Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Heating - Fall 2012

A few days ago our heat kicked on for the first time this fall. The following day it kicked on again. As I was thinking about the fact that we made it more than 2/3 of the way through fall without using the furnace, I decided it might be a good topic for a post.

We use a liquid propane furnace as our primary heating source. In addition to the furnace we do use electric space heaters for some localized heating, such as to heat the bathroom while showering. Liquid propane provides a nice warm heat, but it can be expensive, and certainly is not my preferred method of heating. We try to minimize the amount of time the furnace runs, especially early and late in the heating season, when the temperatures are warm enough during the daytime to not require heat, but drop significantly at night.

Being able to go without heat this far into the season has taking some adjustments. At night the outside temperature has been regularly dropping down into the 30s, which brings the inside temperature down to the low to mid 50s. As the outside temperature increases, the temperature inside also increases, although at a much slower rate. A mid day temperature in the low 60s has been pretty typical inside the house recently. The thermostat for the furnace is set to its lowest setting, which results in it kicking on when the temperature gets into the low 50s. Both mornings that it kicked on recently the temperature was 51-52 degrees in here. Had it not kicked on automatically, I would not have chosen to manually kick it on at those times, as I knew the temperature would rise to a comfortable temp in a few hours without it.

To deal with the low temperatures we have been dressing very differently than we did during the summer. Right now, for example, it is 56 degrees inside. I am wearing thick sweatpants, a thick sweatshirt with a t-shirt underneath, and house shoes. I am also covered by a fleece throw. I have a 1500 watt electric heater under the desk, which I have been using intermittently throughout the morning. I try to use it on the low setting, and set it to a temperature low enough that it kicks off for several minutes before having to kick back on again.

I don't mind sleeping when it is cold, as long as I have plenty of cover. I do, however, hate getting into a cold bed, especially if I plan to read before going to sleep. I've been dealing with this by using a heated mattress pad, which I turn on prior to going to bed, then turn off when I'm ready to get in bed. I have not checked the electricity usage of the mattress pad, but I know I would rather not use it if I could find a good alternative. I plan to do some research on the use of heated water bottles instead, but need to determine how the energy required to heat the water compares to that used by the mattress pad.

Dressing in layers, and using a throw or quilt to keep warm when inside may seem like a big change. However, its really not that big of a deal, at least not for us. I spend 8-10 hours a day sitting at the computer, so its not difficult for me to wrap myself in a throw and use the space heat occasionally to heat just the area I am in. If I'm watching tv or reading, its easy enough to wrap up in a quilt to keep warm. In fact, I prefer being covered with a quilt whenever it is possible, so I enjoy doing this. If I'm up doing something I find that the activity tends to warm me enough that dressing in layers is sufficient to keep me warm without the added throw or quilt. I will sometimes, though, add another bottom layer in the form of thermal underwear.

If our home was better insulated I believe that we could have easily made it another week or two before the furnace kicked on. Living in an older mobile home, however, isn't exactly the best way to reduce heating and/or cooling requirements. We have done several things to help reduce our heating needs. The first was to use insulated panels to enclose the space beneath the trailer rather than traditional vinyl skirting. We have also put up insulated window coverings on many of the windows, which seem to make a real difference. The most recent change we made was to enclose the front porch with plastic. This allows the porch to stay a bit warmer than it would be otherwise, and allows it  to warm up quickly when the sun comes up. We have a large front window in the living room that looks out onto the porch. The first thing I do most mornings is draw the shades on that window, so we can take advantage of the natural light. Without having the porch enclosed in plastic I would be hesitant to do this, as our inefficient windows let a lot of heat escape when its cold outside. In the near future we will be covering all of our windows with plastic. We've done this in the past and it certainly helps. I'm interested in seeing how much it helps when combined with the insulated window coverings. I'm also considering testing a layer of plastic on the outside of one of the windows as well, to see how that compares to just the single layer of plastic inside.

I do believe that our bodies benefit from being exposed to a range of temperatures. I think that we've done ourselves a disservice in this country by becoming reliant on climate controlled environments in which the temperature is constant regardless of the season. I believe that being adjusted to a temperature of 55-65 degrees during this time of year makes it much easier for my body to adjust to spending all day outside working when the temperature is in the mid to upper 50s. If my body was used to a constant 72 degree temperature, it would be much more difficult to adjust to those cooler temperatures. Also, I believe that limiting the heating and cooling that is used allows us to be more in tune with our environment. Having said that, however, I will admit that if we were heating with a renewable resource we most likely would keep the house warmer during the fall and winter months than we currently do. I still don't think that we would keep our house as warm as many people, but might very well target something like 60-65 degrees.

Paul Wheaton, of Permies.com and Richsoil.com has written an interesting article on saving energy by heating the person, rather than the house. He recommends the use of things such as heated keyboard and mouse, a dog bed warmer, and an incandescent light bulb in a chick brood reflector. I am interested in his approach, and may very well look into getting a heated keyboard and mouse and even a dog bed warmer.

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