6 - 2009

Weekend Winterizing Challenge: Night Time Is The Right Time … To Stay Warm

Especially if you have a programmable thermostat, you might find the nights are getting a bit chilly these days. At our house, which is a 1950s brick home with a lot of concrete — “built like a bunker,” according to some contractors, and about as warm as one — we get deeply chilled at night.

When we moved into our current home, we began heating our bedrooms with space heaters on cold winter nights. That meant that we could turn the furnace down at night (we use a programmable thermostat that does the job for us). However, the space heaters also made our electricity use jump from 450 kilowatt hours during a summer month to 789 kilowatt hours during October 2005.

Two years ago, I purchased electric blankets for our beds, primarily to pre-heat the beds so we were warm enough as we began the night. (Some nights, I confess, I have left my side of the blanket on low all night, despite some concerns about the electricity so close to our bodies.) Even if we leave the blankets on at night, they use only 25 percent of the electricity of the space heaters. In October 2007, our electricity use was at an all-time low of 272 kilowatt hours (because of additional energy-saving changes, like installing CFL bulbs, in addition to giving the space heaters the boot). The rest of that winter hovered around 450 kilowatt hours of electricity use.

So far this year, we’ve resisted turning on the electric blankets, although Mlle. Cheap has begun hinting that she misses hers. But when the cold nights come, one thing’s for sure — I will be turning to the blankets, at least to get us started, rather than space heaters so we warm up our sleep, not our utility bill.

Another way to stay warm: Keeping drafts out

Between our bedrooms, we have a huge hole in the ceiling, and this year I warmed that up in another attempt to stay cozy at night.

Last week, I expanded the warmth of our house by better insulating our evaporative cooler duct. For those who live with high humidity and aren’t familiar with this device, evaporative coolers, or swamp coolers, are installed in some homes in dry climates instead of air conditioning. They use one-fourth the energy of air conditioners and operate by running water over a filter, and then blowing the resulting cooler air (cooled by the water mist) through ducts into the house. Our humidity is low enough that it results in moister air, not a soggy mess.

Some swamp coolers — like our roof-mounted model — have enormous ventilation ducts into the home. In our case, we have an opening that is 21″ by 27″ smack in the middle of our central hallway.  When winter winds blow on the idle swamp cooler on the roof, those gusts trickle right into our house. I’ve always filled the cavern in the winter with an insulating pillow, accompanied by a plastic bag filled with newspaper. Still, sometimes we can actually feel a chilly breeze.

Recently, I got a great suggestion from my friend and reader Leanne to use “Warm Windows” fabric to insulate this opening. This fabric consists of several layers of cloth, insulation and a reflective barrier. At my local fabric store, it cost $22 per yard on a 54-inch roll (so each yard is 36 inches by 54 inches). I bought one yard of fabric (planning to cover a few other areas) and a packet of strong magnets. Then, taking the lazy way out, I stapled the magnets into the fabric (using staples to build a square “pen” to contain the magnets) and snapped it onto the inside of the duct cover. Then I popped the cover into place, and now? We can’t feel a single breeze blowing through.

Swamp cooler duct - cover open

Swamp cooler duct – cover open

Warm Windows offers an energy savings calculator that estimates I’ll save 50 cents per year from this project — certainly not enough to pay off financially. But the increased comfort level is a terrific gain.

Have you insulated using Warm Windows? Or switched away from space heaters? Let us know!


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