Back in the day they really didn’t do much insulating.  They did what they could to keep out drafts by plugging holes with rags or anything they had lying around.  In more expensive houses where they would plaster interior spaces they would put up lath (little strips of wood that look like long wooden yard sticks) and they would put horse hair plaster over that.  The airspace would act as somewhat of an insulator.

The real way these little places stayed warm was because they were little and a fire in the fireplace would keep the place toasty in the winter and the windows particularly the ones on the gable ends would keep them cool in the summer.  All with no electricity, no oil heat nothing.

The wood that the house was made of could also breath cause it was not all sealed up.  That is why so many of the these places survived.  When you close a house up and button up and seal it up there is no place for the moisture to go and a wooden house will rot from the inside out, then the termites and beatles move in and your done.

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