Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Which Has The Higher R-Value? Dead Mice or Cat Food? Discuss.

In designing the super-efficient country house of the future, architects must keep in mind the R-value of two substances that pack the walls of every domicile in the Endless Mountains and, I can confidently assert, all mountains everywhere apart from the moon: cat food placed there by mice, and dead mice who have gone to their heavenly reward in a heaven of their own making. Leaving aside the deceased little greedikins who blocked the opening of the birdfeeder with his portly form last winter, the dead mice in my walls have come to a place that could not be more perfect to spend eternity: dark, winding, free from predators and packed with an excellent brand of dye-free, additive-free, naturally preserved cat food. If only the mice themselves were naturally preserved. Summertime dead-mice-in-walls for 24 hours smell like a garbage container truck that was en route from the slaughterhouse to the landfill on an August afternoon but lamentably broke down and therefore was held up at a roadside rest area for two or three days while parts where shipped in from the Midwest, but then their smell is gone. It burns itself out in a horrific maelstrom of stench, localized to a part of the wall where hopefully you do not have to go that day. By contrast, wintertime dead-mice-in-walls are more the Peruvian Ice Maiden of unreachable rodents. They start out cute little thieves intent on tanking up on the burned oil residue under the stove burners before making the big climb up to the cat bowl on the counter to ferry its contents away into the superstructure. Then they take their time over the cold, dry months turning into tiny mouse mummies who may not be wrapped in nice textiles (or who may, actually, if you consider the state of the fabric storage drawers upstairs) but who are lavishly supplied with food for the afterlife, which, since they are mummified, is going to last as long as this house stands. Which is why it is important to include their R-value in your home designs.

You may think that the heat produced by the composting process might give the dead mice an edge over the room temperature cat food, but in fact the heat is short-lived and the only way the decay process advances the mouse’s cause is by compacting him, which improves his R-value because it allows the walls to be filled with a far greater number of his deceased relatives over time. The fact that our house is almost 100 years old and still filling up with mice shows the efficacy of this process. Meanwhile, the cat food has a distinct advantage because it is smaller to begin with and therefore packs more closely. Whereas dead mice are the open-cell spray poly of organic insulations, cat food is the closed-cell: inherently more of a barrier. However, in the final analysis, we recommend that you design to make the best of the diverse heat retention qualities of dead mice and cat food used in combination. In particular because, if you live on Earth, you don’t have any choice.

P.S. The illustration shows an oxalis demonstrating heliotropism and indoor air quality management in a south-facing window during the heating season in the North. Because inside of a wall, it’s too dark to illustrate.


  1. Your writing on the subject of rodents stashed kibble has made living in intimate ordeal with the little devils more than worth it. Very funny! and original, as always. Thanks.

    1. Next week we will be discussing the correct ratio of cat hair to beer to create an impenetrable, chemically impervious barrier on the surface of the sofa. Thanks for reading!

  2. Melissa - just to let you know, since I don't see any way of contacting you otherwise: We've added Wren Cottage Live! to the link list on NEPA Blogs. Let me know if you know of any other blogs based in NEPA, or about NEPA, or written by people who have ever lived in NEPA. We want to link to all of them!

    - Harold

  3. I think your cat has let you down. My dog only likes to go after the pet mice the children had...she would ignore the uninvited ones. We once had 3 mice die in the condensation pan of the refrigerator (after putting out d-con.) Talk about the most disgusting smell ever...we could not trace it for days and days...the condensation pan preserved them and cooked them into a disgusting sort of mouse soup that had a varied degree of smell, depending on how hard the fridge worked. Also...once I turned on my broiler (in a separate drawer from the oven) to suddenly have my kitchen filled with stinky, eye stinging smoke....the little devils had filled the dripping pan with dog food. (I had a more cleverly worded comment but blogspot ate it)

  4. gawd, the fridge mice are nasty. we had one evidently die in the fan motor in ours at christmastime, so every time the fridge ran, it blew that lovely scent all over the room. really festive. thanks for writing!