The advent of winter is more than a religious season for my Episco-homies, it’s the time of ecumenical energy freak out. That first oil refill, gas bill or cord of wood delivery creates an economic edge to an environmental truth: mammals do not make enough internal heat to be warm when it’s cold. Reptiles need more heat, and amphibians are just weird, but unless we approximate the R value of a musk ox’s fur in the layers of sweaters we wear, we gotta pay to stay alive when the Holiday Cups come out at Starbucks in September.
So beyond enduring a Bob Cratchit life of near frostbite, how do you take the sting off of the heating bills when you feel the first twinge of freezing flesh?
Everyone wants to take charge, tape and shrink-wrap their windows, put insulating “snakes” and the bottom of your exterior doors, install programmable thermostats – and these do all help. But do not let guilt of a large carbon footprint or the fear of going broke blind you to several simple truths:
1) Heat Rises. So if you have a loose fitting hatch or door to your attic, or if yout chimney has no flue, or just a leaky one, it acts like a flue for every bit of BTU’s your heat plant has generated, and that heat is doing its best to warm the stratosphere rather than the pinky that has lost all sensation. So fix the leaky vertical heat pathways FIRST. And close the doors to any second floor spaces to reduce the treated air flow into them.
2) Less space heated = lower heating bills. You should be heating the fewest number of cubic feet possible. Tightening up windows in rooms you never use (the formal dining room comes to mind) is like bringing a pot roast to a vegan’s house – not very thoughtful. Seal off the unused spaces and if possible shut off or damp down the heat flow to those spaces by doing a walk thru with your heating repair company.
3) Your furnace may be cranking, but the heat may not be flowing. Flames make something hot (water or air) that then makes the rest of your house warmer – its called transfer, and its either efficient or its not. Clogged air filters kill efficiency, a poorly focused oil jet makes for limp ignition (remember when you car had a carburetor?), forced air heat without a duct that returns the heated air back to the air that is to be treated literally just blows. You want your heating plant to be a fine-tuned athlete, not a couch potato…this means getting that trusted repair guy in soooon.
You cannot control everything with hard work done with good intentions that is unfocused. It’s like giving up deserts while having an extra cocktail – you feel virtuous but the net-net is not getting you where you want to be. Common sense can take you only so far. These there internets are full of very generic advice that is often stupid for a particular house on a specific site.
So swallow your inner Scrooge, and get a good heating repair guy in your home pronto – the fee may be between $100-200 – or nothing, – depending on your relationship. Sometimes it’s best to give up on “I’m King of the World” when it comes to making your home work better for you and do what we XY chromosomal units find so difficult: Ask for directions…
Duo Dickinson has written seven books on architecture. His latest, “Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want”, was published by The Taunton Press in November 2011.
He has been the contributing writer for home design for Money Magazine, is the architecture critic for the New Haven Register, and a contributing writer in home design for New Haven magazine. He has written articles for more than a dozen national publications including House Beautiful, Home, Fine Homebuilding and was the “At Home” editor for This Old House.