Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life without oil - Part 2

Home heating oil price graphLast week, in Part 1 of Life with oil, I discussed what I was doing to reduce the amount of gas I use for transportation purposes. This week I want to bring up our other big use of oil-based products: home heating.

This is going to be more and more of a problem for us since we use heating oil to heat our house. Sure, we use BioHeat, which is a blend of biofuel and oil, so there is some environmental impact there on two fronts, but at least the emissions are less. I want to switch to something more sustainable long term as well as something that won't have huge cost run ups as the price of oil increases.

At our old house we had a natural gas furnace and it is a viable alternative for some people, but we do not have natural gas lines going through our current neighborhood and, since it is believed that we have already reached "peak" natural gas as well, I fully expect to see prices of natural gas going up, too. It may not be seen as quickly, but I don't want to switch to something new and then regret it in 5 - 10 years.

Burning stuff (wood, corn pellets, etc.) isn't very practical since most of the time there's a burn ban in the city and using wood doesn't seem sustainable for urban dwellers and I believe corn pellets are going to be harder and harder to come by and/or will go up in price.

So, what's left? Electric heat is an option. We are signed up for 100% Green Power, meaning that we are getting all our electricity from wind, hydro and the like. The only real issue that I see with switching to electric heat is possibly overtaxing portions of the grid, especially on cold days when the demand is already high. Of course, this is only a problem if everyone decides to jump onto electric heating. My super-frigid house temps aren't going to be taxing much of anything.

SolarsheatI'm really intrigued by these solar air heating panels where the energy collected is used strictly for heating the home and does not go into your electrical usage. It would be a cheaper solution than getting full-on solar panels since the energy is targeted specifically to home heating. It would be nice to eventually use solar for other energy usage, but I'm just not willing to spend the money on them yet.

I suppose we could switch to electric heat and then eventually look into doing full solar if the prices become more reasonable. That way we take advantage of cheap, green energy now and then can move to solar generated electricity later if that looks viable. That seems like a good option if other things don't pan out.

In the meantime, I'm going to look into the solar air heating panels since I think it would cost less than $5,000 for a home heating upgrade.

What about you? How do you heat your home? If you use heating oil or natural gas are you putting any thought into switching to something else when the costs run too high? What are your thoughts on wood and corn pellet heating?


ruchi said...

Everybody move to LA!! No heat necessary. :)

Wow all that "freezing" of the buns I did this past winter sounds pretty neat now that all I have to do is brag about it. But seriously, what your "Freeze Yer Buns" taught me is that we generally do have a higher threshold for cold than we in the developed world normally choose. I've lived in LA seven winters I think and never ever gone without heat until the last one.

And I was fine.

So thanks Crunchy, because now I know. And if push comes to shove, I won't be afraid. Because I know I can live without heating oil.

Thomas said...

What is a reasonable usage of oil in our lives, Crunchy?

Unknown said...

Currently the only option we have for heating is electric, but our utilities company doesn't offer "green technology" yet. What can I do - other than writing my Congressmen and KY Utilities, which I've done - to encourage my utilities to offer green, renewable energy?

Burbanmom said...

We heat with natural gas (that heats our hot water tank, which heats our house) and I find it to be the most ineffecient heating source I've ever seen. I can't wait till the bastard dies so we can replace it with something -- anything -- that is more efficient.

I think I would switch to a solar hot water heater (which would do very well in sunny Virginia) to heat the water and the house. Will be interesting to see what the HOA has to say about it....

Anonymous said...

Natural Gas is the heating method I used - set at 52 degrees last winter. I did burn wood from a dead tree I dropped and cut up, but that is gone, and I'll end up purchasing wood from a tree service (that dropped or trimmed trees for other people.)

I HAVE promised myself that this winter I will purchase an electric heater for my home office, so I will be a little more comfortable sitting at my desk.

Anonymous said...

