Monday, April 4, 2016

Winter Improvements

It's a still, quiet morning.  The snow outside is dampening the sounds of the few cars on the road, and the birds have left off singing their spring songs.  It seems a good day to look back on the three major improvements we made on our house last summer and autumn to make it more winter efficient. 

Our house is heated entirely by electric radiant heat from the ceiling.  Electric radiant ceiling heat is delightful -- it feels like the summer summer sun when you can turn it up high and not worry about the cost of electricity, monetarily or environmentally.  We worry about both.  And so last summer and autumn, we began to look into improvements* that could be made on our older, not-quite-perfectly-sealed house.  Here are the three things we did:

1. Make window inserts.

I constructed a couple of window inserts using wood, wood glue, and plastic window sheeting.  I hope over the years to perfect the method and build a solid squadron of these that can be placed in the windows to help with the drafts.  A table saw was the only tool needed.

2. Install programmable thermostats.
Each room in our house has its own thermostat.  Five of the rooms we only heat on an as-used basis (like the guest room), but the others we like to heat at least enough to take off some of the winter chill.  Over the summer I installed programmable thermostats in five rooms, so the heat would be up only when needed, and we wouldn't have to remember to turn it down again.
Until I replaced the thermostats, we still had the original (beautiful) thermostats that came with the house when it was built in 1959.  I far prefer the look of them -- vintage and bronze -- but there are times when one must make sacrifices!  The ones I installed look a little better than I thought they would, and they are quite easy to use.

3. Put a wood stove insert into our fireplace.

We have a lovely fireplace.  It faces our living room, and backs into the kitchen.  We have used it in past winters, but it has not been an efficient source of heat, allowing a fair portion of it to escape up the chimney, and requiring quite a bit of work to keep going on a cold evening.  It never really heated much of the living room, and the back wall to the kitchen rarely warmed enough to make a difference.  So this fall we *finally* (after years of waiting and saving) had the Pacific Energy Super insert installed. 
I admit that this was not my first (or even second) choice of inserts, but the size and setup of our fireplace was small, and this was the best insert that would fit.  We had a few problems with its initial installation, but after getting a replacement firebox and fan, it works wonderfully well.  When left burning for a full day or longer, it heats the living room, the kitchen (via radiant heat from the brick wall), and a fair portion of the upstairs; and even if it doesn't burn through the whole night, there is often enough heat in the brick and the insert to keep the downstairs warm enough that the electric heat doesn't have to turn on.  It keeps us cozy!

Making these improvements have vastly decreased our electricity usage (of course, a mild winter doesn't hurt), and they should pay themselves off within just a few years.  Plus, they make us a little bit less dependent on the big energy suppliers and the accompanying market fluctuations.

*We did look into solar this past summer, but the upfront costs were prohibitive, and we don't have enough property for a windmill.

1 comment:

kris said...

Pretty idyllic situation you have created