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Heat Kitty, Kitty

Iíve been increasing homeland security in my kitchen lately with a little help from a couple of my feline friends. No, I havenít been preparing a safe space of plastic sheeting and duct tape under the sink for the critters. I also havenít prepared them an evacuation kit in case cat-hating terrorists unleash toxins fatal to felines in my neighborhood. What I have been doing is making my kitchen more energy efficient so that the cats and I can stay a bit warmer through the remaining days of a winter that seems to not want to let up. The less energy used, the more secure, affordable and sustainable becomes my habitable bit of homeland.

My cats, Zuni and Chaco, donít know anything about politicians, terrorists or war, but they do know something about staying warm. Spread out in front of the wood stove or draped over a radiator filled with hot water, this pair of refugees from a regional animal shelter enter some all-relaxing cat nirvana as they absorb available heat. As I examined some of the options for keeping my kitchen a little warmer, I realized that the cats had a role to play.

Off my kitchen is a door that leads to steps to both a side entrance and the basement. Through this basement door can pass a lot of cool air that can bring the temperature in my house down. Frigid air directly from outside enters through the side door as people come and go. My basement is unheated and now hovers around 50 degrees, providing another chilling air source.

Because my cats have their litter box in the basement, closing the basement door during the winter months could lead to unwelcome odiferous results far worse than a cold breeze. So during past winters, the door has remained ajar just enough to allow the four-footed creatures to come and go as they please.

Leaving the door to the basement open during the winter allows cold air from the side entrance to directly rush into the first floor of my house. It also creates a heat sink where the basement air easily infiltrates the kitchen and cools the warm air. Leaving the door open enough for the cats to come and go resulted in the equivalent of a three-and-a-half square-foot hole for chilled air to pass through. I realized that any reduction of the size of that hole could help keep things warmer, particularly in the kitchen.

A few years back, I figured that the solution to this basement draft was to close the door and install a pet door. I had checked out a number of commercially available pet doors, but these seemed designed for dogs going in and out from the outdoors and were made of overpriced cheap-looking plastic. It seemed to me that it should be simple enough to just cut a ďcat holeĒ in the door to give the felines unfettered basement access.

Before getting my drill and saw buzzing, some experimental research was necessary. I had to calculate the smallest possible hole my feline friends could pass through. In order to figure out the right size for the cat hole, I tried to measure Zuni, a Janus-faced calico and the more weight-challenged of the two. Cats are not the easiest animals to measure because of their flexible slinkiness. I got some rough measures and then figured Iíd test out hole sizes with some junk cardboard I had around. I cut a hole in the cardboard and then had Zuni go through it. She saw no merit to this testing, offered some protest, but ultimately complied. After enlarging the hole to where the full- figured feline could easily pass through, I used the piece of cardboard as a template to draw the lines on the basement door for the cat hole. I centered the lines along the bottom of the inner section of the door, which is constructed of quarter-inch plywood, and about 10 inches from the floor.

I drilled holes inside the corners of the rectangle drawn on the door large enough to accommodate the blade of my jigsaw, which I then used to cut out a 6-inch by 9-inch piece of wood. I filed and sanded the edges of the opening and then closed the basement door. It was test time again. I leaned up against the kitchen counter and watched. The catsí curiosity was quickly drawn to my handiwork. They were soon jumping through the hole and seemed quite agreeable to the new setup for getting into the basement.

The new cat hole shrunk the size of the door opening into my basement from 504 square inches to 54 square inches, resulting in more than a ninefold reduction in the opening. A draft still passed through the hole, but it was through a much smaller opening than what would result from leaving the door open. I next rigged up a small curtain to cover the opening. I used an 8-inch scrap piece of 1-inch by 2-inch wood and some leftover material that had been used a number of years back to recover couch cushions. I glued and stapled the material to one side of the scrap wood and then used wood screws to fix it in place over the hole. The tight material helped substantially stem the cool draft passing through. The cats had no problem pushing through the curtain. A sweep attached to the bottom of the door added a snug fit to the floor.

While my cat hole is not a dramatically new or technologically sophisticated energy device, it has increased the efficiency of keeping my home warm with little cost. It may be a small thing, but when it comes to reducing energy consumption, every little bit may help bring about real security in the homes of this homeland and make sustainable peace a real possibility. My cats are purring.

óTom Nattell


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