The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mummification

This Christmas one of my wife's uncles gave us an enormous wall clock. By enormous, I mean human torso sized. In addition to telling time, this clock also tracks the temperature and relative humidity.


Humidity is not something that is normally on my mind. However, as the winter has progressed and we've used our heat more, I've watched in dismay as cracks between runs of beadboard have gapped open. Kitchen cabinets which fit snuggly together this summer likewise have large gaps between them. The Devil Queen has been groaning and popping as well.

Another problem is that everyone's sinuses have been bothering them too. Maybe we've finally developed an allergic reaction to old homes? Possibly, but I think that the humidity level is the real culprit.

So, since Christmas, I've been watching the clock's hydrometer with morbid interest. Heavy rain drives the reading up into the 60% range. A couple days later it drops down into the 40% range. And, for the last month or so it has been hovering in the mid-20% to low-30% range.

According to some research I've done, this is an unhealthy level of humidity for people and old homes. I found this at the Liverpool Museum's website:

"Central heating can frequently cause the atmosphere to 'dry out'. Whilst in a damp building this may not be such a bad thing, in a normal building when heat 'dries out' the atmosphere it can cause the relative humidity to drop, sometimes as low as 20 - 30%. When the relative humidity is this low for a length of time, not only is it not very good for human beings, it can also cause serious damage to certain types of objects - organic materials such as wood and textiles can become brittle or shrink and develop cracks or splits. Natural glues holding objects together can also dry out. When these types of damage happen it can sometimes lead to an object breaking or falling apart completely. There are some objects however, such as metalwork that actually fair better in a lower humidity than a higher one."

And (sorry, can't remember where this one came from):

"When people complain of irritated throats, itchy or chapped skin or blocked noses, they may be living in a home with an insufficient amount of humidity. These symptoms are not synonymous with low humidity, however. Other factors such as poor air filtration, toxic gases, mould or dust mite allergens can also lead to these symptoms.

To verify if low humidity is a problem in your home, it is recommended that you buy a humidity gauge. If humidity is less than 30-35%, it tends to dry out body fluids in the upper and lower airways, moisture that is needed to filter air particles we breathe. You will need to purchase either a humidifier that attaches to a central ventilation system or strategically place portable units
."

So, until you are finally a crisp, brittle Peruvian mummy, you will suffer chronic sinus discomfort as your house and personal possessions crumble. That is unless you buy a humidifier which I did last weekend. We put it in the master bedroom since that is where the whole family sleeps for the moment.
And, the result? Not bad, everyone slept better and our noses were less congested. I haven't been home much for the last week, but, if I ever make it back there, we may get a second one for the living room & dining room. Then, maybe all of our woodwork will quit shrinking.

Another strategy for controlling your interior humidity is having indoor plants. Apparently they contribute moisture to the atmosphere and they also filter out pollutants like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other nasties. The best plants for this can be found here. I think we'll be buying some soon.

The weirdest part is I can't believe that I'm complaining about low humidity in Arkansas, average summer humidity runs at 60-80%+.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Leslie said...

One of the very few good things about the forced air system that we're being essentially forced to install (previous owners yanked out all the radiators and put in electric baseboards) is that we're going to get the best possible central humidification system we can, together with the best filtration system we can. Low humidity is an absolute killer for anyone like me who has allergies, asthma or other chronic respiratory problems. I'm glad to at least know that by putting in the central humidifier I'll be doing a good thing for our house as well!

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

Oh, and Arkansas ain't got nothin' on Delaware in terms of summer humidity - it's hideously bad here!

1:55 PM  
Blogger John said...

I don't know.

I lived in Maryland for a while, and even when the humidity was high, the tempertures weren't nearly as bad as Arkansas. How does Delaware compare to Maryland?

The only place I've ever been with worse humidity and temperture than Arkansas was New Orleans in August (and no, I've never been to Delaware).

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

I just double-checked Wunderground's history for last year's summer humidity to make sure I wasn't talking out my *** and it verified that the humidity in the summer ranges on most days from 65-85, rarely lower but sometimes higher, and an overall daily average (not high) of around 75-80% (that was a quick calculation for July last year). We have the ocean and bays to contend with, plus a great deal of Delaware is wetlands/watershed.

