For those in cold climates, how are you keeping your house warm frugally?

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 2:52pm

We were lucky enough to get a solar hot-air panel for our upstairs, which I've written about before.  It's not a full solution, but it helps to keep the chill off up there when the sun is shining.  We also switched to a woodstove (the stove was a Freecycle find but we had to pay for installation...that was not cheap, and I had help from family to make it happen, but it will more than pay for itself.)  Here in the Northeast, dry cordwood for heating is still abundant and cheaper than oil for heating. 

We have an oil furnace and a full tank of oil, but since the woodstove was installed, we've not used the furnace except for three times when we had overnight guests who were not accustomed to sleeping in lower temparatures.  Even on cold nights (teens-20s F) the early-morning temp in the bedrooms has been around 55F, which feels like a perfectly reasonable sleeping temperature.

Sometimes I'm reminded that most families still use "central" heating...but my kids have adjusted and they don't complain (now that they're equipped with very warm bedding, socks, thermal underwear, neckwarmers, fleece footy pajamas, and hats).  This has become "normal" for them at our house.  Though it's true, we would do better to have overnight guests in the non-heating season!

My next challenge for myself will be to use the free cooking properties of the woodstove when it's already hot, rather than turning on the propane (gas) stove.

I am finding that even with new double-paned windows, the window coverings (shades and curtains) keep some cold out of the rooms; when I open them in the morning I can feel the accumulated cold air.  We also have draft dodgers at the base of interior doors leading to unheated rooms (i.e., the pantry and a storage room).

What are you doing this winter to make the most of your heating budget and keep your costs low?

18 Comments

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1401
frugal heatng

Along with an airbight wood-burning stove insert into our fireplace? (I agree - not cheap, but it will pay for itself)  Insulation. We have insulated window shades. We also have weatherstripping around our steel, foam-cored front and back doors. We have ample insulation in the attic, and insulation under the house. That last is a Southern thing: we usually have no basements here (at least in this area, due to a high water table) and build off the ground to deal with summer heat, but cold can seep under there in the winter.

Baking or boiling dinner makes the house nice and warm for the evening, too.

One final tip. Supposedy, our stove needs fed every 6 hours, per the manufacturer, but we bought refractory bricks to use in the stove rather like a log holder in a fireplace - to keep an air space under the wood. Refractory bricks are made to handle very high heat. Then we do something I call "chunking" the stove. We add a split piece of wood that barely fits in the stove on top of some coals on the bricks. The darned thing heats the house for ten hours on a "chunk" of thick wood.

And yeah, I'm with you, a cooler room is better for sleeping. But the other end of our 900-sf home never seems to get below 65 if we "chunk" the stove. And that leads me to a final point. Smaller homes are easier and cheaper to heat.

Woodman's picture
Woodman
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Most folks ar eporbably used

Most folks ar eporbably used o thermostatic controls, but I heat frugally by not minding wide temperature ranges in my house.  I just fire up the wood stove to heat the main living/kitchen area in the evening.  I sleep better in the cooler bedroom, with lots of blankets.  No need to heat during the day while I am at the office or outside working.  Passive solar through the southern windows keeps the house above freezing.  Keeping active and wearing a sweater is much more comfortable than sitting around not weathing seasonal clothing and trying to heat the whole space around you.  

thebrewer's picture
thebrewer
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Compressed Wood Blocks

When we bought our house in Connecticut it was all electric. Halfway through our first winter we quickly discovered that was not a sustainable option. The February electric bill was north of $800!

I did a little searching around and found someone giving away an old Vermont Castings woodstove. It wasn't pretty but it was free. A wire brush attachment on my drill made short work of restoring the outer rustic beauty of the black cast iron stove. A new set of seals and she was almost as good as new. The $2000 I had to spend for the chimney and installation was a bit painful, but we had already spent that on electricity for that first winter so it wasn't that tough to swallow.

