Restoring the Old Way of Warming: Heating People, not Places
February 15, 2015 11:29 AM   Subscribe

 
Definately going to RTFA here, but first I'll note that I've heard complaints from Canadians, Americans, British, Germans, Swedes and probably more that I've forgotten, about how cold Australian houses are. Apparently rather than heat the whole house to some toasty temperature, we tend instead to use heaters to take the chill off local areas, and continue to wear warm clothes while inside. And this is weird.
posted by Jimbob at 11:38 AM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


And this is weird.

"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."
posted by fairmettle at 11:42 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's really difficult to heat radiantly efficiently. Inverse square law is a bitch of a thing to overcome. If you're not heating a gigantically high and stupid volume of air (like a church) but instead a lower volume space with lower ceilings (like a typical house) and good insulation you can maintain a comfortable temperature using a heat pump with remarkably small amounts of energy.

Meanwhile the guy with the space heater is still trying to find the Goldilocks point to the heater and chewing through electricity keeping that bar red.
posted by Talez at 11:46 AM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Anyone who has ever lived in a Japanese apartment can tell you why this article is utter bullshit.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:47 AM on February 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Peetty sure that this approach works better when you don't have indoor plumbing to burst when it freezes.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:52 AM on February 15, 2015 [53 favorites]


Well as a Canadian I have to say I found English housing incredibly cold even though I grew up in a house where room temperature was considered around 65F in the living room and even colder in the bedrooms.

Simple measures that were largely missing in my three English residences, like properly insulated floors and draft proofing, make a bigger difference for comfort than over all room temperature once you are above a certain temperature which is the core idea of this article.
posted by srboisvert at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Our forebears heated via radiation (i.e. a fire of some sort) because it was the only method available, other than sleeping three to a bed. I mean, it's not like they had a choice in the matter. And, as soon as they had the technology, they invented forced-air systems to heat the whole space.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Two low-tech approaches I use, when the wood stove won't quite cut it: heated rice bags to take to bed; hand warmers for the pockets during the day. Interesting reading; thanks for posting, the man of twists and turns.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:57 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile the guy with the space heater is still trying to find the Goldilocks point to the heater and chewing through electricity keeping that bar red.

Goldilocks point... I used to work with a bunch of people who found the air conditioning in their office so chill in summer that they put space heaters beneath their desks. I used to wonder: if they found the space heaters too warm, would they add desk fans?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:58 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]




Didn't this topic get beaten to death in My Dinner With Andre?

I heard that in some European climates, it is common to shut off rooms that are impossible to keep warm during the winter, and you live in smaller rooms that are easier to heat. To that end, I have abandoned my living room and kitchen, I shut the heating vents and put a big plastic sheet over the hallway. On this side is my office, bedroom, bathroom, and the furnace. Last month's utilities bill was $141. That is up 30% over last year, when my landlord replaced the front door with a new one that has a full inch of air space underneath. Now cold air streams in through the frame of my front door, even if I cover the cracks with rugs and towels. Also I have goddam idiot neighbors who like to block the front door open while they go outside to smoke, which blows cold, smoky air into the halls. Shut the damn door, were you born in a barn? Let me check my new bill online, see if my strategy is working.. $157. Dammit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:03 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


As a Canadian who lived briefly in Australia, Oz's issues are a lack of insulation and not draft-proofing your houses. You could have slid a newspaper under the door to my apartment.
posted by GuyZero at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


One trick is to have a father who grew up in an unheated farmhouse in northern Minnesota during the Great Depression. He felt that 60F was a perfectly reasonable setting for a thermostat, and complaints from his children were met with the suggestion to put on another sweater. As a result, I grew up with the vague feeling the houses were meant to be cold in the winter. Also that wearing 2-3 sweaters was not at all weird.

Another trick is to put a kitten in each glove to keep your hands warm; it gets kind of wiggly, and their sharp little teeth can sometimes be an issue, but your hands are warm!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2015 [38 favorites]


In Korea I stayed at some traditional houses with underfloor heating. It feels really nice and makes sense if you are sleeping on the floor.

I was reading this article about kotatsu (heated Japanese table you sit under) where the writer is incredulous at the Japanese turning their heating off at night, and I'm like...what...doesn't everyone do that? I turn off my heat at night to save money because I'm lying in a warm bed under a thick blanket anyway. And then I get up and go to work and nobody is at home to use the heating. I only run the heating for the few hours between getting home from work and going to bed, or on weekends.

I also shut the bedroom door (in my 1 bedroom NYC apartment) to make the heating more efficient since I'm mostly just sitting on the couch at home.

I'm a lot less sensitive to cold or heat than most people and I've often wondered if it is because of my upbringing in New Mexico... cold enough to make it uncomfortable indoors during the winter but not cold enough to warrant turning on the heat... really hot in the summer but everyone used these "swamp cooler" things that basically didn't work...
posted by pravit at 12:09 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


One trick is to have a father who grew up in an unheated farmhouse in northern Minnesota during the Great Depression. He felt that 60F was a perfectly reasonable setting for a thermostat

At the opposite end of the spectrum is having a mother who grew up in a cold house in Ireland, who has something of a Scarlet O'Hara approach to heating along the lines of "As God is my witness I will never be freezing again!" Her heating is always turned up to, roughly, one billion degrees, and I'm constantly complaining about the sweat dripping from my brow and stripping to little past underwear within ten minutes of being inside, even in the dead of winter. I will send her this article whereupon she will print it out and throw it on the fire and laugh.
posted by billiebee at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2015 [41 favorites]


and I've often wondered if it is because of my upbringing in New Mexico

Yeah. I grew up in a similar climate, and the idea of heating an area noone is in feels as wrong as leaving your car running while you're not in it.
posted by Jimbob at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sounds like an opportunity for a tech startup somewhere
posted by Karaage at 12:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, Lord, who called Jimmy Carter? /jk

When he gave that fireside chat in 1977 about turning the thermostat down and wearing sweaters, we laughed in my house, because that was something we'd done for years, and it was funny to us that now the middle class had to hear such a thing. When it got really cold (as it did in the winter of 1978), my guardian splurged and got a space heater that looked like an old school radiator. We only used it when we absolutely had to, because using it made the electric bill go up. Otherwise, it was multiple blankets, sweaters, socks and just plain old layering for us.

