Heat the person, not the home

Trent Ernst, Editor


As has been discussed previously on these pages, natural gas prices in Tumbler Ridge have gone up this year and will most likely go up again next year, too.

This means that your gas bill is going up, too.

A couple weeks ago, we discussed alternative heating methods to natural gas and discovered that most of them were not viable. Replacing your current heater for a more efficient one would take about twenty years to pay for itself.

And while cost is not the only factor involved, it is a major one.

So what’s a person supposed to do?

One option is to approach the issue backwards. Historically, people have heated the space, then moved about in that space. But what would happen if you chose to heat the person instead?

This is what author Paul Wheaton proposes. He says he has been able to cut his heating bill by 87 percent simply by heating the person.

When you get cold at home, rather than turning up the heat, one easy option is to simply pull on a sweater, a pair of thick socks, even a toque to keep yourself warm.

If you are staying in one spot for a while, say watching TV or reading a book, you can even add in a comforter.

If you’re working at a desk, there are options for you, too. The Japanese have a table called a kotatsu, which is a table covered by a futon. Historically, these tables were set near the hearth of a fire. As time passed, a special pit was built below the table, and a charcoal heater was placed under a grate in the pit.

These days, a version of a kotatsu can be made simply by putting a small space heat source beneath your desk, then trapping the heat there using a blanket. In the case of Paul Wheaton, he actually uses a dog bed warmer instead of a space heater. A space heater uses about 1500 watts, while a dog bed warmer uses 15 watts

While this keeps the bottom half warm, what to do about the top half? Wheaton uses a combination of devices to keep himself warm. Instead of a normal keyboard and mouse, he uses a heated mouse and keyboard. This keeps his hands warm. A 40 watt incandescent bulb mounted nearby serves double duty as light source and heat lamp. And finally, the core of his body is kept warm by the addition of a high-tech device known as a sweater.

For bedtime, a heated mattress pad is turned on about half an hour before he goes to bed, then turned off when he goes to bed. This gets the bed to a nice temperature, and body heat keeps the space warm through the night.

This works for people who are in one spot for the majority of the time. But what about people who don’t sit at a desk all day? What are they to do?

Let’s refine the statement a little. Instead of “heat the person”, how about “heat the smallest space necessary.” If you are working in the kitchen why do you need to heat the bedroom? If you are sleeping in the bedroom, is there any reason to heat the living room?

Rather than close the vents in a room that isn’t being used and closing the door (which can actually be less efficient), a better option is to do the opposite, by closing the door to the room that you’re in, then turning down the heat to the rest of the house. While electrical heat is far more expensive per unit of heat produced compared to natural gas, using a space heater to heat a room can be more cost effective, depending on how small the room is and how high you turn on the heat.

To figure out how much a space heater costs to run, simply multiply 1500 (the number of watts it uses) by the length of time the heater, then multiply that number by BC Hydro’s rate per kilowatt hour. Then divide by 1000.

Heat the feet: if your feet are cold, chances are you are, too. While hardwood is nice to look at, it’s cold to the touch. Despite falling out of favour with many people, rugs are a lot nicer to walk on than hardwood and tile. If you’ve pulled out the carpet in your house, you might want to invest in a throw rug. We have hardwood at home, so I have a pair of indoor shoes that keep my feet warm.

Wood heat is another option, though controversial, as the smoke can hang in the air. It also adds to the cost of insurance, though not as much as you might think; a good estimate is ten percent more.

Finally, look at what renovations you can do to reduce the amount of heat your home uses. While the BC Government has a program on from now to the end of the year to help cut down on the amount of energy your home uses, the nearest certified energy advisor is in Prince George.

One of the biggest heat losers in your home is your windows. Most people in the north will put a piece of plastic over the window, effectively trapping a pocket of insulating air. But you might want to look at upgrading your windows.

Another option is to replace the insulation in your home, or at the very least, look for places that insulation is insufficient. The story is told by a friend of how we went to replace his front windows, only to discover that there was no insulation at all in his front wall.

At my house (a Bullmoose house) the window beside the door is set in a frame. Below the window is a piece of plywood, which has an R-rating of 0.63. (a batt of fiberglass, on the other hand, has an R-rating of 11)

Another place where houses lose heat is the cracks around windows and doors. These are usually found around windows, doors and electrical outlets. Weather stripping, caulking and outlet gaskets can all cut down on the amount of heat lost through these places.

Finally, get your air ducts clean. It might not seem like much, but a dirty duct can soak up more than half the heat your furnace is putting out.