at about 1000 feet that are within the Saratoga city limit. The picture in the article is clearly one of the hillside homes. Each year we get at least one storm that dusts those hills with snow.

    If this were a picture of Saratoga Village with snow, now that would be something worth blogging about!

    My guess is that I probably live within a 2 mile radius of where that picture was taken but down in the flats.

    A picture of Saratoga Village: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dbagcollection/2790460908/

    These are the Saratoga hills: http://www.realtownblogs.com/uploads/_Hills_over_Saratoga_2.jpg

  9. Well since you brought it up: I simply despise the nanny government deciding what kind of light I can have in my own home. I’m all for saving energy when an adequate, economically viable alternative becomes available. Most fluorescent bulbs are currently far from adequate. The greenish hue and flicker they produce is annoying and gives me a headache. I find color temperatures in the 2700k-3200k range to be “warm” and pleasing as opposed to the “institutional” look of of most fluorescent bulbs. There are some fluorescent bulbs that have a warmer (less green) color temp but they are rare and still suffer from the flicker problem.

    I have experimented with LEDs that claim to have “warm” colors but so far they are inadequate. At best they are somewhere between daylight and incandescent. Even those are rare, more expensive than other LEDs and generally have less light output.

    Hopefully, LED technology will continue to improve in the coming years and reach parity in capability, aesthetics and total cost of ownership. Until then I’ll be keeping my GU-10s, MR-16s and PAR light bulbs (shipping them in from out of state as needed).

  10. My home town!!
    I remember the snows of 1961? and 72? In the earlier one, we were able to make a 3’snowman that lasted into late midmorning….

  11. Saw a dusting of snow on the east side of 101 (west slope of the mountains on the east side of 101) just North of Gilroy on the way back from Monterey yesterday. No snow here in the valley — we’re too low. However, had to scrape a lot of ice off the car windshield at 6:45 this morning and crank the defroster for 5 minutes before I could see clearly enough to head out on the road safely. Used to live in colder climes — boy I’m glad I don’t have to scrape ice and shovel snow all winter; how did I ever do it!? :)

    I’m thrilled that someone had the ingenuity to beat the bureaucrats at their own game. Someone went to the trouble to carefully look at the law and determine exactly what was prohibited and what they could do to get around it. Kudos for the effort, and let’s hope they can get a lot of the heat balls sold before the bureaucrats get a specific provision inserted in the law to close that window of opportunity.

  12. There was quite a bit of snow last weekend up on Mt. Hamilton and Mission Peak. Was driving over to Lawrence Berkeley at about 8am and there was a good bit of snow over there. This morning most of the snow on Hamilton was gone and Mission Peak was free of any snow.

    Amazing what a day of direct sunshine can do at this time of year.

    Looks like we have another batch of rain coming in and maybe one more blast of cold air before spring breaks.

  13. Snow? You call that snow? My town in northern Japan has been keeping a record of snowfall since 1959. If the image comes through, it looks like this.

    The blue line is daily fresh accumulation in centimetres. 2005 was epic, we had 15.5 metres in two months. The orange line is the total snow blanket. It normally maxes in early February at about 1.8 metres thick.

  14. Try again. Any advice for linking images?

    [URL=http://img171.imageshack.us/i/oishidasnow.png/][IMG]http://img171.imageshack.us/img171/4166/oishidasnow.png[/IMG][/URL]

    [I use photobucket which is easy to link to . . give them a try if you continue failing]

  15. 2-stage furnace? I envy you. Here in UK, installing one of those domestically would be illegal. Condensing boilers are mandatory for new/replacement systems. And the December freeze here threw up many horror-stories of their failings.

  16. Thanks mod. Third try. I’ll crawl away in shame if this fails.

    Oishida snow, northern Honshu.

    [yay . . ]

  17. Very good article Alec. This commenter fully agrees with your points and presentation.

    I have often said that incandescents can often be considered 100% efficient. Taking the UK comment about 95% of the energy wasted on heat (and I do not believe that number) makes the HeatBalls (aka HeatBulbs, HeatGlobes) idea even better. It requires a simple inversion of green thinking …

    HeatBulbs … 95% efficiency! The other %5 is ‘wasted’ as useable light!

    Of course the real point is that every source of light has its place. That place is for us to decide. Having any government in this process can only thwart the necessary evolution of each lighting product. The subject of political lighting constitutes a microcosm of all things green: narcissism, power, micromanagement, busy-bodyness, illogic, and ignorance.

    When any person accepts a government decree or green bullying or even peer pressure that incandescents are bad, well, that is the red flag for a person I will never deal with. It is a deal-breaker. I won’t hire you and I won’t support you. I believe that any bending to accommodate this ‘green’ thinking is enabling behavior. Any politician that votes for it (or refuses to repeal it) should not be voted for no matter how many good things they tell you will do. We have the power to change things just by following this last piece of advice. Vote them out!

  18. A small space heater is very useful — the heat goes right at my feet where it’s needed, instead of the whole room (or house). That way I can turn the central heat way down. My oil furnace uses less than 100 gal a season even in pretty cold western MD. Temps in the “core” winter rarely got above freezing for about 8 weeks here. There’s always a pot of hot water on the propane stove to help the humidity, too.