We bought the most efficient oil-burning furnace we could get at the time. We keep our thermostat low, and we supplement with our wood-burning stove. When our oil furnace need to be replaced, I'd like to switch to something like my parents have.
I grew up using wood for heat and hot water. My parents used that in cold months, and switched to oil for warm months. If we could rely on wood for most of our cold-weather needs, and use solar heating for our hot water during warm months, I think that would be ideal. Sure, it's a pain to have to build a fire when you want to take a shower, but it's a lot better than relying on fossil fuels.
In my opinion, wood is the most practical for us. We already have a bunch of wood split to prepare for next winter. We also burn scrap wood from my husband's building sites (he works in the richest parts of CT, so there's a lot of waste wood to be collected).
Yes, I understand that there are issues with emissions. However, at least the carbon from wood is "new" and is not adding to the net carbon in the biosphere, as opposed to the "old" carbon from oil, which has been out of the biosphere for millions of years.
For us, I think this is the most realistic option.

Anonymous said...

We live in the Northeast and no heat is definitely not an option. We heat our whole house with a wood stove during the day and evening, and propane heated forced air at night to keep the house at 55 degrees. We get all our wood for free from a lumber yard that specializes in making and installing untreated kiln-dried hard wood flooring: they leave their scrap dumpster open to the public, filled with pieces of oak, cherry and the like which otherwise they would have to pay to have taken away. Most people use it for kindling -- but it burns so long and hot, we cherry pick the "large" pieces (12-18 inches long by 4-6 inches wide) and it's all we need to use.

Hannah said...

I know next to nothing about all the details--I'll try to ask for specifics this weekend--but a friend of mine who is building a "green" house with solar panels and passive solar, hill-bermed orientation and the like decided that electric heat was too inefficient. He eventually chose gas. (The amount of electricity you need to produce an amount of heat is very high compared to the amount of gas.)

His roof is covered with solar panels, literally, but the amount of electricity to heat a house is extreme due to its inherent inefficiency.

Although natural gas is at peak, coal is not terribly far behind--and even if you are powered by wind, there is not yet nearly enough wind to provide electric heat for everyone. When coal starts becoming a problem, the grid will go down--even for those folks on grid-provided wind or other renewable.

Building our own neighborhood windmill might be a good answer! But we have no useful skills or knowledge at all. So...we're just freezing instead. (Except now, when we're roasting.)

Anonymous said...

We use oil -- it's inefficient and requires having a hot water boiler that we can't turn off even in the summer, but we don't have any other options since it's not our heater. We could move, but oil is the most prevalent form of heat in this area, so it would be unlikely that we'd find an apartment that uses anything else. At least last winter we cut our heating bill in half compared to the previous winter! (Mainly because our upstairs neighbors' heat goes through our walls, but if they're not conserving as much as we are, it's not my place to randomly go up there and preach at them. ;-) )

Anonymous said...

I will be moving to Vermont in 4 days and we'll more than likely buy a home that uses heating oil. Our plan is to install a wood cookstove with a water reservoir and use as little oil as possible. We also plan to shut off areas of the house that we can and use one main room, the one with the cookstove. Then there's dressing appropriately to the season, wearing a cap to bed and wood socks.

Frankly the way houses are normally heated these days is ridiculous and if we'd dress appropriately to the season and set the thermostat appropriately, just high enough so pipes don't freeze, I believe things would be better off due to less consumption driving prices down.

Anonymous said...

We have gas heat, not out of choice (although that would have been my choice), but because that's what the house came with. From what I understand, electric heat is much more inefficient (someone please correct me if I'm wrong), so I wouldn't rip out a functioning oil heat system to install electric, even if you get all your power from renewables. As someone else pointed out, other people aren't getting their electric power that way, and you would still be driving up overall demand. I guess I could justify it to myself if I had solar panels and was adding to the supply AND demand.

If our water heater goes, I'm all over the solar water heater. I've had my eye on those for years.

ib mommy said...

