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, September 15, 2011

How do you heat your home?

With September in full swing and the weather cooling down rapidly, I start thinking of how long we can stretch it before we have to start turning on the heat. In anticipation of this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, I'm always trying to calculate ways to reduce our heating costs.

Since we heat with oil, I'm conscious of not only the carbon emissions impact, but the cost. We try to limit its usage by supplementing with electric heat (which is inexpensive in our area of the country and generated by wind and hydro). But, one of my fantasies is to get a fireplace insert to heat our home with wood.

Fireplace inserts these days are much more effective at generating heat and emit far less smoke and contaminants as compared to older models. Plus, I like the idea of having a back up heating source during times of power outages or just to have a nice toasty fire. It's much more homey and romantic than forced air heat.

Unfortunately, they are also expensive, which is one of the reasons we haven't gotten one. That and the fact that we would have to acquire wood in order to use it effectively. I'm always curious about what other people use, whether it be oil, gas, electricity or something else.

So, what kind of system do you use for heating your home? Are you happy with it? What would you prefer to use if you could choose anything?


meg- grow and resist said...

Unfortunately we have oil heat. However, we have been here for 6 years and stop getting oil service 4 years ago. I have no idea how full our tank is, but it usually only goes on about 10 times over the course of the winter to cut the chill because we keep the thermostat set at 60-62. That said it is effing cold in our house so we use 2 space heaters (the radiator looking kind) that we roll around to wherever we need them. And I wear a blanket wrapped around me most of the winter. If it is too cold we bring the Human Heater, aka Babylady into bed. Child is a furnace. =)

wendyytb said...

We have a pellet stove. I understand that they make fire place inserts for pellet stoves too. I like the idea that we are using a product that is made from wood scrap. On the coldest days we burn a bag....which is slightly less than $7.00. No wood to chop!

Hazel said...

We have oil heating to radiators as we live in (the UK in) a village with no mains gas.

Having that tank of oil gradually empty before your eyes does concentrate the mind when you know how much it's going to cost to refill it!

We have a wood burner and use that instead of the central heating as much as possible. DH always caves before me but this year I've finally bought some reflector foil to put behind the radiators, starting with those on external walls, which should increase their efficiency a bit when they're on.
Either way, we seem to use about a third of the oil that similar sized houses in the village do (heating our water).

I'm on a mission to reduce that percentage further, helped by the fact I used some money I was left at the end of last year to install a wood fired cookstove. I got to use it a bit, but I can't wait to get to use it properly (I did wimp out and continue using the electric hob over the summer!) It will mean that even when DH wussily puts the heating on, it'll only be upstairs.

Robj98168 said...

I have electric heat. Not so bad. I can shut off the heat in rooms not being used. And if I ever go solar... I would change to gas if it were available, but it is not so I make do.

Anonymous said...

WE GOT NEW WINDOWS! We moved to a new home (for us) that was built in 1961. It had the original windows. Aluminum, single paned. So that should help with keeping the heating costs down. In the evenings, we bundle up, I bake, then we .... we're still newlyweds. What can I say?

Lee Borden said...

Most of our heat comes from the sun through our south-facing windows. We supplement that in the early morning and at night with a small wood stove that keeps our tiny home toasty warm. No fossil fuel heat, but we do have a sunlamp in the bathroom that my beloved uses when she steps out of the shower (I shower outside year round).

smasters70 said...

I heat with oil. Terribly expensive. All the other houses in my neighborhood have city gas and their costs are about 1/3 of mine. If I can ever afford a new furnace, I would definitely switch to something else.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

Unlike Hazel, we do have a mains gas supply to the house so have a mains gas powered boiler, which provides us with our hot water (year round) and central heating radiators in the winter.

However we try to use those radiators as little as possible, preferring wood burning stoves instead. We have two: one in our office (we both work from home) and one in the main living room.

They were expensive to install (especially as we needed chimney liners - and we have a tall/narrow house so they were loooooong liners) but we've not had an additional servicing costs since then - and we've also not had to buy any wood at all. We've had two full winters using free wood now and our woodstores currently probably still have about two years supply in them: there is a lot of scrap wood out there to be salvaged - people having trees cut down & whatnot. We're currently burning the old (no longer safe) joists from when we had our bathroom renovated.

Between the stoves & our love of blankets/sweaters, our gas bill is less than half what the previous owners of the house used to pay - and they only heated about half the house.

The Haphazard Countryman said...

We got a wood burning insert last fall. It worked pretty good, but they didn't install a full flue, which limited it's efficiency. We are getting that corrected in a couple weeks.

We were concerned about finding wood, but there are lots of free firewood listings on Craigslist. Just takes some time and a trailer. And this year, don't want it to happen again, but hurricane Irene took lots of trees down and we got trailers full of wood already cut to length. We only have to split it.