I meant to buy one of those radiators for myself this year, but I really don't need to, even though I know that my super has not turned on the built-in radiators in my flat. As long as it's at least 68 during the day and 55 at night in our flats, it's not illegal. Plus, I have a down comforter that's just heaven to be bundled under while sleeping.
posted by droplet at 12:23 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I woke up in a freezing house this morning because someone here is a huge guy who is constantly complaining of being hot. I haven't taken off my overcoat all day. My feet have not really warmed up since I got out of bed. I . . . don't know what the point of this comment is. It's just a cri de coeur.

Whenever someone talks about how well our forebears did something compared to how we do it today, we should always ask ourselves: why did they stop doing it that way? Sometimes it wasn't for the best reasons, but sometimes it was, as here, because they were sick of freezing their asses off.

Radiative heat keeps you fixed at a certain point in space if you want the heat, and sometimes just if you want to function. One of my college dorms was a stone building from the 1890s, and if the steam heat broke, God help you. Water left in cups in your room would freeze overnight. I remember lighting a little candle on my desk and holding my fingers over it to keep them warm enough to type with. In the earliest days of the college, maids lived on the upper floors, and it was their job to tend the coal fires in the grates in the students' rooms first thing in the morning. Were they cold at 5:30 when they woke up in that stone pile? Lord knows.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:34 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Obviously it would be hard to convince people, but microwaves are the best radiant heat.
posted by bhnyc at 12:36 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


charlie don't surf, get thyself a door snake!
posted by zennie at 12:37 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


No. You know what, no. Keep your damn house at 75 all year and let the planet burn. I am sick of this winter and I'm sick of the cold and I'm done with this nonsense, done.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:40 PM on February 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Having spent a lot of time living the outdoor life and also in historic settings, there's nothing romantic and honorable about the heating systems of the past or the "old way of warming." It meant wearing multiple layers to bed, rarely undressing fully or washing the body completely, breaking ice on your water pitcher in the morning, spending almost all of your indoor time in one single isolated space, and alternately choosing whether you want your front side to scorch and your back side to freeze, or the other way around, since you can only have one side face the fire at a time. Jane Nylander, in Our Own Snug Fireside, discusses the way entire families would retreat to the single room with the warnest hearth and light source, and only heat that one room, as this article mentions. What this piece doesn't go into is the constant inhalation of smoky and sooty air, the ashes and soot that settled on everything and required daily cleaning, the pervasive odor of smoke and cooking and the bodies of people and animals clustered close together, the lack of privacy. The portable heating devices in which you placed coals, the hot-water bottles to take the freeze out of bedsheets - they were better than nothing, all people had, but they were not great and not what most people today would consider a viable alternative.

It's true that there's a lot to learn from the past. Passive "climate wisdom" strategies like building south-facing houses with low ceilings and multi-unit, shared-wall dwellings and small rooms and features like pocket doors and hallways doors that let you close off spaces do make a lot more sense in the Northeast than, say, great rooms with clerestories and open kitchens. Closing off rooms and shutting the vents in them is smart, as long as you don't have plumbing in the exterior walls of those rooms.

We live on the 2nd floor of an 1885 house with plaster and lath walls. Fortunately right before we moved in, the landlord installed an efficient gas heater. We also have good newish windows which are double-glazed - that makes a massive difference. My balanced billing is $74 a month year-round for as much heat as we seem to need - we don't feel cold. We sleep at about 60-62 and during the day go up to 66. We wear slippers and sweaters around the house, but not hats or multiple sweaters, and this seems pretty comfortable. I do find it weird that some people I know, family members, keep their houses at like 74-78 and walk around in t-shirts; that seems suffocating and just un-seasonal to me (when I visit I always have the wrong clothes, too). I am still conscious of how easy central heat makes our lives, and still believe there are many things we can and should do to reduce energy consumption for heat, especially because most of those sources are so lousy, politically and environmentally. But I know too much about history to pretend that people in the nineteenth century were comfortable. They knew nothing like the comfort we had, even with their efforts to contain and transport heat.

I once house-sat in a house that had a radiant heat system that involved hot water channeling through the floor, I think. The house owners were really rich and this was some kind of amazing system, according to them, and they bragged about it all the time. I was FREEZING every time I stayed in that house. It was impossible to get warm except under blankets.
posted by Miko at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


This is an excellent article. For the commenters above who appear to have read no further than the masthead, it concludes:
The (improved) tile stove is the only ancient heating system that can still be recommended, but we have far more options now, such as electric and hydronic radiant and conductive heating systems. These are more efficient, more practical, and safer than the heating sources of yesteryear.
Now go put on a hat.
posted by phooky at 12:46 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, I did read the article, but am saying that this:

These are more efficient, more practical, and safer than the heating sources of yesteryear

is almost not worth saying. Of course they are. Every form of heat we have now is better than the heating of yesteryear. The question is whether they are better, as an experience, than other contemporary heating sources now. That's not a question the past can answer.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on February 15, 2015


As I've had opportunity to discover this unusually cold winter and the last, my hydronic baseboard heaters (powered by a boiler) just stop trying once the temperature drops below 20F or so. It's 64 degrees downstairs...and yet, the thermostat is set to 72. I can only imagine what would happen if I actually set the thermostat to 64. (In the meantime, the poor books, who live in an addition that isn't on the main heating system, are shivering away at 57 degrees.)

It's actually not possible to really turn down the temperature overnight, as I did when I had a forced-air furnace at House the Original--it takes hours, and in extreme conditions sometime days, for the temperature to return to set point if the heat is turned down to any drastic extent.

Jane Nylander, in Our Own Snug Fireside, discusses the way entire families would retreat to the single room with the warnest hearth and light source

When my family lived in Greece, back in 1976, we rented a drafty (as in, holes in the walls) top-floor apartment that only got radiator heat in the morning and the evening. During the winter, we all lived around a space heater in one room.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:51 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just realized something -- there's a gender element at play here. Women get colder than men. My extremities are frequently so cold that I've wondered if I had some kind of disorder, although luckily, so far, this has not turned out to be true. I have no intention of starting an argument about male privilege or anything; it's just an interesting dimension to consider.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


The whole way through this article I had to hold myself back from screaming "and then they all burnt to death horribly!" at the screen. Seriously, this is how people caught on fire and they used to do it a lot, even more so when artificial fabrics turned up. Habits that were risky with wool or linen clothes, like sticking your feet as close as possible to the fire for the maximum warmth, become deadly with those early artificial fabrics.