We've been looking into solar but short of winning the lottery we'll still be heating with natural gas. As of July 1 our gas prices are set to incresase by 35%. We'll be freezing more than our buns off this winter!

Jena said...

After moving in to our farmhouse last fall we purchased a corn burner. It sits in our basement. My fiance built of nice storage tank on legs out of an old fuel tank so we just pull the gravity wagon up to the window and trough the corn down to the tank. We only did this a few times during the winter. The stove uses about 1 1/2 pails (so about 7-8 gallons) of corn twice per day, depending on how cold it is. Here is some more info for y'all:

-We grow our own corn anyway so this is pretty self-sufficient and convenient for us
-It produces a nice, fairly moist heat
-Since we have yet to hook it in to our heating ducts the basement is the warmest place in the house so I can dry our clothes on lines down there all winter long!
-By feeding it and cleaning out the "clinker" 2x daily we are quite familiar with how it works and better able to fix it ourselves if something goes wrong
-It was a relatively low investment (I think we paid a little under $2K)

-It does require about 5 minutes twice each day to feed it & check it over
-They can be dusty (but our house is always dusty anyway)
-Corn prices are skyrocketing. Although we don't have to buy corn, we are lossing a lot of potential profit & since seed prices are so high it is essentially costing us more.

I can't think of more disadvantages in our case. I will say that I wish we had bought one now instead of last year because since corn prices are so high the cost of the stoves are going way down.
Ideally we would like to install an outdoor wood burner instead. We estimate around $10,000 for that. We currently heat our large shop with wood (only on days we're working out there) and a large outdoor wood burner could heat both the house and shop at once and even allow for extras such as a hot tub. Of course we have an abundance of wood available to us making it a better option for us than for a lot of people.

Hope you enjoyed the novel!

maryann said...

We heat by woodstove primarily. We installed a woodstove insert in the fireplace 3 years ago and use it as a primary heat source with oil based hydro air system as a supplement. We were able to reduce the oil usage in half over the last two years.

It's interesting to see the passive solar heating panels. My husband has been exploring the idea of installing 2 on the house. The problem is we have to remove the deck to do so and really aren't up to tackling that project this year.

In attempt to reduce the oil usage even more this year we had a home energy audit done this spring, the attic sealed for air leaks and are working on the list of remaining 'fixes' to help retain more heat and block out the drafts. We looked into solar hot water and solar electric. Solar electric won't work for us unless we remove a number of large old trees which isn't feasible and the solar hot water is still on the list of possibilities.

maryann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maryann said...

I found this website while researching passive solar, it has some good information available for anyone interested:

Greenpa said...

Eventually, I think it will dawn on more and more people that if you just put your house halfway underground- your energy use for heating and cooling goes away- almost 100%.

Granted- it's hard to retrofit for earth-shelter- but actually it's not entirely impossible.

There was a huge boom in earth-shelter in the 70's- tons and tons of enthusiasm- and a whole lot of people with no engineering training, and no common sense, built a lot of really terrible buildings.

It's not that hard to do right.

For some reason, though- people cannot do the math. "No, I can't afford earth shelter, it's so expensive! Costs like 4 times more than standard construction!"

Yes, it does- that's because all your fuel bills for the next 200 years are included. In 10 years- it's paid back- and then it's pure freebies.

Our earth-sheltered greenhouse is saving our butts right now- no energy costs. Lots of greenhouse businesses are either broke, or on the edge; but we have no fuel bills.

Hm. Earth-shelter retrofit. Sounds like a really good business to go into...

scifichick said...