Looking forward to smaller electric bills this winter.

Heather said...

We use oil here in Maine, and I think the majority of people here do, unless they have a wood stove - which is also very common. We have a wood stove, but need a to have a chimney installed before we can use it...and that is definitely not in the budget this year...although neither is the cost of oil. We use probably 150-200 gallons/month in the winter, and that is keeping the heat relatively low, like 62 during the day and 55 at night. It is also used for our hot water.

Anna @ Blue Dirt said...

We had a wood burning insert in our last home (in town). Since we farm there's always wood that needs to be cut around the fields, then just haul it in for some heat.

It heated the whole upstairs, sometimes too much. We didn't really use the basement since the heat doesn't disperse well without preplanned air circulation. And in our house right now it neither goes upstairs or downstairs. The house that we're building has lots of open features to draw and circulate the air better for more even distribution.

It saves us thousands though. We only fill our propane tank maybe twice during the winter, and one summer fill (to take advantage of cheaper fuel). Others fill every month. At well over $1,000 a fill, I'd say it's totally worth it. And my hubby likes his workout to be from real work.

Mamma C said...

we heat with pellets It saves us tons a year. We too like that we are using up scrap wood in the form of pellets. It is a good start for us, as far as being less petroleum dependent. :)

Kiran said...

I'm surprised at how many people heat their houses with oil or gas. I guess I never realized how common it is.
The house I live in right now has an electric furnace for the main floor, and one electric wall unit heater each for the attic and basement.
The house I grew up in (and in which my parents still live) has electric baseboard and in-wall heaters and separate thermostats for each room. All the rooms in that house are separated by doors except the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The living room has a nice big fire place, and that's where we would hang out whenever the power went out. My dad was always inspecting the thermostats whenever he walked by and turning them down if he thought you had them up too high--and don't you ever forget to turn down the heat if you leave a room!
I don't know if smaller wall heaters are more efficient than a big furnace, but it sure seems more sensible to only heat the room you're using instead of the entire house all the time.

Elizabeth said...

Well, it's all expensive, electricity and buying wood. We live in the country and have an oil furnace but since we have had unfixable ductwork problems we have heated with wood and electric heat in the bedrooms. We had installed an insert when we moved in the open fireplace in the living room. On the other side of the chimney, (not so centrally located) was an old wood stove. After having used both, I would definitely recommend the wood stove rather than the insert. Not as pretty and they take up more room but the radiant heat from them far exceeds what we get with the very expensive insert and the noisy fan that blows out the heat from it. And you can heat water, let bread dough rise and even cook on a wood stove and not the insert.
Food for thought.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Yeesh. I'm jealous of all you guys and your wood heat. Oil heat is pretty uncommon in the NW (most of our neighbors are on natural gas), but it's highly prevalent in the NE.

Elizabeth - I'd love a free-standing wood stove, we just don't have the house layout for it.

Does anyone know how much less effective the inserts are without a blower?

Anonymous said...

Cut my own wood, have also used electric (hydro) as a supplement but moved so this year it's all wood.

CC your local suppler should be able to tell you how much less effective the inserts are without a blower.

Mrs Mallard said...

We have gas heat, incredible insulation, and warm socks. What I'd really like is a hydronic radiant heat concrete floor or a house that would accommodate a cast iron wood stove to use for both heat and cooking. I'm working on thicker drapes to help this coming winter, though we stayed comfortable for roughly $40/month last winter. Oh! I bake a lot, too. That helps.

Khadijah said...

We live in Yemen- no heating systems at all. The houses are built with thick mud walls (or cement for the rich and famous), and careful placement of windows. We had days when we lived in Sana'a when it was fifty-five degrees or so inside the tower house we lived in. We just bundled up and drank tea, and went to the upstairs sitting room to get some sun. Cooling- in much of the country there are no systems, here in Hydramaut there are ceiling fans and,sadly, lots of air conditioners (YUCK)

Hazel said...

Crunchy- I'm not quite sure what an insert is, but we live in a house built in 1971- think boring rather than quaint English cottage- and we inherited a poky little open fireplace in an enormous 1970's brick fire surround (along with ill fitting doors and no insulation).

We knocked the fire surround out, DH enlarged the actual fireplace and we put a wood burner in the hole. It looks a bit like the 3rd and 4th pictures here

It's still way more efficient than the open fire, and we also burn a lot of free/scavenged wood.

The only thing I would do differently another time is to make the top of the fireplace higher so we could fit a kettle on top. As it is, I can just about put a shallow casserole dish (dutch oven) on top, or an old fashioned solid iron, which I then iron the children's beds with (to warm them up! Works if you get in straight away. Haven't tried actually ironing with it...)

Karin said...

