Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Oy Vey.

Hat Tip: The Oil Drum

One in Five Expect to Borrow to Heat Homes This Winter
by Connie Prater, Tuesday, December 18, 2007

For perhaps as many as 27 million American adults, keeping warm this winter will mean borrowing money and 20 million will use credit cards to be able to afford their heating bills, according to a poll.

Nearly 12 percent of Americans say they will need to borrow money to pay winter heating bills; 9 percent will need to use credit cards to be able to afford their heating bills. The poll, commissioned by and conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, surveyed 1,004 randomly selected American adults by telephone Dec. 7-9, 2007 to gauge their attitudes about energy costs in 2008. A majority say they expect oil and gasoline prices to get worse in 2008...

...According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the federal agency that collects and distributes data on energy use and expenditures, heating costs between October 2007 and March 2008 are expected to spike by nearly 10 percent for the average U.S. household. The winter fuel projections show the sharpest gains for heating oil users -- especially those living in the Northeast....That's a 34 percent increase over the previous winter's bills...

The article makes a passing mention of turning down your thermostat, but for people with small children, having freezing floors isn't really an option. If you own your home, of course, I hope you have or soon will increase the amount of insulation in the attic and below your first level floors. For wall cavities that don't have insulation, they make stuff that can be blown into them using a tiny hole - making it a whole lot easier, since patching and touching up the paint for a tiny series of holes around the room certainly beats ripping down all the plaster or drywall.

But in truth, doors and windows are the worst offenders for heat loss, along with chimneys. Make sure you caulk around your doors and windows. Use felt weatherstripping if there is a gap between the edges of your door and the framing. Use larger petro-chemical "weatherstripping" products for gaps between the exterior face of your door and the framing. Make sure you have a sweep on the bottom of your door to cover gaps there - you may need to take the pin off of the door hinges to install it, but it's worth the effort. For doors you do not plan to use during the winter, especially doors that are all or largely glass, do all this AND cover the door with plastic - the kind you tighten with a blowdryer. This stuff is easy to tear through in an emergency, so don't worry. Then you can put a curtain rod over the unused door and cover it with a heavy curtain, like imitation velvet. This will keep your house from looking tacky and keep the kids from bumping directly into the plastic, as well as adding a layer to help keep cold out and warm in. Do the same for windows: caulk, felt, weatherstrip, plastic, and cover with heavy drapes. During the day the drapes can be drawn to allow sunlight. At sundown, be sure to close them.

Fireplaces and flues for furnaces are another place where your heat escapes and cold gets in. Make sure you caulk these thoroughly with a fire-resistant caulk. If you do not have a fireplace insert, and just have a decorative cover for an open fireplace, there are still things you can do to stop air leakage. First and foremost, make sure your flue closes tightly. You might need to jiggle the chain, or pull the chain tighter, or move the peg/hook that holds the chain in place to a tighter position. Then (and this gets a bit messy), move the grate from the fireplace onto some newspapers so you can look carefully inside at the "back" of your decorative doors. You'll probably notice all sorts of gaps around the top, bottom and sides or your fireplace door assembly. A flashlight can help you check carefully for small leaks. These should be caulked with fire-resistant caulking. As for the doors themselves, they may not close 100% perfectly. There are some things you can do for this problem. First, there is heat-resistant weatherstripping you can get to put on the left and right outside edges of your door that don't look very obtrusive. You can also place a strip of thick weatherstripping across the bottom, where there is likely a series of holes with a sliding cover for air circulation to your fire - just be sure to remove it when you actually want to start a fire. And the final thing you can do sounds silly, but works great - trust me. Go to Home Depot or some other hardware store, and buy one square yard of not-too-thick indoor/outdoor carpeting, preferably in black or dark grey. (About $3.00) When you get it home, carefully cut the rug so that it fits exactly behind the glass doors - one large piece that fits all the way from the very left of the framing where the door sits to the very right, the very top to the very bottom. You may need to cut out a small square at the top, or bottom or both to allow the magnets to touch the metal on the framing if you have magnetic doors. The idea is to place the carpet behind the doors, in front of the metal ember protection grate, and close the glass doors on it. The rug will be a great insulator to keep any air that gets in from the flue or chimney from seeping into your house through the flimsy glass doors that don't usually meet perfectly in the center or on the sides. The black or grey looks fine.

I'll try to update this post later with some photos later - I don't have a digital camera here right now.

The final places you should check are the dryer vent to the outside, any pipes that are coming in through the walls, and outlets on exterior walls. Air can infiltrate around all these things, and they are easily plugged with caulk or insulation scraps.

If you have a basement, it is imperative that you check carefully for air leaks and fix them. Windows, pipes, and the seam between the foundation and the actual framing of your house are all places where huge cracks can live unnoticed.

Ditto for attics. Heat escapes there, pulling in cold air from below the exact same way that double hung windows work - making your furnace have to work more.

Some things you can do to distribute heat are as follows: There is usually a 5-7 degree difference, one way or the other, between an upstairs and a downstairs, depending on the way your house interacts with its HVAC and your climate where you live. If your downstairs gets stuffy but your upstairs seems cool, you can cut some strategic floor vents in upstairs hallways from downstairs rooms to allow some of the warm air downstairs to move upwards. If you have the opposite problem, your best bet, besides separate zone heating, is a programmable thermostat. This will allow the downstairs (where most activity probably occurs) to stay a comfortable (warmer) temperature during the day, then let the downstairs cool starting in the late evening so that the upstairs (where most are sleeping) will not be so stuffy all night. The thermostat will come on automatically before you get up, fixing the downstairs so the kids aren't cold in the morning. If one SIDE of your house gets warmer, say the south facing side, then use ceiling fans on low settings to move air to the north side of the house, etc. It's much cheaper to move air around with fans and vents than it is to excessively heat one part hoping the heat will migrate on its own to the other part. And, lastly, for a really badly designed area, a small electric space heater, used ONLY when the room is occupied, can be the most economical solution. If you can get by without that space (and it isn't adjacent to water pipes in your walls) then close off that area, vents and all, for the winter. That will allow the heat you do have to be better directed to areas you actually use.

Other oddities: use the clothes dryer at night, if you use it - since it generates heat, the heat may as well be useful. Ditto for self-cleaning oven cycles (you DO clean your oven regularly, don't you?!?). Sometimes, simply keeping some hot water in a coffeepot (for tea, naturally!) and refilling it regularly will help - just that little bit of added humidity can make a difference, and the water constantly available for hot tea and hot cocoa mix is nice, too.

That's all I can think of right this minute. If anyone else has a suggestion, feel free to send it in. In the meantime, stay warm!

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