That said, I'm not sure how we compare to Arkansas with temperature (having never been to Arkansas!). All I know is that I moved here being someone who really tried to avoid air conditioning and now I can't live without - temps in the 80's & 90s I can handle, but not when coupled with humidity in the same general range!

2:38 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Hmmm, very good point about the humidity. Like you, I never thought I'd have to worry about humidity in the Deep South! We don't run our central heat much, but the space heaters can dry you out just as fast, maybe faster. I feel all parched just thinking about it. I think we need a humidifier now.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Patricia W. said...

John,

We have radiators in our house but we use humidifiers anyway because winter air is soooo dry. I use one at night in our room where we sleep and it works miracles. They are well worth the money.

Michigan is like a northern swamp (bog) and it is miserable in the hottest part of summer (August is our rainiest month and it never stops) but New Orleans, Miami and Houston are stifling.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Old houses that still have steam heat = no dryness problems.

Forced air was one of the dumbest "advancements" in modern homes. We use it not because it is better, but because it is cheaper and easier to install. Actully forced air is a terrible way to heat a house. It is uncomfortable and unhealthy too.

Barry Jensen

5:15 PM  
Anonymous BrooklynRowHouse said...

Beg to differ. I've always had steam heat. Unless you have leaky steam pipes, heat is heat. When you warm ambient outside air, the humidity level is gonna drop unless you add moisture, and I mean several gallons/day for a typical northern climate house.

Ever since college I've always used a big honkin' console humidifier. Back then it was because I had a 150 year-old acoustic bass which would literally crack within hours in the presence of overly dry winter air.

I really recommend a humidifier in general. Your nose, sinuses, woodwork and floors will appreciate it. Bemis and Aprilaire make some good ones.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Lillian (stevenlil@verizon.net) said...

A couple comments:
We live on the Gulf coast of Florida and there are times in the summer we have 100% humidity. They tell us so on the news. Walking out of the air conditioned house feels like walking into a sauna. You can feel the damp heat pressing down on you. Of course it does mean I don't have as much trouble with dry skin as I did up north,
which leads to my second comment. People who still have radiators can put pans of water on top in the winter. It's not nicely covered and regulated like a humidifier, but it works. We learned to do that in NY and NJ. LL Bean even sells decorative ones, or at least they used to. I haven't checked lately. We've lived in Florida for 11 years.

11:44 PM  
Blogger John said...

I'll have to agree with Brooklynrowhouse, heat is heat. And, cold, dry winter air outside plus hot dry inside leaves you with virtually no humidity.

We heated our old house with a wood burning stove. This too saps all the humidity from the air. We use to leave a kettle of water on the stove day and night to give us moisture. And, it worked pretty well. Actually, I miss it quite a bit. The stove was quiet, cheap, and quite warm. Forced heat doesn't give you that nice, cozy feel that a stove or fireplace will.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Julia said...

I'm so glad we decided to rebuild the house humidifier when we got a new furnace installed. It has really been helping - I've noticed a change already and we've had sub zero temps here in MN for about a week.

The worst humidity in the states I've experienced was in Maryland one summer about 14 years ago. It was nearly 100% for a full three weeks or more.

The worst humidity I've ever experienced was on our honeymoon in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico in May - otherwise known as the hottest month of the year there and the beginnings of the rainy season.

Minnesota can get pretty bad too. We have the luxury of wildly fluctuating temperatures. Like just the other day it was -17 and this summer it wouldn't be unheard of to be 101 with 80% humidity. Ahh, lovely Minnesota.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Julia said...

Oh I meant to mention that you might want to double check on the toxicity of the plants you might choose to filter the air. I was reading up on toxic plants for dogs and I can imagine there might be some that would be toxic to your cat. Just a friendly word of warning!

10:53 AM  
Blogger My Marrakech said...

I think the clock sounds fantastic. Can you show us a picture of it on the wall so we can get some perspective? Where did he get such a big clock?

7:33 AM  
Blogger John said...

Julia,

Thanks, always good to keep in mind.

Maryam,

I'm not sure where they found it, but I can certainly take a picture (if I can remember). I'll see if they remember where they got it too.

9:56 AM  

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