We bought our place, a late 60's era summer vacation/rental house, on a Puget Sound island about seven years ago. We had oil heat in town and liked it, so we pulled out all the old, seemingly-unsafe, electric wall units and paid beaucoup bucks to have an oil furnace and duct work installed. This was the hands-down dumbest decision we ever made in 20 years of marriage. So very dumb that I am nearly sickened recalling it. Of course fuel costs have soared, oil delivery companies won't come out here anymore, and we're left hauling diesel (yes, with road tax applied) from gas stations to fill our tank. (If we had a truck we could purchase it by the barrel!)

About three years ago we installed a fireplace insert. We have plenty of wood available locally, particularly after winter storms. We use it regularly, usually beginning in October. We also keep our thermostat at 62/58 (day/night). We hope to retrofit a few windows each year until all the originals are replaced. (Did one bedroom this year, along with new wall insulation.)

If I had it to do over again--and we probably will have to retrofit our retrofit--I'd get a heat pump. We opted against it originally because of--and I'm not kidding--the noise. I think of that phantom noise every time I'm standing at Fred Meyer pumping 25 gallons of diesel to haul back home....

Carrie said...

We moved in to a new house just over a month ago. We do have natural gas, but we are also blessed with a double fireplace which opens in the living room, and the master bedroom. We are hoping to eventually get inserts for both sides to make it more effecient. Getting it inspected soon so we can use it this fall an winter. We also have what looks like a wood burning stove, however it uses gas. The previous owners said it would heat the whole house. So we are hoping to use that too.

Olivia said...

We have an oil furnace as there is no gas where we live and electricity is prohibitively expensive (we live on an island). Our main heat source, however, is a woodburning cookstove - an Austrian Tirolia and I don't know if they even make them anymore. The furnace is just used to heat the basement to avoid (additional) cracks in the concrete and it is kept at about 50F. It also heats our water although we have a water jacket on the stove that is used mainly for humidity as wood heat can be very drying.

We own over 21 acres of woodland but also get free wood from various sources.

I would love to have a ground source heat pump but they are prohibitively expensive for us now. Actually I would love to have a new, passive solar, geothermally heated and cooled house but that won't be happening anytime soon either.

Anonymous said...

We installed a pellet stove. It uses a small amount of electricity (for the fan). Ideally, I would have liked a wood stove, but we lack a place to stack cord wood. So we just buy wood pellets throughout the winter. Pellet stove + new windows and doors + insulating walls and attic = $5000 (for us, we got great deals) and it has all already paid of itself. Our heat bills (nat gas) were $400-$700 per month, and now are $88/mo, plus about $2.50/day throughout the winter for pellets. Forestry is a major industry here, and wood pellets are made from otherwise discarded materials, so they are local, help create jobs, and are better for the environment than natural gas. Wood pellets also make kick ass cat/small animal litter.

Anonymous said...

Living in northern Germany in a little woodhouse (about 650 squarefeet) I'm absolutly happy with my "Morsö", a danish cast iron woodstove. It needs very little wood to make my home cozy, and its less work than estimated. A picture of this woodstove see here:ø-2140-789.aspx
I've paid ca. 1.100 € for this stove in 2008.
The absolut plus is the fine atmosphere generated by a fire & the good "air" - or how do you call it in the rooms.

Mor Electric Heating said...

The secret is to get as many rooms as possible to as cold a temperature as possible that you can stand and without freezing the pipes. We sell electric heaters and have been very successful in helping people get heat into only the rooms they are using (with permanently installed baseboard, wall, ceiling heaters, etc.) Some are even using solar and wind to at least partially power them. The Energy Information Administration just predicted that the national average Heating Oil price will rise to rise to $3.93 per gallon in October, 2011. Many Propane customers have locked in from $2.45-$2.95 a gallon. That will be a $700 bill for January in a 2,700 sq.ft. house in a cold state.

Beth said...

We have natural gas, but in San Diego we don't need it too much. When we added on to our 1928 house many years ago, we had to get the whole house to conform to an overall R-value. So we did tons of insulation and the windows in the addition are all double-glazed.

We wound up with some pretty uneven zones - the upstairs is always too warm while the downstairs gets quite chilly. We decided to go with an insert in the fireplace to even things out a bit. It's tiny, but it cranks out the heat.

The biggest issue is that I have to be sure the wood we get/salvage is short enough to fit in.

Dan said...

Here in Maine we're still heating with a Jøtul woodstove (about 90%) and a tad of electric (about 10%). We burn about one cord of wood... but the warmest part of our house averaged 54º last winter, so we aren't "normal" : )

Looking forward to stories from this year's FYB Challenge!

Ryan Donovan said...

I have been using electric heat over the years and it has been quite effective. Lately though, I've been thinking of using flares as they could provide great amount of heat. The amount of heat they produce can also be controlled making them a good choice.

trailer flares