Still, I want me two of those leather hooded chairs to put in front of my fire and drink brandy and cackle, yes, yes.
posted by fido~depravo at 12:57 PM on February 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


I should also note that the kinds of cold-amelioration strategies this article calls "the old way" were in fact only found in upper-middle-class homes. The upholstered chairs, chairs with backs, in-hearth benches and canopy beds were not the kind of thing middling and working class people could afford until at least the middle of the nineteenth century, and then not in any remarkable numbers. Until the mill economy really developed, textiles were the single most expensive item in any house - they represented more labor, and cost much more, than furniture, metalwork, kitchen equipment, etc. So people did not really own a lot of textiles unless they were well off, certainly not enough to drape everyone's bed with them. Things like brass bed-warmers, too - super expensive, a luxury. HIstoric houses give us a mistaken impression of this, because by and large we have only preserved the houses of well-off people.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on February 15, 2015 [37 favorites]


and then they all burnt to death horribly

Not to mention child mortality rates, and the exacerbation of lung illnesses like TB due to the particulates in the air. Winter was the killing season.
posted by Miko at 1:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


charlie don't surf, get thyself a door snake!

Yes, that is basically what I am doing. And my apartment door is so tightly weatherstripped that a while ago, the door got jammed with me inside, and I could not get out until the next day when a repairman came to take off the whole door, plane down the sticky edge, and rehang it.

And none of this matters because my apartment building door faces a park which funnels winds off a small lake. Yesterday there were wind gusts recorded at 47mph. I went out and stuck some strips of towels under the side of the double-doors that is kept shut, but I can't do anything about the other door with the 1 inch gap underneath. The wind pressure will force cold air through my doorframe, no matter what I do.

My building was built just before the 70s energy crisis, it is poorly built and poorly insulated because energy was cheap back then. My apartment is on the bottom floor, just above a row of unheated, uninsulated garages. Plus, my neighbors are goddam idiots. Just last week, I woke up early in the morning, freezing, even though my heater was running full blast. It turns out, somebody left their garage door open all night, and it got down to -3F. Wind just blows up through the floor if the garage doors aren't shut. One day last winter, I noticed my apartment was filling with smoke and fumes. I ran outside, thinking the building was on fire. But no, it was my idiot neighbor, lighting a barbecue grill inside his garage, right underneath my office. I told him to take it outside and shut the garage door. He said it was too windy. I told him I didn't care, it's illegal to use a charcoal grill indoors, take it outside or I'll call the fire department. So he dragged it outside, and then yelled at me, "do you think this is any safer, me barbecuing next to a car?" I said yes, it is, but if you have any concerns, you could drag it out further into the parking lot, away from the cars.

Still, I want me two of those leather hooded chairs to put in front of my fire and drink brandy and cackle, yes, yes.

Unfortunately, your roaring fireplace emits radiant heat in the form of intense infrared radiation, which is a hazard to your eyes and skin. It can give you cataracts and ages your skin prematurely, just like exposure to excessive UV in sunlight. The wood smoke is carcinogenic and causes photochemical smog.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


I thought the article was fascinating. I'm one of those people who doesn't mind having to wear a sweater in winter, and think it's weird that people define comfort as being able to hang out in their t-shirts in the winter.

Also, when I lived in Chicago I would totally put baked potatoes in my pockets for my 30 minute walk to campus.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:21 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh my god, that article was ridiculous. Click bait at its worst because it doesn't even give you the bait it promised.

LOW TECH MAGAZINE: Why we should go back to the old ways of heating: "We should go back to the old ways. Here is how they used to keep warm in the old days. And actually, none of these things worked very well. But we should still go back to it. Basically the rich were rich enough to create microclimates but only big enough for themselves. Everyone else died of TB or the flu.

These are more efficient, more practical, and safer than the heating sources of yesteryear. In next week's article, we investigate how the old way of warming can be improved upon by modern technology, and how much energy could be saved. In the meantime, dress warm and stay tuned." - actual quote

I want my 5 minutes back.
posted by bleep at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


it was my idiot neighbor, lighting a barbecue grill inside his garage, right underneath my office

Terrifying. Not just risk of fire, but carbon monoxide poisoning. My cousin and her bf actually nearly died of a similar incident a couple years ago. Somebody in the house grilled in the garage with the door open, closed the door when it got cold. They woke up puking and ended up in the hospital in oxygen tents for a day.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Huh. I appreciate the additional information others are providing here, but there was a lot in the article I hadn't thought of before, while fully realizing that it may have been a superficial overview of the subject. It wasn't in an academic journal.

It's nice that so many have such superior knowledge on the subject. Others may not.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:30 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


People used to have a wider comfort range. When I went to school in the humid Ohio Valley back when, we had no AC. Offices mostly didn't have AC; they had windows that worked. At least school had functioning roller blinds for those big windows, and they made a big difference in May, though sadly limiting my daydreams of being outdoors. Yes there was complaining, some sweating in warm months, some chilliness on cold months. Many people now cheerfully use heat & AC in the same day to keep the temperature at their precise comfort range.

I've returned to my Maine roots and my frugal Yankee heritage. The heat stays low in the winter, very low at night, just enough to protect the pipes and make the electric blanket a necessity to preheat the bed. The (EPA-certified) woodstove keeps the living room cozy. The oven keeps the kitchen warm when I'm cooking. One wears a wool sweater and smartwool socks. In summer, the windows are always open, the ceiling fan provides relief, the deck umbrellas shade the living room, and on Maine's few really hot days, you just have to embrace lassitude and maybe a dip in the lake or an extra shower. I'm kind of amazed by how many Mainers now think AC is a requirement, and buildings that might once have been comfortable now have sealed windows, maybe blinds, and blasting AC. AC in the summer aggravates my asthma much worse than my properly run woodstove in the winter.

