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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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The frigid weather makes it a good (and noisy) day to stay indoors.
The frigid weather makes it a good (and noisy) day to stay indoors.

Cold weather makes house snap, crackle and pop

I know it's winter. I know it's Wisconsin. I know what that means. (I've lived here virtually all my life). I know how to survive cold weather and I know that -- outside of a certain therapeutic effect and a "we're all in this together" spirit -- it doesn't do any good to complain about it.

Now, with the disclaimers out of the way ...

It's freaking cold out there!

Lacking the usual motivation to get some work done while the rest of the family slept, I was surfing through some horrible TV shows last night when I started to hear a series of strange noises -- popping sounds and creaks coming from different parts of the house.

I was wondering what was happening. I walked over to my relatively airtight living room window and I could feel a significant draft. (Wished I'd put up some of that ugly plastic.) The wind had kicked up, the temperature had plunged and my house sounded like a popcorn machine.

The house was shrinking!

I remember enough from junior high physics to know that building materials change with the seasons. In the winter, fibrous and porous materials like wood will give up moisture and contract. (It's probably the same with vinyl siding). In warmer weather, wood absorbs moisture and expands.

I get that.

Nevertheless, this bizarre symphony in my house still makes me nervous. The problem is that roofs and exterior studs / walls don't know what to make of the temperature. They come in contact with the heat from the house and the frigid outdoor temperatures and 40-mph winds at the same time. The nails, screws and metal plates become stressed.

Basically, some parts of the house are shrinking and some are tempted to expand -- at the same time. That's why it sounds like I'm in a popcorn machine.

I know it's normal. Still, I don't like it. Therefore, I humbly request to whomever is in charge that we add about 25 degrees to the outdoor temperatures.

In the meantime, I'm going to put on my headphones and listen to music while I work. 

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