Found this “tip” in the margin of my Facebook account this morning, as our first big winter storm rolls through:
Of course, begs the question– if the rooms are unused, why wait till the power goes out to close them off and conserve heat??
It’s been a relatively warm autumn here in New England. I powered up the datalogger on November 4… here’s the data so far:
Our average indoor temp so far has been 58.9°. That will probably be inching down soon. This winter will be a little different than last, though. For one thing, J., who was commuting home for weekends last year, is now working closer to home so no longer away weeknights. On the other hand, my work life has gotten busier, so I’m home less than I used to be. Still, the setup is pretty much the same: Small wood stove. No furnace. No thermostat. Maine.
For this winter, we’re still burning the bounty produced from treemageddon, sending Norway maples back to meet their maker. Depending on frugality, we may even have a bit left over for next year– I’m eyeballing about 1.5 cords out in the garage. For sure, though, next winter we will have to buy more wood. I’m kind of excited about having that garage space back (future wood will be going in the cellar.)
Also, the wood is burning really well. A year of careful “field seasoning” plus a year indoors has dried it out to a perfection. You don’t get this kind of “artisanal” wood unless you make it yourself.
A pal forwarded me a post from a UK website promoting “practical solutions for self reliance”, describing how you can “heat your room for 8 pence a day” using tealight candles. (For those on this side of the Atlantic, 8 pence is currently about 13¢). They describe burning tealights under flowerpots as a “cheap and easy alternative” to standard heating methods.
Easy? Maybe. I guess it’s easier than starting a fire in the wood stove. But cheap? Turns out, not at all. I investigated the cost of tealight-heat. Here is what I found:
The cheapest tealights I could find in a quick search were these on Amazon– $28 for 500 (5.6¢ each). Each weighs 0.3 ounces. To be generous, lets assume that’s all wax. Wax contains 18,621 BTU per lb. If you burn up the whole box of 500 tealights, you will extract 174,572 BTU (again, being generous and assuming you manage to burn every bit of wax out of each tealight.)
Now, those BTU’s are equivalent to 51 kWh of heat, or, say, running an electric space heater on “low” (500W) for 100 hours. Around here, electricity is about 14¢ per kWh. So 51 kWh would cost… $7. Thus, we find that electric heat is about one-fourth the cost of tealight heat.
As an alternative way of looking at it: if we assume a tealight burns for about 2 hours, it burns with same heat as is produced by a 50W lightbulb. The tealight costs 2.8¢ an hour to burn. But the lightbulb is only 0.7¢ an hour. And gives off more light.
Moreover, candles are not especially good for indoor air quality. And if you spring for non-petroleum, beeswax candles, you will be paying even more.
Conclusion: candles are an expensive way to get light or heat. They should be reserved for power outages and romantic dinners.
Seeing a few new visitors dropping by today reminded me that I never got around to posting a winter’s-over wrap-up for the 2012/13 “heating” season. Sometimes, you never quite know when it’s over. This year, the fires dwindled to about one or two a week by mid-March. Then on March 23 I left for a three week excursion. J. probably had a few fires while I was gone (we were on an unofficial don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy) but by the time I returned the stove was pretty much shut down.
So, for those as statistic-obsessed as me, here are the numbers crunched from the datalogger under the kitchen counter:
Dates: Nov. 5, 2012 – April 15, 2013
# of temperature data points: 15,423
Minimum temp: 39.0°F
Maximum temp: 68.2°F
Mean temp: 52.3°F
Standard deviation: 5.4°F
Comparing to the previous winter, you can see that this winter’s max temp was 1.1° lower, the min temp was 3° lower, and the overall mean temp was 4.25° lower! Not sure how we achieved that– if anything, I thought we were getting a little soft this winter… but there it is.
So what now? Well, it’s finally lovely and warm in Maine, the flowers are busting out, the lawn is green, and you can walk around in shorts (if the bugs aren’t too bad). But cold weather is always just around the corner here. At present we still have about a winter’s worth (1.5 cords) of slaughtered Norway maple in the garage, so yet again there will be no need to spend anything on heat next year. Someday I may put in a small furnace, if only because it will be impossible ever to sell the house without one, but it won’t be this year.
