Filed under: Adapting to Change, Unconventional Heating Methods | Tags: keeping warm
Have I ever mentioned that this blog is written to encourage us to find ways to live well on less, including less energy? In my personal efforts to transition to a lower energy lifestyle, I’m exploring ways of staying warm without the comfort of a constantly running heat pump. This past week was a challenge, but look at me! I lived to tell about it. (And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of ‘writing’ about this topic, using coal-generated electricity to do so. What can I say?)
I read an article during last week’s Arctic blast reminding me that, before the advent of central heating, the only method of staying warm was to heat the person, not the air. The article described wing-backed chairs and four poster beds with heavy drapes for increasing comfort, as well as pans filled with hot coals to warm the bed. Hot water bottles and room screens placed behind furniture to ‘enclose’ the heat from a fireplace added to our ancestors arsenal of stay-warm tricks. I have no desire to revert back to toasting front, and then back, in front of a fireplace. Not only are fireplaces terribly inefficient, but we’ve simply come too far with technology to go back that far.
That said, I still think it’s important to reduce our energy needs as much as possible, while we still have that option. My number one way of staying warm is to wear Cuddle Duds. I know that’s a brand name, and I’m sure there are others, but the soft and thin insulating qualities of their shirts and pants allows me to wear them with ease under my clothes, while keeping me extremely warm without the added bulk and binding that the old fashioned ‘thermal’ or ‘waffle-weave’ long underwear had. Adding thin fingerless gloves and thick socks with soft shoes kept me comfortable throughout the day, even with the furnace turned quite low or off completely.
Space heaters also saved the day during the frigid days of last week. The new infra-red heaters are energy efficient, light weight and easy to move from room to room. They provide instant heat to the bathroom and by taking our showers back-to-back, the second person is lucky enough to feel like they’re in a steam room! Our flat top oil-filled radiant-style heater is more efficient for long periods of heating. I have one of those in my north facing kitchen that I turn on about 30 minutes before meal prep begins and turn it off as soon as the last dish is washed. I’m also finding the top of the heater is excellent for drying cast iron pots before storing them away, preheating water for a cup of tea or washing dishes, and when I turn it off, the lower residual heat is useful for very quickly drying wet gloves or dish towels.
We’re very fortunate to have an attractive gas stove insert in our living room fireplace which not only puts out amazing heat but allows us to see the flames, which provides a warming effect all on their own. This stove has become our go-to source of heat, enabling us to use the central heat pump only occasionally.
This stove offers me great peace of mind too, knowing that if electric service is interrupted during winter storms, we’ll still be warm. We heated with wood for ten years before moving to our urban home and loved every btu of it, but the clean, easy heat of natural gas is a great alternative.
I’ve found I can deal with heating only the room I’m in, rather than the whole house, and doing so saves enough energy and money to make it worthwhile. Of course doing so leaves the surrounding rooms cooler but that’s where the space heaters come in. We’ve grown accustomed to sleeping in a cool/cold bedroom and I’ve read it’s actually healthier for us. Many years ago I made a bunch of lavender and barley-filled pillows that we heat in the microwave, and then place under the covers before we climb into bed. Between thermal blankets, those warm pillows and the cat, we stay plenty co-zee with no heat source in the house at all while we sleep.
We also keep small ‘lap’ blankets in our favorite living room chairs and they too make a lot of difference in our comfort level when we’re reading, watching a movie or writing blog posts, for example. I’ve found if they’re kept within arm’s reach we use them a lot but if we have to get up for them, not as much. I tire of the draped-over-the-furniture look all the time, but such is a lower-energy life.
Opening (and closing!) curtains as the sun travels across the sky accomplishes two things simultaneously: it allows any available sun to enter the room, helping to heat the room as it does, but it also reinforces our oft- repeated promise to one another that “we REALLY need to wash these windows”! (We’ve made a pact to do that as soon as it warms up a leetle bit more!)
Our 115 year old house is solid, but last winter I made sand-filled draft dodgers from old curtains to use under the doors of the under-stairs and attic cubby holes. They work very well, and I already had the sand, but if I made more, I’d fill them with kitty litter instead, because of it’s lighter weight.
Roll-up shades that practically stick to the windows when pulled down are installed in the kitchen and the music room. We pull them down every night at dusk and if we forget, the colder temps always remind us to, so I know they help too. We raise them to allow the sun back in first thing in the morning.
Another thing I’ve found that helps heat our personal space without cranking up the thermostat is through cooking food. I try to never turn the oven on during the summer, but the winter begs for baking breads or one dish casseroles, pans of sweet potatoes or sweet treats. The residual heat can always be felt for quite a while after the food has finished cooking, making that a win-win in my book. Along with hot soups and spicy foods, cooking and eating warm foods is a sure way to raise our external and internal temperatures!
As I’ve written these things down, I’m realizing that heating my personal space using these methods is certainly more interactive than just setting the thermostat to 70 degrees. Just like with solar installations, there are ‘active’ and ‘passive’ ways of heating, but the increased attention required for living comfortably with less fossil fuel will require us to be more involved and more attentive to temperature changes and weather conditions, as well as some preplanning for our daily activities. That’s a small price to pay for the secure feeling of knowing that we can live ‘well on less’. As those of us ‘in transition’ learn (or re-learn) ways to adapt to climate changes, lower energy supplies and increasing utility costs, I’m certain that people all over the country are using their own creative ways to stay warm. Some of you readers are from much colder climates than Tennessee and I’d love to read your comments about what you’re doing to ‘warm up to new ideas’.