Now to answer Amanda's question more directly, we have primarily heated our house for the last 10yrs with cord wood that I cut down around my property or purchased. This year I saw a pallet of compressed wood blocks at Tractor Supply and was intrigued. I bought a stack and tried them out. I liked them but they were a bit expensive so I started looking around. Turns out there are a few manufacturers and a few differences. I bit the bullet and bought a ton of hardwood compressed blocks for $275 (cash price). The all hardwood ones definatly burned hotter and lasted longer. In the morning the stove is still hot to the touch, and if you own a woodstove you know that is not the norm for regular cord wood.

I am now on my second ton, which is theoretically equivalent to a full cord of wood. I feel confident to agree with that claim. Add in the convienience (storage, ease of lighting, cleanliness), and consistency and I have to give them a big thumbs up!

AkGrannyWGrit's picture
AkGrannyWGrit
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Posts: 131
Frugal Heating

Great suggestions, just want to add we have and use a lot of afgans, lap quilts and blanets. We too reduce the room temperature and opt to wear turtle necks, swearters, slippers and even long johns when the temperature drops below zero. Foam insulation inserts that go under light switches and plug-ins help, and already mentioned weather stripping and window coverings.

I like the compressed wood block idea, will have to research as we don't have good hard woods up here.

Thanks Amanda.

AK Granny

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
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Compressed Wood Blocks

Hi Brewer,

Can you supply a link to this product.  What is the exact name.   I'm not finding it at Tractor Supply, though I did find a supplier in Canada....

Stoicsmile's picture
Stoicsmile
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Posts: 17
Frugal Heating

I installed a wood-burning insert (wood stove) in the existing fireplace of my large old farmhouse. It quickly paid for itself vs. the cost of heating with the oil furnace only. I added insulation but the walls still need help and the windows are 1930s. We sealed some of the window frames with the clear plastic window film kits and that made a surprising difference. I installed a programmable thermostat and set the thermostat lower for when the house is not occupied, and at night.

~Bill

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jasonw
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Posts: 710
A few product links...

sand_puppy,

Here are a few links to the types of logs being discussed.  I have been using some of these for the past few months and they do work wonderfully.   When purchased by the pallet load and in the off season, they can come out to about $.93 per log with delivery.  Plus no stacking and chopping involved.  They burn for about 5 hours and the ash level is very low.  Worth having as a suppliment to the overall fuel stocks.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/redstone-trade-ecobrick-pack-of-6-1001261
http://www.homefirelogs.com
http://www.northidahoenergylogs.com/energylogs.php

Shut Down's picture
Shut Down
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Posts: 3
Toughen up

We heat with natural gas and, because many large windows (thankfully) face south, passive sunlight. 

The thermostat is set to turn on at 60F, then shut off at 63F. The monthly heating bill varies between $25.00 and $50.00 in the winter. From sometime in April until early November the home heater stays off. Sweaters, wool hats, stockings ... one doesn't NEED to live in 72F heat. It's 61F in our house as I type.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
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Infiltration

40% of your heatloss in a typical house is through infiltration, so that is the first thing that you want to go after. All you need is a caulkling gun and caulk and plastic window kits.  Windows, then ceiling and lastly walls (only 10%) of your losses.

Passive solar works, but you need to do something with night insulation and thermal storage so that can get  complicated.  Thermal curtains, insulated panels are a must.

I was lucky enough to be aware of things a long time ago so I have a passive solar house, but on a string of cloudy days the house does get chilly.  We do heat with wood as a back up.  We use about a cord per winter, which is not to bad.  Everything else is electric.  I am now upgrading to tripple glazed windows as cash is availale.  Hope to be at or very near net zero energy before too long.

Other big energy consumer is dometic hot water.  In order to deal with tht we just put on thermal solar panels, just got fired up yesterday.  I will have to see how that goes.  I have a concrete and CMU thermal storage system hooked up to the panels as well to offset the space heating needs.  That system is a bit experimental, we'll see how that works.

leoninseattle's picture
leoninseattle
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winter heating

Our household has pretty much followed the same steps. Beefing up the insulation etc. has helped too.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Posts: 409
The weather here has been very cold this week

Single digits at night, teens during the day (Fahrenheit).