Following a nice mention on the Environment blog of The Guardian a few days ago (thanks!), I was invited this morning to [wake up super early and] chat with Fred MacAulay, host of BBC Scotland’s mid-day radio show. Apparently there has been a sudden interest in scaled-down home heating in the UK, a result of this photo published by The Telegraph showing the Queen receiving the Australian High Commissioner and his wife, while using a small space heater to warm up the room. It occurs to me that the Queen may really have been quite comfortable without any heat at all, and only got the electric heater out of the closet for the benefit of her antipodal, “it was a hell of a lot warmer at our house than here” guests. I know that’s how it works at our house.
Anyway, if you’d like to have a listen, here’s the link. The segment begins at minute 20:00 with a local environmentalist, then me (halfway awake) about 25:00. We’re sandwiched between a bit about macaroni and cheese and the actual serious news. Which seems about appropriate.
And, hello to all seven Scots who found this blog via the radio show! Come visit any time!
Meanwhile, haven’t had any fire/heat on in here in 48 hours. A bit of sun, not-so-cold nights, some cooking, and the kitchen is still holding at 50F/10C.
Not much news here at the Cold House. Apart from the blizzard (which I refuse to call “Nemo”) it’s been a fairly average winter, weather-wise. I’ve settled into a routine of small fires in the eves, none in the morning, the usual. With the sun inching higher each day it has become worthwhile opening the blinds on the south side of the house in the morning and closing them at night. A couple times already the house has been a few degrees warmer when I get home from work than it was when I left– a sure sign that winter’s grip has been broken. The downstairs overall-average temp since October has settled right around 52.0°F (11°C), and it’s unlikely to budge much from there for the rest of the season.
One new activity I’ve been enjoying this winter is riding my bike on a trainer. I put it in the living room, where I can watch inspirational bike videos on the TV and crank up the music. At normal indoor temperatures I find riding a trainer unpleasant– I sweat buckets. But if I come home and the house is, say, 45F, that’s perfect. Half an hour on the trainer and I feel pleasantly warmed up (more than half an hour, I actually have to aim a fan at myself to keep cool.) Plus, it heats up the room a little! Can’t say it’s a significant contribution, but the magnetic friction gizmo does get pretty warm. I’d guess an hour on the trainer is good for 0.5 kWh or so of heat to the house.
Okay, these people, who reportedly habitually sleep out in a tipi all winter, considerably further north in Maine than us, are definitely hard-core and definitely qualify as Heroes of the Cold House (or, cold native-style shelter, as it were.) I can’t fully commend them on their overall efforts at lowering their environmental impact (unless quite a few of their 11 kids are adopted), but for sure they deserve admiration for trying out this way of life. (Also, I can commend them on managing life with 11 kids, which boggles my mind much more than their cold-tipi-sleeping…)
I can’t really compare our lifestyle to theirs, but our sleeping plans are a bit similar. They mention using an electric blanket, which is also a critical part of our strategy for sleeping in an unheated bedroom. Our bedroom, though, at least has solid walls, and rarely goes down into the 30F range– while their’s must routinely go well below freezing, if not below 0F.
Actually, it’s not quite clear in the story whether they use fire inside the tipi– in the video clip, Mrs. Winters (great name) says they never have heat in the tipi– but in other photos, you see her wheeling some very large pieces of firewood towards the tipi, with mention that Mr. Winters “had started a fire inside”. And in another photo, you see a small fire in the tipi. But they appear to have two tipis, so maybe one is a hang-out tipi where they have fires, and the other is for sleeping and totally unheated? It would seem considerably unpleasant to sleep in a tipi with a smoky wood fire burning inside– hard to imagine they would be doing that.
Anyway, I’m hoping we might get an invitation to go visit. Also, this reminds me of an idea I had last winter: to build an igloo in our yard, and offer overnights in it via Airbnb. Also, I note a great advantage of their sleeping arrangement: they are very unlikely ever to be infested with bed bugs, which can’t survive prolonged sub-freezing temps.
Yes, it’s really winter. We’ve been down below 0(F) the past couple nights, with the days not quite getting to double-digit temps. The house was 41 this morning… needless to say the wood stove is burning a bit more than usual. Still, it’s considerably warmer here than up in Quebec (where we were a few weeks ago) or central Vermont (where I’m heading tomorrow.) And it’s much, much warmer here, than, say, this town in Siberia. Those people are seriously tough.
Average kitchen temperature for the winter still hovers at about 52.6F.
I really like that I can pull a can of Diet Coke off the bottom self in the kitchen, and (unless we’ve really been running the wood stove) it’s already nicely chilled. And I really like that the living room at 47F is a perfect temperature for riding on the bike trainer when I get home, without getting drenched in sweat. But I will confess that even I find it annoying to have to warm up red wine for dinner.