As far as I can tell, we went to war in Iraq for oil. Congress will happily approve polluting, fracking, pipelines, and any environmental mess that produces oil and profits. Though the cost of oil is down, the cost of solar is dropping fast, too, and as soon as I figure out the logistics, I'll be installing panels. The US burns a lot of oil, China's catching up as fast as they can, and Climate Change sure makes things interesting. Go put on a sweater.
posted by theora55 at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


We should go back to the old ways. Here is how they used to keep warm in the old days.

When it gets a little chilly, I like to hang out inside a freshly-butchered steer for a couple of hours. It's a little messy, but that's why the people of old created coveralls.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:35 PM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


When it gets a little chilly, I like to hang out inside a freshly-butchered steer for a couple of hours.

Or a tauntaun.
posted by Talez at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm just saying, the article promised it was going to tell us about why we should go back to the old methods of doing something, then proceeded to explain why those methods were not very good. For the actual reasons why we should do this, stay tuned! Why wouldn't the article just say what it wants to say in the first place?

"We should go back to the old methods of doing ___, because __. The old technology was inefficient because ___, but new technology such as ___ works good." That would have been a complete article.

Personally to keep warm I just pretend I'm a man and constantly complain about being hot all the time.
posted by bleep at 1:45 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Terrifying. Not just risk of fire, but carbon monoxide poisoning.

Yes, and the guy just could not understand why I was angry at all. But this was not the worst carbon monoxide incident in that garage. The previous tenant of that garage, thought it was a good idea to warm up his car inside the garage with the door halfway down (to trap the heat, I suppose). I am just lucky that I was already awake and smelled the fumes.

I really need a new place to live.

But this isn't really about griping about my idiot neighbors. There are all sorts of idiots, and lots of them used to kill themselves with carbon monoxide poisoning from common heating methods like kerosene heaters. They are still very common in Japan, where homes are so drafty, the CO blows away. The modern heating systems are safer and more efficient, yet people still die all the time from malfunctioning furnaces.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2015


Below a certain temperature indoors, my feet get cold and don't warm back up. Currently I have the programmable thermostat set to 68 when I am home, which feels luxurious to me but isn't t-shirt warm either. (Also, a programmable thermostat is the most wonderful thing ever -- it gets the house warm for me in the morning, rather than getting up and turning up the heat so that the house finally gets warm just as you are about to leave for work, and I come home to a warm house as well.)

When I was in the UK, though, household infrastructure seemed like it was invented by the maker of the hair shirt and the scourge. Windows didn't shut tightly, doors didn't seal, there was obviously no insulation in the walls, and heat came from a small electric radiant thing on an internal wall. Oh, and getting hot water was an ordeal. It was striking how much more comfortable houses were in Scandinavia, even though the weather was far colder.

I've lived in the winter without heat and I have no interest in doing so ever again.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


My wife and I lived in an industrial/artist's loft in Manhattan for a number of years and there was no heat on weekends. During the winter we'd simply wrapped ourselves each in an electric blanket at our respective desks. In the evening we'd share one on the couch while we watched a movie.
posted by cleroy at 2:02 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


School, snowstorm! Uphill both ways! Lawn, off! You get the idea.
posted by evilDoug at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Heaters gonna heat, I always say.




In the interests of full disclosure: I have never said this before, nor do I expect to say so again.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:15 PM on February 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


*fills pockets with baked potatoes*

It's really difficult to heat radiantly efficiently. Inverse square law is a bitch of a thing to overcome.

What this article made me think of is, I wonder if you could have a set of computer-controlled infrared lasers in each room that would rapidly trace over the entire skin surface of every person in the room, like the cathode ray in an old television, slowing down and concentrating on any cold extremities. You could not only set the thermostat, you could actually order up different temperatures for different parts of your body.

It could be dual-use and serve as a laser mosquito net in warm weather. (previously)
posted by XMLicious at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


The old ways are not always the best ways. I know someone who, as a kid, had to carry buckets of well water out to the barns in the middle of Minnesota winters. He said the best thing about it was if you accidentally sloshed water on your pants it would instantly freeze and create a kind of wind breaker. I think he would not agree with the article.
posted by zennie at 2:44 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Radiant heat doesn't rise, unless the radiant heating surface is aimed upwards.
What? Unless you are touching the stove, it is heating the air, however local or far-flung, which is then heating you. That air will rise because it is hot.

I grew up in a house heated by a wood burning stove. The back rooms were chilly, in front of the stove was crazy hot. The house was partially set into a hill, so, it was energy efficient and we took advantage of passive solar as well. It was a rather cozy existence.

I've also shivered in front of a fire in a drafty cabin where the stone fireplace sucked all the heat from room and gave nothing back. It looked like a gorgeous, old European forest scene and it gave me hypothermia in June.

In other words, modern insulation is a wonder drug.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:51 PM on February 15, 2015


I have a heated mattress pad and it is the best thing ever. Much more efficient than heating the entire bedroom.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


The link from which the "radiant heat doesn't rise" image is taken is actually quite interesting: Fabric-friendly Heating. It's much less about efficiency; more about conservation, both in the impact of the installation (central heating requires structural alterations for pipework etc) and the effect during operation (temperature and humidity changes being damaging to structure and artworks).
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2015


Unless you are touching the stove, it is heating the air, however local or far-flung, which is then heating you.

Touching the stove (or touching the masonry that's touching the stove) is conductive heating; heating the air up first which then warms everything else is convection heating. The bit about radiant heat not rising is qualified by the earlier statement,
A 100% radiant heating system doesn't exist, because both the radiant heating surface and the irradiated surfaces make contact with the air and warm it by conduction and convection.
posted by XMLicious at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2015


I'm in Japan for a few months. It's winter and we're on the coast facing Siberia. There is no central heating here (except in Hokkaido where temperatures are about the same as much of Canada in winter).

Local heating sucks, especially at night when you're sleeping. There is no heat at night because most heating in Japan is done with portable kerosene stoves that pump out carbon monoxide. The stoves also emit water vapour as a by-product of combustion which in turn helps mold grow.

I work from home and it's expensive to have a kerosene heater running all day. Turn it off and I get quit cold.