We have an old house with nice solid wood doors between every room except the dining/living rooms.  The woodstove is in the living room.  So we shut all the doors and warm up the living space first, then open the kitchen door and warm up the kitchen, then open the doors to the hallway to warm that up and let the heat rise.

In the morning it feels chilly, but the living room is between 50-55F and the coals are still glowing, so I consider our routine a success.

It has been interesting learning to manage the heat flow after years with "central heating."  We had company this weekend and turned the (oil) furnace on for a day and a night to accommodate our less hardy guests.  So the entire house was heated.  It was heavenly, but my kids complained that they were too hot!  It's back to normal now and I'm in the kitchen, wanting another sweater and looking forward to the warmer weather.  The living room is toasty but full of kids...

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
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Bear Bricks pressed wood - very happy with them

Inspired by thebrewer, I pick up a pallet of pressed wood bricks a few weeks back.

I went with Bear Bricks, which seem to be the main supplier in the area of California where I live. I've been very happy with them.

They're made from 100% renewable wood (essentially, they're just sawdust that's been pressed into brick form under extreme pressure). They burn hot and clean (over 90% less sediment than cordwood). And they store much more efficiently than natural logs:

I think I'm happy enough to be a permanent convert - at least, for heating my wood stove. I was also experimenting with pressed logs before making my decision, but I like these bricks better. More heat, easier to stack, and cheaper.

My only complaint is that they're made of mostly pine wood as best I can tell. So you get a nice, fast heat from them, but they don't last as long as if made from hardwoods (I don't have the "warm stove the morning after" effect that thebrewer has experienced). So if anyone discovers a hardwood-based pressed wood brick distributer out here on the west coast, I'd love to hear about them. 

thebrewer's picture
thebrewer
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Brick trick

Adam Taggart wrote:

My only complaint is that they're made of mostly pine wood as best I can tell. So you get a nice, fast heat from them, but they don't last as long as if made from hardwoods (I don't have the "warm stove the morning after" effect that thebrewer has experienced). So if anyone discovers a hardwood-based pressed wood brick distributer out here on the west coast, I'd love to hear about them. 

Adam,

The all hardwood ones definatley work better and are worth the $40-$50 a ton more but in addition I have figured out a little trick so the house will be warm in the morning.

In the last couple hours in the evening before you go to bed, let the fire burn down to just an inch or two of hot coals then take your shovel or some other tool and push these coals into a pile. Then take 6 or 8 bricks and stack half on and half off the pile. Pile should be atleast 6 inches high..then just close the stove and tamp it down. It will take several hours for the bricks to catch so the house will cool off while you sleep, which I find to be perfect, but around 2-3am they start to cook and when I roll out of bed at 6 the house is quite toasty. Then I just throw a few more bricks on and go make the coffee.

Give it a try!

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Posts: 409
Adam and thebrewer

Any thoughts on how to compare the cost of these vs. the cost of cordwood?  Here a cord of seasoned dry wood costs $225, and most people buy theirs in the spring when it's greener and cheaper, then let it finish seasoning in their woodpile.  Any idea how a ton of bricks would compare to a regular cord of wood?

I'd be willing to consider trying bricks if they are cheaper (and available locally -- I have not checked).  With the softwood ones, don't you worry about creosote buildup when the stove isn't running as hot?  Just curious. 

What I like about having a woodstove vs. pellet stove is that even if I were to go with these manufactured bricks or something similar, I can still burn "just plain old" wood anytime, which can't be done with a pellet stove (not to mention that the pellet stoves I know of require electricity to run).  Lots of people here seem to be switching to pellet stoves, but not me.

Anyway, I'm intrigued by your experiences with these bricks and look forward to hearing more.