I only have electric heat in my condo. I like it because this way I can control temperature in each room individually. I usually hear people say that electric heat is expensive, but I spent no more that $60 a month this winter on my electric bill. And it's not only heat, it's also hot water and stove. I only heat the living room when we are home and then turn that way down and turn the heat on in the bedrooms for the night. I didn't turn the heat on in the bedrooms very often this winter, it just didn't feel cold enough. I use two blankets for winter and warm pajamas and wool socks. But I like the air to be cool, it's just easier to sleep. We have our own municipal electric plant in the small city I live in. They are also building wind turbines somewhere together with other municipal plants. They are estimating that we'll have 10% of our power come from wind in 2010.

betsyohs said...

Coming out of lurking to say that electric heat is, in general, not a good idea. Where I live (nyc), electricity is 4-5 times as expensive as gas and oil. This is because of the inefficiencies inherent in creating and distributing electricity. Getting all your electric from green sources reduces the impact somewhat, but as you mentioned, there are still the distribution losses to think about, and many people don't have access to green-only power, or it's cost-prohibitive.

A much better plan, in my opinion is to simply use less. Have another "Freeze yer buns" contest, and insulate and air seal the heck out of your home. (Be careful with this... make sure that you don't create moisture or indoor air quality problems... talk to a weatherization company if you have any doubts.)

There has been a lot of interesting work done, especially in Europe, with superinsulated homes that use only tiny amounts of heating fuel. If your home isn't letting heat escape, just your body heat can keep a reasonably-sized room at a decent temperature.

Anonymous said...

We live in Massachusetts and heat with natural gas because that's the heating system that came with the house. In spite of replacing all of the windows, it still costs a considerable amount to heat our home to 60 degrees, but probably not as much as oil and definitely not as much as electricity as Massachusetts has one of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Who knows what the future will bring? We have a great southern exposure, so passive solar might be a good idea down the line, but, unfortunately, the money just isn't there at this time. Debbie C

Wendy said...

We use a woodstove, supplemented with an oil furnace (that, until a couple of years ago, was our "primary" heat :), but I don't think wood heat, even where I live in the woodsy northeast, is going to be the best solution. I can see us stripping our forests pretty quickly if we all rely on wood as a primary or only source of heating and cooking fuel. Our neighbors took down three HUGE fir trees on their property and once it was all cut, split and stacked, it didn't even amount to enough to heat our 1500 sq ft house for a whole winter.

So, we're looking into building solar space heaters, which can be done using recycled materials.

I don't think we'll ever convert 100% to one or the other. I believe we'll end up using a combination of many different resources. No one thing is going to take the place of oil.

Michelle said...

We only use the heat only three months out of the year, our house is all electric.

Anonymous said...

greenpa, I'm working on my partner to convince him we should do earth-sheltered for our next house (we're trying to whip this one into shape to get it on the market next spring.) In fact, there are whole blocks in Minneapolis full of little woodframe houses on steep little hills. Some of them have the garage underground so it opens out onto the street. I don't see why we couldn't buy a tiny house, jack it up, and dig a floor of mostly-underground rooms under it, to make it into a big house with a little heating bill.

That said, we have an enormous drafty 106 year old house with a new, "energy-efficient" natural gas boiler. It's better than the 1950s monster it replaced, but unlike the old one will not run unless the electric fan is if we lose power in an ice storm, we will lose heat too. Not good. I want a wood stove for backup.

But not everyone can heat with wood, and I wouldn't use it full time - too much particulate pollution. I like to breathe!

Geomom said...

We are living in a house we built a few years ago. We tried very hard to make an energy efficient house, and one way we did that was to install a geothermal heat pump. This is a big up front cost (> $20K), but now all we need to heat our house is some electricity to pump the fluid out to our loops (buried more than 6 ft underground). Geothermal (or ground source) heat pumps utilize the constant ground temperatures found > 6 ft down. In our case, we buried long sections of pipes underground. The fluid then moves through the loops, gets back up to 55 degrees, comes into our house, the heat is extracted (like a refrigerator in reverse), and the fluid is pumped back out again. This can also be done in a deep well (if you don't have the acres to bury loops).

