Keep Warm without Breaking the Bank

Fall is upon us in the northern hemisphere, and with it comes cooler temperatures. Lacking fur, keeping warm has always been a problem for us humans. But we have found ways to adapt, even ways that seem strange such as burying ourselves in snow. The problem for most of us isn’t the technology, it’s the expense.

Wood Stacked for Winter

The first line of defense is to put on more clothes, and that works up to a point. But wearing full outdoor gear, as would be needed in the colder climates, is not always practical. Comfort requires that we be able to tell the outside from the inside of our homes and workplaces. To lower your energy costs the first thing you need is proper insulation. Without it, no matter what your heat source you will lose most of it to the atmosphere. Having bad insulation isn’t as bad as keeping a door open while you run the heat full throttle, but almost. If your insulation is inadequate there are a couple of things to do, depending on your circumstances. If you rent, try pointing the problem out to the landlord. If you own, look in to the costs to repair the deficiency. But if the landlord refuses or the cost of complete insulation is out of reach there are still things you can do. Start with the windows and doors, looking for leaks. Weather stripping is inexpensive and can really help. Make sure you have fairly thick curtains at all windows. Use wall hangings and rugs, anything that will pad the walls and floors.

Having secured the insulation and put on a sweater, what are the choices for home heating, and how much do they cost? If you live in a big city apartment complex you are likely stuck with whatever was installed when you got there. Rationing may be your only choice. If all you have is electric heat, which tends to be the most expensive, be aware that you may qualify for a reduced rate program through your local utility. These utilities are regulated by the state, and are forced to give a break to people under a certain income level. Because these programs are state by state, and sometimes even by city, I can’t include all the links. I suggest calling or visiting your local provider, or doing an online search on energy assistance programs or lifeline programs.

For those of us in the country the problem is a bit different. In many rural areas, there are no natural gas lines available, so the main source of fuel is propane. The price of propane is going up along with all fuels. Many rural homes heat with wood. But keeping a fire going all day is expensive and not particularly efficient. Where I live we use a mixed method. During the winter we set it at 60 degrees and leave it. We have found that this actually uses less gas then blasting it and turning it off right away.

But, if we are going to be home all day and it is very cold and stormy, we just build a fire. Most evenings we have a fire as well. We use a fire starting brick and a couple of sticks of kindling with no paper and a woodstove instead of an open fireplace. Open fireplaces lose more heat and are harder to control. The fire starting brick helps the initial load of wood catch faster and more thoroughly, producing a good bed of coals. This saves wood. Use a fan to circulate the heat and damp the fire down once it has caught properly to make it burn slower. When you go to bed, damp it down all the way. The residual heat will last till morning.

Wood is fairly expensive, but there are more opportunities to glean it. If you know someone who lives on wooded property they might be willing to share if you help cut and split. This is hard work, but you might be able to heat your house all winter for next to nothing.

If you are going to use the oven for cooking or baking, remember to open the door when you are done and let the heat into the room. It may not seem like much, but why waste it? It can take quite a while for a hot oven to cool down.

The cheapest source of heat is the sun, but going solar is not necessarily cheap or easy, and may not be possible at all if you are a renter. But you might be able to use passive solar. Do you have a widow that gets plenty of sun during the day? Open up the curtains first thing in the morning and keep them open as long as the sun is on that window. If you are home you can keep adjusting the curtains to catch the sun all day, and then close all the curtains at sunset. You might be surprised at how much heat you can catch. And the warmer the house is when you start your evening, the less fuel you need to burn. If you own the home, don’t assume that solar is out of reach. The market is changing all the time, and there are different degrees to going solar. Just do what you can.

Here are some resources for more information on home heating:

http://www.travisindustries.com/CostOfHeating_WkSht.asp?P=3 try this worksheet for ideas.

http://ezinearticles.com/?DIY-Solar-Energy—How-to-Build-Your-Own-Cheap-Solar-Panels&id=1929696

http://www.chiff.com/a/cut-heat-bills.htm some great ideas!

http://ezinearticles.com/?DIY-Solar-Energy—How-to-Build-Your-Own-Cheap-Solar-Panels&id=1929696

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