I guess we could go back to the way things used to be when Japanese farmers slept with their horses to stay warm. But it's kind of like the Paleo diet - if things used to be so great why did we all die young?
posted by Nevin at 3:08 PM on February 15, 2015


On the one hand I can sort of relate to this point. I grew up in New England and am okay putting on a sweater indoors; I keep my current apartment at about 68 degrees (and often don't have to do anything to get it there because the guy in the apartment below mine likes it really warm and I tend to get his residual heat).

Also, we had a wood stove in the living room when I was a kid, and it did surprisingly well at making much of the rest of the house warm. It ran so hot that Mom sometimes cooked stew on top of it - dumping everything in a pot and putting a lid on and resting it on top of the stove for an hour or so. And nostalgic me wants to say how cozy that felt.

But then inner-child-me slaps me upside the head and reminds me - my bedroom was the furthest room away from that wood stove, ao it was last to catch any of that heat and there were a few winter nights each year when I was a kid where I was absolutely miserable because it was JUST. SO. COLD. So - better tech, please.

(I should add that I am in an AirBnB rental right now, and I've noticed that one big impact on how you relate to heat/temperature/warming technology is whether or not you're paying the heating bill. I currently have the thermostat in this place set to 74 and feel not a single shred of guilt.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:10 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


modern insulation is a wonder drug

Absolutely. The difference between a house built in the 50s and one following the beginning of the R-2000 program in Canada is amazing. Most Canadian houses aren't built to the full standard, but many of the innovations that program developed have become standard: thermal breaks between inside and outside walls, insulation in basements, better weather stripping. We pretty much take for granted now that a house will not be draughty, the windows shouldn't even fog in the winter, that we need much more than summer blankets in bed anymore. The main downside is that we all need CO monitors now.

It's also really driven down energy consumption: my parents' house in Ottawa uses about 1/3 the heat as my uncle's place in Connecticut. My parents live in a house renovated in about 2005, with R-20 walls and R-40 roof, while my aunt and uncle live in a late 1800s carriage house that formerly had no insulation at all and old sash windows. It was a drafty old barn, quite literally. My uncle has done a lot to upgrade it, but it still costs more to heat, even though ambient temperatures are warmer by 5 to 10F on average. It's still fairly draughty.

The R-2000 program and similar research has found a definite upper limit to cost-benefit for insulation, but having a tight, well-insulated home makes living so much more comfortable, regardless of the heat source.
posted by bonehead at 3:10 PM on February 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


In the evening we'd share one on the couch while we watched a movie.

Serious question: how did you have sex? Because I can tell you without central heating it is not as enjoyable. This is one reason why love hotels are popular in Japan.
posted by Nevin at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


bhnyc: "Obviously it would be hard to convince people, but microwaves are the best radiant heat."

Would this mean I can't have any metal, though?
posted by RobotHero at 3:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just can't take it anymore. My furnace started running full blast again, that means someone is holding the building's front door open. I went out to check, yep, it's my idiot neighbor smoking again, blocking the front door open. It's 10F outside and that is today's high temp. So I just put duct tape all the way around my door frame, to keep the cold air and cigarette smoke from blowing in. It is probably cheaper to buy rolls and rolls of duct tape to keep resealing my door from the inside, than to pay $150/mo utility bills.

I'm in Japan for a few months. It's winter and we're on the coast facing Siberia. There is no central heating here (except in Hokkaido where temperatures are about the same as much of Canada in winter).

I lived in Hokkaido and they didn't have central heating either, just kerosene heaters. Really BIG ones, but still not central heating with ductwork or anything like that. Well come to think of it, the place I lived didn't have flush toilets either.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:27 PM on February 15, 2015


It's really difficult to heat radiantly efficiently. Inverse square law is a bitch of a thing to overcome.

Not really, which is why radiant floor heating is so effective. The floor starts to approximate an infinite plane at the scale of a human body so that distance and the inverse square law become irrelevant.
posted by JackFlash at 3:53 PM on February 15, 2015


When I was in the UK, though, household infrastructure seemed like it was invented by the maker of the hair shirt and the scourge. Windows didn't shut tightly, doors didn't seal, there was obviously no insulation in the walls, and heat came from a small electric radiant thing on an internal wall.

About twenty years ago, I stayed here for a couple of weeks while doing dissertation research. It was September, so while not icy, definitely chilly. The communal bathroom was vented by keeping the windows open...in 40 degree temperatures. As a native Southern Californian, I had some opinions about that, none of which are repeatable here.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:59 PM on February 15, 2015


Definately going to RTFA here, but first I'll note that I've heard complaints from Canadians, Americans, British, Germans, Swedes and probably more that I've forgotten, about how cold Australian houses are. Apparently rather than heat the whole house to some toasty temperature, we tend instead to use heaters to take the chill off local areas, and continue to wear warm clothes while inside. And this is weird.

That's not why your houses are so cold. They're cold because they're not insulated for shit and they've got metal roofs. One of your little wall-mounted space heaters would heat a whole house eventually (albeit incredibly inefficiently) if all the heat didn't just fly right out of there.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Obviously it would be hard to convince people, but microwaves are the best radiant heat.

Suffering from underheated skin? The US military has got you covered*!

*May cause unendurable pain
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:05 PM on February 15, 2015


My low-tech solution to the cold weather is to move to a shack in Rio de Janeiro. Why waste money and energy trying to heat the whole house, when the sun will heat the whole region for free?
posted by happyroach at 4:06 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I kind of have to agree on the Aussie insulation thing. Australia is the most energy-conscious place I've ever lived, yet not a single house has decent insulation or windows. I know the need for heat or AC isn't always as high compared to some parts of the world, but it would make a massive difference when it is needed here.
posted by olinerd at 4:07 PM on February 15, 2015


Eastern Canada gets fairly short, but nasty hot humid summers. Having decent insulation and weather-proofing when it's 40C and fog is still rolling in off of Lake Ontario is a blessing. In a leaky walk-up off High Park with an ancient old a/c, it's not even worth bothering to turn it on.
posted by bonehead at 4:13 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


..radiant floor heating is so effective.

