Casa Verde: Greening Your Heating

Casa reader and TeamSugar member Tdamji writes an excellent green living blog called Minimal Harm. She tells me that she'll be officially launching a new version of the blog in early 2008, which I'm very excited about. Tdamji recently posted about greening your heating, which she adapted from a Treehugger post. Since it's starting to get chilly in many parts of the northern hemisphere, I thought everyone might like some tips on keeping their energy bills lower and their homes cozier. Thanks Tdamji and Treehugger!

1. Seal the leaks!
Sounds dull I know, but heat loss is one of the biggest obstacles on the road to a comfortable home in the winter. Good thing that sealing those darn leaks -- or draft-proofing, to get technical -- is a breeze. Plus, come summer time, good insulation will make it harder for heat to beat a path way into your home. All you need is a tube of exterior silicone caulk or insulation strips, which you can attach to your windows, plumbing and wiring holes, doors and fireplace dampers.

To find the leaks, light a stick of incense or a candle on a breezy day, close all the windows and doors, and wander around your rooms searching for places toward which the incense smoke drifts. Those are your target zones. For the space between your doors and the floor, consider installing a nifty, cheap door sweep on the bottom of the door.

2. Cover your glass
Installing clear plastic barriers or storm windows on your existing windows can cut heat loss by 25% to 50% by creating an insulating dead-air space inside the window. Storm windows cost about $7.50 to $12.50 per square foot. Exterior storm windows will increase the temperature of the inside window by as much as 30°F on a cold day, keeping you more comfortable.

3. Stay ventilated
The better you draft-proof and insulate your home, the more you’ll need good ventilation. Pollutants (especially from unflued heaters) can accumulate and excess condensation can cause mould and mildew to grow. Open some windows for a few minutes several times a day (cross-ventilate, if possible), rather than leaving a window partly open all the time.

4. Spread the heat
Who knew a fan could be useful for heating your home? Turns out that a well-positioned and slow-rotating fan can help ensure that heat from your radiator or heater doesn’t just drift up to your ceiling but spreads throughout your room, warming you toe to head. One great option is a heater fan, which sits atop woodstoves or gas room heaters and relies on a thermodynamic module to keep them running on heat alone (look ma, no batteries!).

For six more smart heating tips, just read more

5. Heating wisely
Heating the rooms to tropical temperatures isn’t just unnecessary, but uncomfortable. Throw on your most comfortable sweater and turn your thermostat down a few degrees. Each degree Celsius less will save about 10% on your energy use. And don’t forget to close doors to keep the heat contained in the rooms you’re actually using. Also, reduce temperatures at night, when you’re under the blankets. A programmable thermostat might be your most effective weapon.

6. Peel a drape
Since most heat loss in your home occurs through and around the windows, draw your drapes, especially at night. During the day, leave north-facing windows uncovered in order to take advantage of the winter sun. If you can line your drapes with old bed sheets or other material, they’ll prove even more effective in cutting down on your heating costs. You can also buy insulating drapes, which incorporate layers of insulating material, a radiant barrier, and a moisture-resistant layer to prevent condensation.

7. Start a fire (but not like a caveman)
What are fireplaces good for? Gathering the family around, hanging stockings on, putting photographs on top of. And what are they not good for? Entering the house (unless of course you’re Santa), throwing trash into, and heating. Yes, heating. On average, fireplaces are only about 10% efficient. That is, about 90% of their energy is lost through the chimney, along with loads of your home’s warm air and energy dollars.

But if you can’t resist the crackle and the glow, lower your thermostat to about between 50° and 55°F so your system doesn't keep trying to replace the warm air being lost through the chimney. Also, open the window nearest the fireplace slightly and close nearby doors so the fireplace won’t easily draw heated air out of the house. Installing glass doors on the fireplace, which can be closed when the fire’s dying or out, will prevent indoor heated air from escaping through the chimney, as will closing the chimney damper when the fireplace is not in use.

Consider using EcoBrics, which, made of compressed sawdust, have the same energy value as brown coal equivalents, with one-third the water content and a fraction of the ash and sulfur emissions.

Some upgrades to consider are the EcoFire Super-Grate, which increases burning efficiency, an outdoor air intake, which cuts down on heat loss from your home, or a high-efficiency fireplace insert, offering stricter air control.

If you don’t use your fireplace at all, plug and seal the chimney flue. You can keep your family photos where they are.

8. Get into (cheaper) hot water
Water heating is the third largest energy expense in an American home, typically accounting for about 13% of your utility bill. There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater, or buy a new, more efficient water heater.

To use less, consider aerating faucets, which enhance spray while minimizing water usage, repair leaky faucets, and opt for showers over baths. To insulate your heater, you’ll need blankets that shouldn’t cost more than $20 and will save you around 4-9% in heating costs. Remember not to cover the thermostat; if insulating your hot-water storage tank, don’t cover the thermostat, top, bottom, or burner compartment.

9. Be passive
So-called “passive” techniques earn their name from being unobtrusive, requiring little tending or cost. But they’re anything but passive when it comes to heating your home. Installing larger, insulated windows on south-facing walls and locating thermal mass, such as a concrete slab floor or a heat-absorbing wall, close to the windows, will help your home absorb solar heat with a minimum loss of inside heat.


Keep in mind that for passive solar heating, the optimal window-to-wall area ratio is 25-35 percent. Ensure also that your south-facing windows are clean, and that objects do not block the sunlight from hitting concrete floors or other heat-absorbing materials. If you’re constructing a new home, make sure the longest walls run from east to west, allowing the sun’s rays to enter the home in winter, while allowing in as little sun as possible during summer.

10. Cuddle up
Or throw a get-together, and tell everyone to wear their coolest (no pun intended) sweaters. The more people in your home (or bed!) the hotter it is. Gather around the fireplace -- but if you’re cold, think twice before actually lighting it up. No matter what, sweeten the deal with some hot cider or cocoa!

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