It’s a little scary to see winter coming at us again. Last year, heating was so expensive and we got so much snow that it really took the fun and enjoyment out of winter.
I don’t know how much snow we are in for this year, but I think we can be certain that heating costs will be even higher. Seasoned firewood is already selling for $275-$300 per cord around here. At that price, you don’t save a whole lot over oil.
Below is my effort at helping folks have a little easier time this winter.
1. Buy green, but don’t burn green. Okay, this won’t help this winter, but it will help a lot next winter. If you heat with wood, always be working on next winter’s wood, not this winter’s. If you buy your wood, buy next winter’s wood green so it has plenty of time to dry. If you cut your wood, cut for next winter, not this winter. Green wood burns very inefficiently. Some varieties of wood will consume about as many BTUs to combust it as it will release. Dry, well-seasoned wood is always the best to burn, but always buy it green or cut it yourself and let it season. Don’t buy seasoned wood, since the cost plus all the extra handling actually make heating oil very attractive.
2. Caulking. Windows are probably the biggest heat expellers in your house. Check the caulking to make sure they are well-sealed around the whole perimeter of the window, inside and out. Caulking dries, cracks, and peels over time, so you’ll want to check before each winter. When we moved in here, we found that the windows in our place had never been caulked.
You can caulk them yourself — this isn’t something you need to hire someone to do for you. If you’ve never done it before, just get a caulking gun and a couple tubes of caulking and start practicing on windows that are out of the public view. It’s really not rocket science.
Be careful using that spray foam to fill in gaps around windows. The foam expands as it cures and can warp your window frame and even crack the windows. That would not help you save money this winter. If you use the foam spray, either get the special (more expensive, of course) kind for windows and doors, or use the regular stuff and spray in a lot less than you think you’ll need. Use it at your own risk!
3. Window coverings. The old-timers would put quilts over their windows to help keep the draft out. We have put blankets over windows and doors. Using a variation on this idea, we have cut out window-sized rectangles from 2-inch styrofoam boards and put those over some windows. Put them on at night, and take them off when the sun comes out the next day. On windows that we cover “permanently” for the winter, we seal the covering (plastic sheeting, blanket, styrofoam) with duct tape around the edges. Duct tape is the homesteader’s best friend.
4. Water heater. Check the temperature on your water heater. If it’s over 120, consider turning it down to to 110 or 120. You’ll see an immediate savings — especially if your water heater is in an unheated portion of your home. You’ll quickly adapt to the new temperature settings, and you won’t have to worry anymore about the kids getting burned.
5. Water-saving. In most homes, used hot water flows right down the drain and outside the house, so the heat in it is entirely wasted. Consider water-conservation techniques to reduce your hot-water heating costs. The less water you have to heat, the less it will cost you. Consider taking shorter showers, showers instead of baths, turning water off while brushing teeth, etc. If you do take a bath, consider letting the water sit undrained in the tub until it is cold, so that you can recover that heat into your home instead of losing it down the drain. The same applies to dish water and any other hot or warm water that would normally go down the drain.
6. Doors leaks. Check the weather stripping around your doors. If you don’t have any, you can buy the plastic gasket-like kind at almost any hardware store, or you can strip out some wood and nail it to the outside of the door frame, overlapping the door itself just enough to cover any gaps between the door and the door frame. Check the door frame itself the be sure it is tight. You may need caulking there, too. Again, be careful if you choose to use the spray foam. It expands so much that it could warp the door frame. The item above, regarding window coverings, applies to doors, too. Cover it on the inside with a blanket, quilt, or Styrofoam insulation board at night.
7. Turn the temperature down. Run a cooler house. A sweater or extra layer of clothes is cheaper than wood/oil/gas heat. That may seem austere, but these are difficult times we live in. It’s not like the era we grew up in (speaking as a 40-something). We need to exchange comfort for resource-savings if we are to survive. There’s nothing wrong with heating to 60-65 during the day and 50-55 at night (you’re under the blankets then, anyway). Bacteria grows more slowly at cooler temperatures, so maybe we’ll be healthier, too.
The old farmhouse my dad grew up in was not heated at all during the night, except with what was left in the stove when it was closed up at the end of the day. He loved having the barn chores, because often the barn (with its milk cows) was warmer than the house in the morning. And, we’re talking about a part of Maine that regularly drops below zero on nights in the deep of winter. And that whole generation survived, somehow. Today we have plumbing that has be stay above freezing, so it’s a little more complicated for us. All these modern conveniences, such as running water, come with a price.
8. Insulate, insulate, insulate. A news article last winter claimed that, for the first time, every $1 spent on insulation of a home would save $1 in heating costs that same winter. If you have areas that lack sufficient insulation, now is the time to take care of it. You’ll spend the same amount of money one way or another — either on insulation or on extra heating fuel. You might as well put the money into the insulation, since next year you’ll already be “in the profit” with your investment.
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