My grandfather's house had radiant floor heating. It was effective, until somewhere a pipe got blocked. At that point, you can either get a jackhammer, knock out the concrete floor and replace the whole damn system, or just install baseboard heaters. Guess which one he did?
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:16 PM on February 15, 2015


Fuck the old ways. Insulate, airseal, heat exchange. Passivhaus has shown that 15kWh/m2/y (2L gasoline / 10 sqft. / year) is buildable today, affordably.
posted by anthill at 4:26 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to work with a bunch of people who found the air conditioning in their office so chill in summer that they put space heaters beneath their desks. I used to wonder: if they found the space heaters too warm, would they add desk fans?


This was surely in the US where people air-condition all public indoor spaces in the summer so that's it's like being in a frigid restaurant cooler, and much worse than winter.
posted by Blitz at 4:49 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I (Ottawa in the middle of a cold spell) woke up with no running water in my bathroom. Are there people inside the pipes I can heat so the pipes don't freeze over?
posted by The arrows are too fast at 4:52 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do realize that this is a cat-centric place and that is exactly why too many of you get cold in the night. I turn it down to 40 at night because I have a 70lb dog and a 60lb boy and we never get cold. Dog starts out in a corner and gradually moves up between us. And we get our faces washed in the morning.

There is a wall-mounted ceramic element space heater in the room, but dog is better and we don't wake up all sweaty.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here in Chicago where I have to wrap my windows in plastic every damn year to keep out drafts, I still dream of my absolutely beautifully insulated apartment in Sweden. That place was so cozy, so warm. It is almost impossible to find an apartment that well-crafted in the US.
posted by melissam at 5:24 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


discusses the way entire families would retreat to the single room with the warnest hearth and light source, and only heat that one room, as this article mentions.

My English Nan's front room.
One of those gas fireplaces with the fake coal. And 2 lamps with bulbs as dim as you could possibly purchase.

But you know, in all honesty, I do much the same thing now.
I have zonal heating, so the heat is on in the living room, the child's bedroom and slightly in my bedroom.
Other than that, all the other rooms (kitchen, dining room, etc) are left to their own devices, getting warm either through slow convection or just left cold when the doors are closed.
posted by madajb at 5:26 PM on February 15, 2015


I live in the South, where apparently insulation is not really something builders have much interest in. I am currently wearing two pairs of socks, leggings, flannel pants, a cotton shirt with two cashmere sweaters on top, fingerless gloves, and a hat. And I'm under a blanket. My heat is blasting at 68 (I grew up in the North where we kept it at a chilly 58 during the winter so 68 seems like luxury living) and I am still very cold. Cold enough that having the heat on seems silly because I'm pretty sure the heat is all just flying outside.

The old ways would be an improvement because I'd probably at least have a fireplace going. And those canopy beds seem awfully cozy...
posted by sockermom at 5:50 PM on February 15, 2015


I used to work with a bunch of people who found the air conditioning in their office so chill in summer that they put space heaters beneath their desks. I used to wonder: if they found the space heaters too warm, would they add desk fans?

I am going to assume that the people you worked with, like me at work, have no actual control over the thermostat. I'm frequently cold in the drafty, ancient basement I work in, which cranks the a/c up to ridiculous volumes but offers no control for us over the temperature (not even on the level of the floor itself). I generally deal by wearing my winter coat when I'm working if I feel cold, but I have been in places where it was very frequently FREEZING and the people who got the worst of it had no way to adjust things.

Mind you, I'm in Austin, so heating is not really my issue--I actually haven't bothered to turn it on for a week now--so much as a/c and cooling in the summer. Do they have special historical solutions to that? Because as far as I can tell, the historical response to "fuck it's hot here" has been to lie around, try not to move too much if you can help it, minimize your clothing, drink a lot and maybe nap in the shade during the worst of the day. Maybe build shotgun houses to catch any breezes or pay a poor kid to use a fan to make a breeze. Frankly, you will pry my air conditioning now out of my dead hands--it's not like I can take MORE clothes off or anything to deal with the heat.
posted by sciatrix at 6:02 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


In the nearly two decades since I first came to Korea, I've lived in about half a dozen apartments. All of them -- and I think nearly all apartments here -- have underfloor heating. I sometimes miss that feeling that I got on mornings when I was growing up in Northern Canada and it was -30C outside, and I'd stand over the forced air grate in the kitchen in my robe and let that warm air just blow up into my downbelows and I'd shiver with the pleasure of it. Truly one of the great pleasures of my life.

But (and I admit I prefer being cool to being hot), the warm floors are a pretty wonderful thing too. Older apartments in Korea as in many places have shockingly little notice paid to things that seem natural and sensible to me growing up in northern BC like draft-proofing and multipane windows and insulation of any kind, but as the costs of energy have risen and prosperity in general grown here over the years, most new homes are a lot better. When my wife and I bought a place a few years back, in an older building in the corporate housing area where we live, we gutted it and renovated it, with as much attention to insulation and heat loss through windows and so on as we could encourage the contractors to show. Which I'll tell you, was a bit of a trial.

Part of the need for the underfloor heating thing here is the exorbitant cost of electricity, relatively speaking, so baseboard heaters and that sort of thing are an option, but pretty prohibitively pricey to run.

In the winter (and where I am, it tends to hover around the +/- 5C range in the winter), we turn on the heat in the evening, and turn it off in the morning. The concrete underneath the wood flooring stays warm enough during the time the hot water isn't actually flowing that it works just about perfectly. It's not always precisely the same temperature in the house, but it's almost always in a comfortable range for me (although my wife tends, as is so often the case, to feel the cold more than me, which just means she can open the room-specific valve in the living room or her office or whatever if she feels the need).

Done right, underfloor heating is pretty great. We also have the benefit the costs are relatively low here compared to elsewhere in Korea, because the hot water used throughout the housing area is all waste water from the enormous steel mill nearby, but of course that has its own set of downsides.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: "My grandfather's house had radiant floor heating. It was effective, until somewhere a pipe got blocked. At that point, you can either get a jackhammer, knock out the concrete floor and replace the whole damn system,"

At least on any modern pex tubing system it's isn't required to completely replace the system. You can just cut out and repair the blockage.
posted by Mitheral at 6:17 PM on February 15, 2015


This thread is making me sweat just reading it.
The heat downstairs is set to 58 & the upstairs (bedroom) AC is blasting down to 59.
78??! 75? That's insane
posted by wester at 6:18 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


To heat my person instead of my space would require some kind of body forcefield, and if we're going to have those, let's go ahead and add weapon-deflecting, germ-killing and mosquito and parasite-repelling properties to it. Then we can all walk around naked but maybe projecting animated holoclothes, regardless of temperature. That would be fun!