We hope to install solar panels and wind turbines someday, but we've been victims of Michigans terrible economy, and haven't been able to sell our old house for 2 years, so money has been tight.

It's me said...

We used to have electric baseboard heat, now Natural Gas. Two fireplaces, but no inserts.

WTSHTF I'll probably return to fire as my primary heat source.

Apparently, the region I live in has fairly affordable power (hydro helps) but I don't want to count on it. So I'm looking for a good fireplace insert and will probably spend a lot of time in the always-temperate basement.

Lynnet said...

Here in Colorado we have natural gas heat and water heater; nobody out here heats with oil.

I've thought of getting a soapstone stove to put in the center of the house; my sister has one in Oregon and she loves it.
You can load the firebox with sticks in the morning, and it heats all day.

In the central location it could keep the large kitchen warm, and we could probably route some heat into and under the bathroom next door and keep the pipes from freezing. So in case of true energy crash, the soapstone stove would keep us from freezing. (Our yard specializes in making sticks.) But it's a big investment. So we're just muddling along.

We insulated a bunch of stuff this spring, so hopefully we'll need less gas for heat this winter.

Anonymous said...

I have a snug, well insulated nice sized 120 year old home that heats with natural gas. The bill is the same for this house as it was for my tiny 2 bedroom apartment with no insulation, and it seemed no more than a bit of drywall standing between me and the elements. I kept my heat on 58 all winter, and was perfectly comfortable. I am renting so I am stuck with the natural gas, but I am going to close off rooms and window quilt and I am thinking of trying this:

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking we may have to produce our own heat and eletricity, possibly by utilizing stationary bikes that generate electricity, and produce body heat at the same time. When I was a kid, and I'd tell my Dad I was cold, he'd say 'do jumping jacks'. Talk about self-sufficiency!!!

Has anyone looked into retrofitting a system that heats from the earth? I wonder if that would be more cost effective than doing the earth-sheltering retrofit...

nemo said...

Solar air heating panels are easy to build and quite effective as long as you get direct sunlight. Then they can work in very cold environments. My kids built some for a science project, see my Jan 4 post.

Air heaters do not work so well in cloudy conditions and when there is no sun hitting them, they actually cause a heat loss. Best is to put in a thermostat that closes the vents if necessary.

The trickiest part is to make holes in the wall for intakes and inlets. You also need to make sure you can close the vents properly or you will lose heat.

You can build a totally passive system, using rising hot air to drive the flow. When weather is mild -as it is in California- you can take in outside air, and use a very simple system that is totally passive. We connect ours through an open window, using an airco manifold.

This only works if the outside temperatures stay above 45 and there is direct sun for most of the day.

Some people prefer a small (computer) fan. When you do so, the air won't feel very warm so make sure you don't sit in front of the inlet. But don't worry, even though the flow "feels" cool, it actually does warm the house.

Commercial systems work well too but are hugely overpriced in my opinion.

Kristijoy said...

Our local co-op has many green features. One of them is a ground source heat pump, which should i ever get to build my dream off grid home.. I would use. It's described on this page here:
Basically it uses the earth's constant temp of 55 degrees for heating and cooling air.
Of course for an existing home, I am not sure how easy or spendy it is to renovate for a system like this.

I can get my without much heat here. However, my roommate is a heat hog and runs the gas all the time=P But I usually just have an electric space heater that I use to heat my bedroom for awhile if I get really cold. it has to be pretty cold first though and I have to be doing somthing very inactive before I get cold. And I have like 3 down comforters for sleeping. If I didn;t have the roommate I did, I'd probably just stick with my sometimes space heating system and not turn the pilot on the heater in the winter.

Kristijoy said...

OH and for wood burning, my I suggest a rocket stove?
one of my friends teaches workshops on building them:

they are truly awesome and efficient.

Kristijoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
equa yona(Big Bear) said...