EndGamePlayer's picture
EndGamePlayer
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Posts: 546
Whimps!

After the kid left, hubby and I said- why are we heating this whole house? And reduced our need to heating only a few rooms we are in the most frequently....the media room. All other rooms are heated by the natural ground temps here in MN, which keep the rooms from total freeze. So, most of the house averages 37-42 degrees F.and yes, we live comfortably like that. 

We got wool socks the first year here cause the floors were so cold. The next year we got long johns up the whazoots...I recommend the Iron Clads cause it is possible to go outside in subzero temps with nothing but them on and feel warm. Silk underwear is ok but I think it is mixed with cheap poly so it might be hard to find real silk undies. ...especially for guys.

The other heat saver-an electric blanket!! The bedroom is upstairs and closed off from even the main floor so it can get cold in there-down to outdoor temps of 20 degrees F are common over mid-winter, so the e-blanket saves us a bundle of wood cutting, hauling and splitting. We used to burn 7-8 cords when the kid was here. Now we burn 3-4 cords and we plan on installing a Jet Stove Mass Heater in a lower level sauna to both cut down that amount of work as well as add more heat to the house.

That's the project for next year to save us even more on wood cutting, but since the units heat 3 ways- initial burn, then burn the wood gas and finally release the heat in the massive chimney, it actually claims to ge out 8 times more heat than a regular wood burner.

ao's picture
ao
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 4 2009
Posts: 2220
ditch the electric blanket

EndGamePlayer wrote:

After the kid left, hubby and I said- why are we heating this whole house? And reduced our need to heating only a few rooms we are in the most frequently....the media room. All other rooms are heated by the natural ground temps here in MN, which keep the rooms from total freeze. So, most of the house averages 37-42 degrees F.and yes, we live comfortably like that. 

We got wool socks the first year here cause the floors were so cold. The next year we got long johns up the whazoots...I recommend the Iron Clads cause it is possible to go outside in subzero temps with nothing but them on and feel warm. Silk underwear is ok but I think it is mixed with cheap poly so it might be hard to find real silk undies. ...especially for guys.

The other heat saver-an electric blanket!! The bedroom is upstairs and closed off from even the main floor so it can get cold in there-down to outdoor temps of 20 degrees F are common over mid-winter, so the e-blanket saves us a bundle of wood cutting, hauling and splitting. We used to burn 7-8 cords when the kid was here. Now we burn 3-4 cords and we plan on installing a Jet Stove Mass Heater in a lower level sauna to both cut down that amount of work as well as add more heat to the house.

That's the project for next year to save us even more on wood cutting, but since the units heat 3 ways- initial burn, then burn the wood gas and finally release the heat in the massive chimney, it actually claims to ge out 8 times more heat than a regular wood burner.

You folks must be practicing Tummo, lol.  I am indeed a whimp compared to your cold hardiness.  Good advice but I'd personally pass on the electric blanket.

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/02/24/Is-Your-Electric-Blanket-Safe.aspx

Cancer's a heck of lot more expensive than heat.

gillbilly's picture
gillbilly
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2012
Posts: 372
My Dolmar...

chainsaw and my neighbor's log splitter is a big help on heat! Of course if I'm looking for exercise I may chop the wood the old fash'n way. Hands-down Dolmar is the Ferrari of chainsaws. Cuts like butter. Even at $7 a gallon, I'll still fill that thing!

Stay Warm!

shastatodd's picture
shastatodd
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Joined: Oct 16 2010
Posts: 15
14 kWh/day

we power (including heat pump) our home with an average consumption of 14 kWh/ day (about a $50.00 electricity bill). this is in the northern california mountains where we get plenty of winter snow and cold weather.

how? ceiling insulation upgrades and insulated window blinds helped, but what did the most was zone heating the areas we use, when we use them. this means we usually only heat about 550 sq ft... (to a cozy 77 degrees btw). conservation need not be unpleasant.  :)

todd

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