But otherwise, if the complaint is that we waste too much energy via central heat, the solution is clearly better insulation and better energy sources, not dragging around footstoves to huddle over. Most housing stock and a sad amount of commercial stock has pisspoor insulation, and wastes incredible amounts of energy being heated and cooled. That's something we could solve with laws, incentives, and subsidies, if we really gave a crap about energy waste. Or whether poor people can stay warm enough.
posted by emjaybee at 6:30 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


One year, here in Spokane, I lived in a warehouse that was enormous and heated only by a wood stove. We built screen-like, temp walls out of 2x4s and fabric or whatever we could find and used them to encircle the wood stove the best we could, but it was still outrageously cold. I had a big waterbed, so I moved it nearer the wood stove, right near the kitchen and not far from the TV and that's where my friends and I would gather to watch TV or play cards or just talk - in the waterbed. We'd wear our coats and hats and socks and sometimes gloves and we'd all climb in and sit around there for hours. I moved dressers up against the sides of the bed so there was something to lean against for those who didn't get the headboard. We'd have meals there, too.

There was little complaining, if any - we all got quite a kick out of it, really. We cut wood together and one of them, Shawn, taught me how to build a good fire that would burn well for hours. I never locked the door there, either. The place had been a walk-in church at one time and most of the neighbors still thought of it that way, so it worked out well to just leave the doors unlocked and let people come and go as they pleased. A friend thought that was ridiculous - that I'd be robbed or something similar - so as an experiment I left a $20 bill on the table in the kitchen; it was there for months and no one ever touched it.

One thing I love about life is how times like those turn out to be some of the very best memories a person can have.
posted by aryma at 6:34 PM on February 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've heard complaints from Canadians, Americans, British, Germans, Swedes and probably more that I've forgotten, about how cold Australian houses are.

I think this is because throughout most of Australia's thickly inhabited areas (excepting probably Tasmania), it doesn't really get cold enough to kill you, provided you are indoors at night. Freezing pipes aren't really a concern either. Real cold is a relatively temporary condition, and so I think we just haven't planned around it. When the Coode Island fire happened in 1991 and we, along with much of Melbourne, had no gas for several weeks (and therefore no central heating or hot water) I had northern hemisphere friends asking questions that made me realise there are parts of the world where one could actually freeze to death, even inside an enclosed building. That had never struck me as possible before, at all.

In fact you could argue that historically Australian architecture has tended to be more structured around keeping houses cool than keeping them warm - hence wide verandahs and houses with breezeways underneath. I had an American friend who was an architect and had never heard of the concept of "re-stumping" a house, because she'd never seen anything built on stumps; she was horrified when shown photos of Old Queenslanders.
posted by andraste at 6:57 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


People used to have a wider comfort range.

I of course like a lifestyle like yours myself and agree that this is true. They really did, because they simply had less fine-tune control and really anything between 55 and 85 was pretty much a sweet spot. At the same time, people in the pre-central-heat past also wrote a lot, explicitly, about how uncomfortable they were in winter and how difficult they found it. So I'm careful about projecting our contemporary ideas about people's hardiness onto the past. There are plenty of diaries and newspaper accounts of the hardships of extreme cold, and a lot of nostalgic writing from the late 1800s about how rough, and cold, life was in the early 1800s and 1700s and how awesome the new stoves, furnaces, hot water boilers and the like were. I've heard as much directly from people in the scrappy neighborhoods in Portsmouth, NH, who were still heating with stoves and who didn't have hot water inside until the 50s. So I don't go so far as to say they were cold (or hot) and felt just fine about it. They might have had a wider range but they still felt uncomfortable when the temperatures reached extremes, just like we do. They just had fewer choices about how to deal with it. I suspect that if they had had our choices, for the most part, most people would have taken advantage of them. Opting for less comfort in favor of other values, like conservsation, is a moral choice for us but had no such dimension in the past. The quest was simply for greater comfort. It still is, so it is a hard sell to talk to people about changing habits that represent human triumphs over environment and make people feel comfortable and happy.

Where you see the "just get used to it" attitude in me much more - where I'm really willing to reject modern mores - is in summer. I've never had central AC and have only even used our window units 3 summers out of my life, and only then after moving to upper;floor apartments. I hate a closed-off house in summer. A box fan does wonders - it's mostly about getting a good airflow through the house, and in New England it's really a rare night that doesn't get cool enough to sleep. Every summer there are 3 or so nights that seem intolerable enough to prevent sleep. Cool showers help. There's a big part of me that misses the hottest nights of summer as a kid, when people sat outside on porches and stoops and mixed up cool drinks and stayed up late because who could sleep? Now, people with central air retreat inside and close off the neighborhood life. And i really like that I'm not cranking the AC all summer and using energy, but I do notice the difference when my colleagues who do have it arrive at work unruffled and fresh as a daisy, and I have more of a ...summer look, that says I slept in a 78-degree room and it's humid and my cool morning shower wore off a while ago. Office standards, especially in cities, militate against more adapt-to-the-season forms of living.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on February 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Sometimes the old ways worked because they were integrated with the design of the house and the technology of the time. As a child in New Zealand, on winter weekend mornings I would sometimes have to cycle around to my grandparents' place to chop wood. My home (built in 1959, after all lessons had been forgotten) would be freezing, but their kitchen and living room would be toasty warm.

Their house was built in 1908, which was about the time electricity was being introduced to my home town (electric trams were introduced in December 1908), so the design of the house predated common access to residential electricity.

My grandmother cooked on a wood-burner all her life. That fire rarely went out. She'd bank it overnight, then build it up in the morning to make breakfast. Her kitchen was one of those lean-to affairs at the back of the house, and the air warmed by the stove would run up the angled ceiling then push through into the living room via an open doorway. The ceiling was high, but insulated so the heat did not escape. If the door from the living room to the front hall was closed (shutting off the bedrooms) the warm air accumulated in the living room. When they went to bed they would open the door and let the warm air leak into the bedrooms over the course of the night.

