Winter Heat

Brrrr!! A lot of places are getting super-cold weather this winter. Even here in my mild coastal climate in Florida, we’re seeing some near-freezing temps — and I’m hearing from a lot of people elsewhere in the USA and world where temps are waaaaay below zero (whether Celsius or Fahrenheit)!

In my book and elsewhere on this blog, I share some DIY tips for keeping warm in winter. The overall best advice I can give is that it’s easier and more efficient to try to first warm your own body as much as possible (using hats, sweaters, etc.), and help other household members do the same, than to just try to heat all the air in your dwelling to a super-warm temperature. Another useful strategy, especially if your bills are high, is to just pick one main area of the house or apartment to heat, and close off other rooms if possible.

Also: Make use of electric blankets, heating pads, and other radiant heat sources, which use less energy and therefore tend to cost less than trying to heat all the air in your place. They can also provide a lot more warmth because it’s right there next to your body.

Note for people living in cold climates: At the time I wrote my book, I hadn’t yet learned much about high-efficiency woodstoves. I’ve since read quite a bit, and heard first-hand from people who live in very cold climates and successfully heat with wood. In general, I think wood can be the best option for sustainable heating in cold climates, for people living in houses. And, the growing, harvesting, transport, and sale of firewood can create a whole fleet of local cottage industries, offering steady work year-round to independent local businesses, with minimal capital investment required.

Furthermore, by choosing coppiceable trees, we can have our cake and eat it too: Grow trees for heat mitigation, erosion control, and stormwater uptake, while continuously cutting branches for firewood.

To get some current info regarding energy-efficient woodstoves from actual users, I encourage you to check out some realtime testimonials from this thread I just started on Transformative Adventures, asking people in cold climates to share how they heat their homes. People in this thread are sharing all sorts of great information about the various combinations of methods they use: heat pumps, woodstoves (both regular wood and pellet-fueled type), regular ol’ grid-tied electric, solar, and more. Some people commenting on this thread are including information on the monetary cost and amount of fuel they are using to heat their homes. And, several people have posted pics of some really amazing woodstoves they’re using!

My house, built in 1950, used to have a fireplace but some previous owner converted that space into a closet (the brick chimney is still standing, as are the chimneys of many other houses in my historic neighborhood — some still with working fireplaces intact)!

For milder climates like mine, the first low-hanging fruit is generally to insulate the attic or roof. (This also helps keep a home cooler in summer.) My attic has some insulation but can use more. I might someday get the sprayed-in recycled newspaper stuff, which, as a bonus, is mixed with boric acid (good for keeping termite populations down without spraying a bunch of poison in and around the house).

At some point, especially if global weather-weirding starts sending us super-intense winters, I may bring my chimney back into use — probably with a compact wood-burning stove rather than a fireplace, because the stove could be used for cooking as well as heating.

Further Reading:

• “Extreme Cold.” A post I wrote last winter when my friends in Texas were dealing with that deadly deep freeze and the accompanying power outages. Tips on how to dress for maximum warmth, how to create a “room within a room” that can be heated by your body heat and maybe a small candle, etc.

Living without heat: I have written a lot about my experiment in living without heat but can’t seem to find the posts. Once I find the links I will post them for you. Nutshell: No one should have to live without heat. And cold can kill. But, I have voluntarily done without fossil-powered heat for I think it’s 15 winters now, and I will say it has made me feel a lot less vulnerable as well as saving me hundreds of dollars a year. I do live in a mild climate, but have read articles about people voluntarily doing without heat in very cold climates (artists living in warehouses in NYC or in an old farmhouse in upstate New York, for example), primarily to save money. And unfortunately, a lot of people are forced to live with inadequate heating, be it because of negligent landlords, leaky old buildings, the high cost of fuel, or what have you. Knowing how to layer clothing to trap air, how to create a room in a room, and so on can make the difference between misery and comfort. If you or anyone you know is stuck in a situation with inadequate heating, some of the tips I’ve shared might be helpful.