Monday, December 6, 2010

Hunkering Down for Winter

I was chatting with a friend on Facebook last week and I mentioned we were, "hunkering down for winter." He replied with amazement that people still hunkered. "Sounds like something people did in the 1900's," he said.
Well, we live in a big house in Iowa, where winter temps can get down to -30 without windchill, and since we're in the far NW, winds coming in out of the Dakotas is something that has to be taken into consideration. We hunker. Probably in a lot of the same ways they did it in the early 1900's.
We put quilts over windows. Not every window gets a quilt, it's decided based on direction, age and room use. This is a picture of our North facing living room window, it got a quilt on it because it faces North, it's old and it's in the living room which is heavily used. (Tangent, that is my very first quilt, recently completed, 5 years in the making.)

We put plastic on the exterior of windows. Again, not all of them, but the old windows in heavily used rooms get the treatment. I won't post a picture, it's just plastic. :-D Our view out of the plastic-ed windows gets a little blurry, but with the increased darkness and icky weather, there's not much to look at anyway.

We seal off doors that we won't be using during winter. We have 4 exterior doors, (stoopid house) and we have sealed off two of them, nothing too fancy, just filled cracks and put a blanket at the bottom to stop drafts.

We also pay attention to which heater vents are open, and which are closed. Right now we have most of the heat directed into the living room and kitchen, with a little bit going to the bedrooms upstairs. I like cold bedrooms for sleeping, so I constantly lobby for less heat upstairs. :-D

Finally we don't aim for summer temps. It's winter out, it's cold, faking our bodies into thinking it's 80 degrees is not going to do any favors to our immune system. So, we keep the heater at 67 during the day and 63 at night. I'm hoping we can whittle that down to 65/60 by the end of winter, but it will depend on how well the heat stays where we want it.

Other things we do, (or might do in the future) include leaving the door to the oven open after baking, I figure why vent that heat out, just crack the door and let the oven warm your kitchen while it cools. I want to look into venting the dryer into the house too. Not in the basement, it won't do us any good down there, but venting it into the heating ducts could be nice. (It's an electric dryer.)

And of course, the last layer of defense is layers. We all try to wear heavy socks, and layers of clothing and we keep blankets out in the living room for tv/reading time. Warm drinks work wonders, as does a bit of exercise.

Beyond the basics of heating, we keep enough food in the house to get us through any amount of snow. Historically speaking this part of Iowa would shut down after enough snow fell. With the budget shortfalls we have looming over most cities, I don't think it's too Doomer to keep a supply of food in the house in case clearing the roads gets too expensive for a week or two.

Thus do we hunker down like our ancestors before us did. It worked then, it works now. It may be a little unfashionable, but I feel like the trade-off in heating bill savings is worth it. I say feel, because there's no way I'm going to NOT do this stuff for a year just so I can have a comparison. :-D My need for concrete proof is not that great. We do consistently come in below average for electricity and gas use. That's all the proof I need.


pdxr13 said...

H Jennie,

DO NOT vent output of a clothing drier into any part of house. It's very high humidity air that will greatly encourage mold, rust, rot wherever the damp air goes and condenses.

A way that some heat could be recovered from a drier output is to use an air-to-air heat exchanger. It will add complexity and maintenance requirements for perhaps not much useful heat.

If saving money is important with laundry, invest in the somewhat more expensive low-water-use style washers (front loader, no longer just European) and find one with a very strong spin-dry cycle. Clothes should come out as dry as a hard hand-wrung wash cloth, meaning that there is no dripping.

Thriftiest winter drying is lines in the living-room (which adds desirable humidity if you heat with a wood stove), but an effective spin cycle will save money/time/power even in a conventional gas/electric drier.

Sweaters/hats let us lower daytime temps in the house to 55F, with breakfast and dinner temp to 68F for about 2 hours. Fortunately, Portland "cold" is 38F (damp and blowing for pretty high wind-chill that will kill unprepared people from San Diego stuck in cars in about 5 days), and "super-cold" is 25F (with freezing rain from Columbia Gorge). Sitting around in evening after dinner for reading/movies may require a good wool blanket on the lap or shoulders (in addition to sweater/hat). This strategy keeps Dec/Jan natural gas bill to about $70/mo (NG forced-air, NG hot-water, NG stove & range, formerly NG lighting electrified in the late 1930's) for a 650 square foot 1906 house.


Jennie said...

Hey pdxr13,
Thanks for the thoughts.

Right now that very humid air from the dryer goes out the little flap/vent thing on the side of the house. The section of siding above that vent is constantly covered in ice/condensation during the winter. In my mind I see us venting the humid dryer air into the heating ducts that go upstairs from the basement heater, which sits right next to the dryer. I figured that the frequent stream of super-dry air from the heater would adequately deal with any humidity problems from the 3 or 4 loads of laundry a week that go through the dryer. In the summer I would switch the dryer vent back to the exterior option. (although we don't use the dryer much in summer) Do you still maintain that there would be mold problems? Keeping in mind that we live in Iowa, and not the perpetually damp Portland area. :-D

I am not going to do a heat exchanger; as you say, too much maintenance for insufficient gain. I just refuse to believe there's not a good way to internally vent that warm air.

We already save a lot of money on laundry. We hang outside on a line during spring/summer/fall and generally wear clothing multiple times before washing. So this isn't a money saving idea so much as it's me hating the thought of all that nice heat just floating away in our backyard.

Again, thanks for your thoughts.