Baby, It’s Gonna Get Cold!

It’s only September and yet the thermometer has dipped into the 30’s. Since we live in a big old farmhouse with lots of character, we have consciously changed it as little as possible. In a perfect world, we would have all of the original storm windows. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. We have a mixture of old wooden storms, some aluminum and a couple of windows that have been missing the storm for years. But we have learned how to button up this old fashioned house using some old techniques and developing a couple of new ones by trial and error.

  • First and thankfully, a previous owner had the foresight to completely surround the framing of the house with insulation from the attic to the basement. That addition is key to keeping any house warm during the Wisconsin winters. There are several ways to insulate the walls in all price ranges. Many of them can be done by a do-it-yourself enthusiast.
  • The next most important thing that can be done to keep the drafts out of an old home are tight windows. A previous owner installed aluminum double hung windows. We check them over every year (washing them when possible) to make sure that there is a tight seal. If the caulking has hardened or fallen away, we replace it. There are also some of the original wood framed storm windows that we check over every year—re-caulking as necessary. We put the storm in the window and go inside with a candle to check for any draft. If there are drafts or the window feels loose, we fill it in with rope putty.
  • For windows that have the storm completely missing, we use the plastic window kits. In order to be effective, they are best installed on a calm, warm day so that the adhesive is tacky enough to stick well. For any window that is going to be subject to lots of wind, it is a good idea to install plastic on the inside and outside as well. Follow the directions for the window product.
  • Lastly, the simplest thing to do to help the house be warmer in the winter is is the same as when our ancestors did it. Open the shades during the day! Capture the solar energy inside on sunny days, then close the drapes at dark and hold the heat in!

Another item that must be attended to before the winter sets in is making sure that your furnace is in good working order. It is a good idea to leave this to the expert. Your favorite furnace guy can come out and inspect and or repair your furnace. There may be a charge for the service but compared to an emergency call in the dead of winter; or worse yet a fire call, it is well worth the price!

  • Smoke detectors need their batteries changed twice a year. Utilizing the  biennial time change date will help jog your memory. If your smoke detectors are old (anything over ten years), it may be time to replace the whole unit rather than just the batteries. (If you want to test your smoke detector, use a spray tester, rather than the smoke from a match or candle, because the smoke can actually cause the detector to fail.)
  • CO (carbon monoxide) detectors are inexpensive and useful tools that have been proven to save lives.
  • Outlets are often a source of secret heat loss. Insulating liners are available that can be installed behind the outlet cover that can help keep these sneaky heat thieves from creating cold spots in the room.

Some people dread the fall, knowing that it is the precursor to winter. Others, like me, revel in the beauty of the fall colors and the smell of the crisp leaves. I thank the good Lord for the reminder (and the time) to prepare for the cold season. Good planning and good preparation leads to a great party! So this winter, prepare for Old Man Winter and Party On!

If you have tips for preparing for the fall preparation I would love to hear from you! Please respond here or send an email to John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Keeping Warm in the Cold Winter Months

Most people know that this has been one of the colder winters in recent memory. In fact, I’ve been taking enough heat about my views on global warming that I wrote a post entitled, Where is the Global Warming?. The effects of the cold have been serious enough to drastically raise the price of propane and to create local shortages. In fact, a few of my neighbors have been paying upwards of $6.00 a gallon for propane that normally costs around $2.50 a gallon. What this means is that a house that normally requires $300.00 per month to heat now costs $720.00. Most people can’t afford the price increase. More than a few people feel that the propane industry is engaged in price gouging. At issue is the need for propane to keep warm.

We heat our home for the most part using our wood stove. Wood heat is a lot better than propane because a wood stove will heat not only the air, but also the floor, walls, and ceiling. You get a mix of both direct and radiant heat. In addition, wood is a renewable resource. Carefully managed woods produce an abundant supply of wood that won’t ever run out as fossil fuels will. However, due to some unexpected circumstances, we’ve been using the furnace a bit this winter as well and feeling the pinch just a little.

There are some long term fixes for some of the problems with heating in the works. For example, there is a movement now to improve the standards for furnaces. The technology exists to improve the efficiency of furnaces from the current 80 percent to nearly 98 percent. In addition, newer furnace fans can save substantially on the electric bills. Unfortunately, even though the technology exists, you’d be hard pressed to find any furnaces like this for sale—they simply aren’t available today. So what do you do to improve fuel usage in your home today?

We’ve been experimenting with various strategies over the years. For one thing, we turn the thermostat way down at night—we’re talking 47 degrees. Blankets are a lot less expensive than fuel and we’ve actually found we sleep more soundly. I’m not sure anyone has ever done a study on the proposed benefits of sleeping cool (if you find such a study, please let me know). A programmable thermostat can get the furnace started up just a few minutes before you begin your day. I do know that we both sleep better and feel more refreshed when the house is kept quite cool during the winter months. We use both a blanket and a comforter on our bed and it seems to work just fine.

One of the more interesting aspects of most homes is that the bathroom actually warms quickly and is usually high on the priority list for getting heat. Even though the rest of your house is now at 47, you can run into the bathroom, close the door, and enjoy a nice warm early morning experience quite quickly. Just take your clothes with you (I certainly do) and dress inside. If you set up a schedule, other family members can just remain cozy in bed until it’s their turn to keep warm while dressing in the bathroom. Actually, it’s a technique that people have used for hundreds of years. I still remember my father telling me about running from the bedroom down to the kitchen where he’d dress in front of the wood stove in the morning.

We’ve found that running the furnace for one long period is far more efficient than running it over several short periods. An engineer who specializes in such things could probably produce the math required to tell you precisely why this is the case, but simply observing the monthly costs has shown us that long burns are more efficient. A long burn also provides some of the same radiant heat benefits that our wood stove provides. So, we get the house up to temperature in the morning and then turn the thermostat down while we work. When it’s time to sit and relax, we heat the house back up again and then turn it down about 2 hours before we go to bed (the house will most definitely maintain temperature long enough for you to get cozy beneath the blankets). Using this cycled method of maintaining house temperature can reduce the heating bill by as much as 30 percent when used correctly. Given that we work in our house, the cycled method does mean making comfort choices, but the savings are just too great to pass up. If you’re working outside the house, using the cycled approach is a given.

I doubt that there is a perfect solution to any heating problem during the winter months. Even using wood has problems. Of course, you need to go out and cut the wood. I find the task pleasurable, but most people wouldn’t. There is also the problem of the ashes. We use them around the animal cages so that we can maintain our footing on the ice (the ash adds grit), but most people aren’t in a farm environment like we are and would have a hard time finding a place to put all the ashes. The ash dust also gets everywhere, which means we’re constantly dusting the house. (Still, when given a choice, we much prefer wood, even with the downsides it presents.)

Have you come up with any interesting solutions to the heating problems for your home? Have you ever tried a cycled approach? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.