  19. After spending my Sunday watching the England crickets getting a draw I flipped over to the World Match play in Arizona to see them huddling under there umbrellas from the hail storm in the middle of the desert.

  20. Started to watch the match play at Tucson and was told it maybe postponed due to snow and hail. You could see it falling on the course. I changed channels as I live in the UP of Michigan and if I want to see snow I look out the window.

  21. Slightly off topic but I am sure we all would wish to congratulate the people of Southern Ireland for having returned a parliament without a single green!
    Very hard times lie ahead for that country, bathed as it was in initial EU (which banned the use of heatballs Europe wide) largesse and then blighted for years to come by usurious terms for an increasingly unlikely rescue, but at least they had the good sense to remove the home grown drag on their recovery.

  22. “Overall, we’ve had a balmy winter in California,”

    Which part? California’s a big place, not sure I would describe this winter as balmy in the SF East Bay. We had a warm spell a couple of weeks ago but it’s normal to get a 70+ spell in January, overall I would say there have been more cold days that normal.

  23. When I read “Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck as a high school student I remember him leaving the light bulbs on to generate heat in the morning chill, which I thought then was a little far fetched, but they really do the job in a small room.

  24. We had a warm and dry stretch during January for Lake County, CA. But in the last few weeks we have been walloped by snow on Cobb Mountain. About a foot and half last weekend, with power out for 5 days. This isn’t Sierra’s this is just north of Napa and east of Sonoma.

  25. We switched to all CFLs inside our new house almost 11 years ago. The new house has tons of can lights and light bars in the bathrooms so it saves a ton of money. Most of our lamps are CFL as well, except for small older lamps where they don’t fit.

    Outside lights are a different story though. Since CFLs and LEDs don’t get warm, they can’t melt the snow off so we use incandescent bulbs outside.

    As for bathrooms, the morons who built our house didn’t put a heating vent in our toilet room (separated from the rest of the bathroom) and it’s on the outside wall. So using it in the winter is like going to the outhouse. the pipes are on the inside wall so we don’t have a freezing problem, but it makes it mighty uncomfortable when the temps are -20 like they were a few weeks ago.

  26. My Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) company sent me a ‘congratulations’ letter. It seems, when my energy consumption is compared to my nearest 100 neighbors having homes of 1350 sq ft or less, I am the lowest user of natural gas and electricity combined! I didn’t have the heart to tell them my home is actually 2100 sq ft, including the heated daylight basement…..

    My ‘secret’ is using an entirely bio-renewable and carbon neutral fuel: Firewood! There are few things in life as deeply satisfying as coming indoors, after long hours out in a rainy 36F day, and backing up to the toasty high efficiency wood stove to drive off the damp, numb fingers, and deep body chill!

    Most of my firewood is scrounged within a few mile of home, from trees cut down on constructions sites or ‘blow downs’ from storms. I’ve burned +2 full cords so far this winter and have another +3 cords dry stacked and under tarp. Time to start scrounging for next winters wood!

    What many people do not realize is cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, and packing firewood in to burn heats you many times before it hits the wood stove! The wood pile is a physical fitness gym, mental health facility, and renewable energy storehouse just outside your own back door. When my angst over my carbon foot prints assails my conscience, I just remember to wipe my feet on the mat, before I come in the house….

  27. If you want expense, try propane which is not uncommon in Oklahoma in rural areas or acreages too large for the expense of running natural gas lines. In the house we recently bought, I paid for 6 electric ceramic heaters from Wal-Mart with one month of mid-winter propane non-usage. My attic furnace is also rated at only 80% efficiency and that doesn’t include the duct losses and air sucked into the house when the blower kicks in. We can also adjust the heating room by room better with the electric heaters.
    I do notice that your furnace could probably do with some outer panel insulation since the interior duct work usually only has 1/2″ to 1″ felt. I just got through insulating my room air inlet/outlet exterior sheet metal (panel area = about 70 sq ft) to an additional R20+ (felt overlay+ non backed fiberglass) and since the unit also has the A/C evaporator in it, that will help the cooling efficiency too. When I get to it, I am thinking of wrapping the R6 duct work to an additional R15 for an R20+ as the total duct surface area is about 500 sq ft. The attic is definitely not a good place to have A/C and furnace although the duct interior does stay cleaner with good filters. Another plus is that I can run the gravity fed drain water from the A/C evaporator to the outside condenser coil for some added efficiency.
    The down side is that I have to seasonally clean the heaters as they now become the room air filters. But at least that saves having to replace the air intake filters in the furnace.

  28. For greatly increased comfort, and up to 40% savings in heating (or cooling) costs (regardless of system used) try small fans. Set a fan in the corner of each large room, and point or deflect the air upwards (only fans rated for vertical operation have bearings that will bear being pointed up for long). The mixing of cool floor air and warm ceiling air makes the whole area comfortable, and greatly reduces the energy required to fill the space from the top down (warming) or bottom up (cooling).

    The professional installed version of this is a column in the corner with an small internal fan and openings at top and bottom. Direction of airflow (up/down) doesn’t much matter: it’s the mixing that does the trick.

  29. Thanks for the tip. I like all these stories that begin, “as the planet warms up,” as in:

    As the planet warms up, more water from the oceans is evaporated into the atmosphere, said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    Only the planet ISN’T warming up. Global temperature has been flat for the past 13 years.

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