I am thinking seriously about a wood/corn pellet stove to supplement our propane furnace. My understanding is that the wood pellets are made from sawdust produced by furniture manufacture so they are basically recycling stuff. We have not wintered in our 90+ year old two story yet. The propane furnace is really a big space heater as it we do not have ductwork. To heat upstairs, we have these round grates or vent(aka holes in the ceiling) with lacy iron work. If I can get the roofing guy to do it before winter we are going to insulate the bejeezus out of our attic.
I would SOO love an earth bermed house.

Lisa said...

We have natural gas but my husband likes the house very cold (bad in the summer, great in the winter lol) so we don't use the heater a ton. I hope when we buy a house it will be electric heat.

Also I have a green giveaway on my blog right now. :)

Anonymous said...


Yep..I would be interested to hear more about those solar panels you mention. THE single biggest fear I have about the home energy problems we are starting to experience is that I might get cold. I can manage - if I must and in a foul temper with the Government about it - to deal with light, radio, makeshift fridge arrangements if I absolutely have to (whilst waiting for a chance to vote out the Government because of it - as I see this as THEIR fundamental responsibility to dealt with) - but heat: ohmygod - thats an absolute no-no to be cold. I couldnt "freeze my buns" off for the life of me. If I am cold - I am sitting in a miserable little huddle achieving b...all. So - if I can even find a way to guarantee I will be warm enough it will help so much.


(resident in Britain)

Anonymous said...

We use natural gas for both our furnace and hot water heater. Since we are currently renting I doubt that is something that will change in the near future.

My dad is a custom home builder. Recently he has been building homes with geothermal heating systems that use a tank-less water heater to run heat through the floors, often just the basement, and this is sufficient to heat the entire house (even through our cold Canadian winters).

Honestly though, I suspect that for 99% of Americans (and Canadians) the issue isn't so much what they are using to heat their homes as much as it is the size of the home they are heating.

The average American home is 2330 square feet! Combine that with the fact that the average family only has 2.1 children and that is a lot of unnecessary space being heated, cooled and filled with stuff.

My family of 4 lives in a 1000sq foot house (with no basement)and we are quite comfortable. My kids share a bedroom and if it gets too cold in there they snuggle up together and keep each other warm.

Anonymous said...

I live in Vermont- and it gets pretty cold here in winter. My primary heat is wood- on sunny days the solar gain helps a great deal as well. I have a back-up propane console heater as well- good for days I am out working- or for helping on really cold nights when I don't feel like getting up to throw more wood in the stove...

I am interested in those solar heating panels but haven't checked them out well yet. I am also interested in the idea of a wood boiler. I don't forsee the propane back-up staying viable for much longer due to cost- can't believe how much it has gone up since last year-well I can-but I don't like it just the same.... So down the road not sure what I'll be doing besides wood.

Out here though it is a real concern as wood is used pretty heavily-many people use it at least as a secondary source- but most rely on oil for their primary heat, or some on propane. Lots of houses here are old and not well insulated so it may get interesting this winter....
Heat isn't optional at twenty below......

Robj98168 said...

I'm moving in with arduous!

I heat with electric, and like you, crunchers, am on city light "green power" I plan to one day heat and everything else with solar. I have a neighbor who just put solar in. No word if she likes it or if she is grid free.
Since I am in the path of the new illegal third runway, I think I will put up some wind turbines too that way the low flying airplanes will cause the wind turbines to spin and make electricity!

Natural Louisville said...

You may have already seen this or posted about it and I missed it, but since you mentioned biofuels I wondered if anyone read this article in the Guardian and had any thoughts on its implications or even its accuracy ... I haven't seen much about it in the U.S. news.

Anonymous said...

In the 1977-8 and 1978-9 winters I tried to learn to love upstate New York. It cost a lot to heat then too and the houses we tried out weren't insulated. Plus there seemed to be only a 10 to 12 week frost free growing season. I decided to move to the tropics and try to love that. No heating issues ever and I grow all year, and grow really fast. That was October 3, 1979.
Next question.

Christy said...

Where did you find information about pricing on the solar heating? If it is really that inexpensive I'd be very interested!

Heather said...

I live in a very temperate climate and in a culture where people don't tend to heat or cool their internal air very much. However, people are getting influenced more and more by northern hemisphere norms and, whilst no one here has central heating, space heating is becoming more common and wearing jerseys inside is becoming less common.

I think it would be interesting to learn what people in your region did before heating/cooling with oil/gas/electric was common. Some things, like half burying your house, are nigh impossible to retrofit, but things like putting on big shady porches for cooling probably are viable.

It wasn't so long ago that people both built and dressed more for the predominant weather, so it shouldn't be too hard to find out what they meant for your region. Especially if you are looking to buy or build a house, but even if you are in a position to do substantial renovations.

--Heather from New Zealand

PS If anyone can tell me how to keep my face warm sleeping in a cold room I'd be grateful! A warm duvet and a hat make it possible to sleep, but a warm face would make it more comfortable!

Sharlene said...

We get our heat via good old PG&E. Natural Gas is the norm around here. Actually I didn't even know there was such thing as heating oil until a couple years ago. Shows what this California girl knows. I was not aware of green electricity as an option for us. I will have to look into it. Thanks for bringing the concept to my attention.

Felicity said...

Latest headline on oil in Australia: Sadly though, the majority would rather complain loudly than actually doing anything.

Heating isn't much of a probem where I live, cooling in summer is horrible!!

Robj98168 said...

I found a new house for you crunch! It's got nice features. It has modern twin walled insulation and draught free ventilation to keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. Avialable from Omlet

Unknown said...

I'm with FHE who commented that you need direct sun for those solar panels to work. I was seriously looking into them for our 1920's house. But after reading that they don't really generate heat on partly cloudy days (all or nothing it seems) I realized this would never work here in Seattle.
We opted for wood, I hope our enthusiasm for chopping continues after a couple years.

Unknown said...

I have seen passive heating by people using large water containers (bolted to the wall in case of earthquakes etc) filled with water to help regulate temperature. I think they had lots of windows to open up to help let out heat too...

My heating is pretty much passive solar. I have nice big windows, which lose some heat in the winter, but with proper openning and closing of the blinds and windows it stays either warm or cool depending on the weather. I HATE the cold, but it really doesn't get all that cold in Seattle when you are in a building surrounded by people in other units above and below you. Any heat I did need I have electric heaters for. Though I did have one of the three unwired so it wouldn't come on.

It will be interesting to see what happens in urban areas when the prices start going up. Solar is an option, but for even smaller buildings (say 50 or fewer) with people using not very much heat/water/power water, that is a lot of solar we would need, and would mean giving up valuable roof space (that could be used for gardening, etc)

Anonymous said...

There is an old article in Mother Earth News Sept 1, 1977 issue about a "Heat Grabber", article is titled Mother's Solar "Heat Grabber." It is a homemade version of the solar air unit you described, Crunchy.
I think there is a chapter in the book Solviva ( that also describes how to make one.

knutty knitter said...

we have insulated and double glazed and put in solar water heating (which is great) so now we use a couple of one bar electric heaters and a top up of electric for the water when needed. It's been very successful so far and electric here is mostly green.

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard of citizen re?
You can rent solar panels. Sadly, my electric company does not participate.

Anonymous said...

Our house came with a fireplace and electric baseboard heat which we used the first winter. The following year we installed a pellet stove insert into the fireplace and we love it!

Since our house is mostly one open space, the stove is much better at heating it. For almost the same price that we heated one bedroom and one bathroom with electric, we can heat the whole house with the stove.

The pellet fuel is made from local waste wood and burns cleaner than plain wood. Supposedly, it's the cleanest burning solid fuel. There's a bunch of info on

LeCinQBlog said...

I use wind energy for my electricity.It is cheaper too