On hot days they'd open all the doors to create a breezeway through the house, which had a sheltered veranda on the front. The back (kitchen) door was protected by a shelter and was also in the lee of some outbuildings (woodshed, workshop and garage) whose roofs were angled so as to to channel the prevailing wind away from the house and doorway, reducing drafts.

The obvious limitation on this arrangement is the availability of and the labour to chop wood. Neither was much of an issue in the first half of the 20th Century. Today we could replace the wood-burning arrangement with solar energy and probably come up with a superior experience.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:15 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, that's the kind of thing I would call "climate wisdom" in home design. Where you site the house itself, place the kitchens, porches and awnings to shade windows, plant the trees surrounding the house, whether or not the kitchen is central/integral to the house or separated as an outbuilding or by a breezeway, how many windows there are and on what sides of the house, the insulation quality - all of these things, I think, might actually do a lot more for the warmth rr coolness of a house than the heating method itself. Note also that this isn't "green building" in the commercial sense of particular special materials for windows and doors and walls, just home design that takes the climate and seasons into account, often most readily found in historic or indigenous house designs.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I made a kotatsu! I'm under it right now! It's wonderful!

(but, I'm not sure it would be better than an electric blanket, which I do not have)
posted by rebent at 9:00 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are you also wearing long robes? What's the heat source?
posted by Autumn Leaf at 9:36 PM on February 15, 2015


When I was living in Timmins, the winter of 2013/14, the electric heat (or whatever heating system, dunno) in the house broke down. And took a while to fix, because repair people/installers are morons. I worked with my landlord and she was a delightful person, so I couldn't even warm up by being angry.

I had I think 3 space heaters running - one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen and one in the den/general "room". It was -40ish in the daytime, -50ish at night, pre-windchill. I didn't want to cook properly because I couldn't stay in the glow of a space heater. Even dressed in heavy pjs with a heavy duvet with a space heater nearby I would shiver myself to sleep. I was half-afraid to shower because my short hair would just immediately freeze when I stepped out.

That shit fucks you up. My current place further south is such that I can wear a tshirt and shorts inside. IDGAF. It is a valid luxury after that crap.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


nthing that it's insulation that really matters, not heating methods. Room temperature is energy, heating is power. Temperature is determined by outflow as much as inflow, so if you build well-insulated houses, rather than the shitty one-brick-thick student housing I used to live in in the UK, you don't need to heat all that much.
posted by Zarkonnen at 1:55 AM on February 16, 2015


Miko, if someone is 'green building' without taking consideration of the aspect of a site, then they are not green building IMHO.

If sustainability had been incorporated into new builds over the past fifty years then good insulation would have been a basic requirement. Coupled with a ground source heat pump and an underfloor heating system a dwelling could be kept at a constant temperature year round. In the UK the temperature of the ground is between 10-15°C, so you can heat or cool the accommodation using the system and boost with other heat sources in the colder months. It is incredibly cheap to run, once the installation has been paid for. Integrating it into any new builds should be a no-brainer.

This is the opposite of the idea of localised heating suggested in the linked article. Using good insulation, draught-proofing and thermal mass to control the internal temperature. If 'climate wisdom' is also taken into account then dwellings that are enjoyable to be in, and easy to cool or heat are well within our capabilities.

My only issue with the Passivhaus system is the lack of ventilation. Sometimes it is just nice to have a window open, rather than having the house control all of the air exchange.

Most of this stuff isn't particularly new to the human race, but the technology now exists to make it better than ever before. Wind catchers have been in use in north Africa for centuries.
The windcatcher's effectiveness had led to its routine use as a refrigerating device in Persian architecture. Many traditional water reservoirs (ab anbars) are built with windcatchers that are capable of storing water at near freezing temperatures during summer months...

Windcatchers are also used in combination with a qanat, or underground canal. In this method, the open side of the tower faces away from the direction of the prevailing wind (the tower's orientation can be adjusted by directional ports at the top). By keeping only this tower open, air is drawn upwards using the Coandă effect.

The pressure differential on one side of the building causes air to be drawn down into the passage on the other side. The hot air is brought down into the qanat tunnel and is cooled by coming into contact with the cool earth[Note 1] and cold water running through the qanat. The cooled air is drawn up through the windcatcher, again by the Coandă effect. On the whole, the cool air flows through the building, decreasing the structure's overall temperature. The effect is magnified by the water vapour from the qanat.
posted by asok at 4:01 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Foster architects use some of the passive cooling ideas in some of their constructions. Click on Description.
posted by asok at 4:14 AM on February 16, 2015


Autumn Leaf: I usually wear a sweater, a flannel overshirt, and a fleece or hoodie. Under the kotatsu we use this 250w space heater. After about a half hour, you only need to have it on every now and then to maintain heat.

Also: Didn't see many people mention hot water bottles in the OP but dang I love me some hot water bottles.
posted by rebent at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a heated mattress pad and it is the best thing ever

Oh, yeah. We picked one up early this December and getting into bed still means having a little moment of aaaaaaaaaaaaah. It hasn't changed the temperatures in the house -- we keep the house at 60-62 in winter and would do so in summer if we reasonably could -- but it's this little bit of pure, undiluted luxury.

Truly the person who invented this, who appears to be Sidney Russell in 1912, should be up there with Salk and Borlaug.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:10 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Coupled with a ground source heat pump and an underfloor heating system a dwelling could be kept at a constant temperature year round.

Geothermal heat pumps are probably never going to get much penetration into the residential market for a few reasons. One is the relatively large expense to install them, the other is that air-source heat pumps have become so much more efficient and effective( this one operates down to -13 F) that the benefits are marginal. They're also finding that, while the geothermal units are efficient, a significant amount of energy is required to run the coolant circulating pumps, which reduces the overall efficiency of the system.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:49 AM on February 16, 2015


Another trick is to put a kitten in each glove to keep your hands warm; it gets kind of wiggly, and their sharp little teeth can sometimes be an issue, but your hands are warm!

We each of us had a kitten per mitten, as was the fashion.
posted by odinsdream at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Existing housing stock, or rehab or infill new construction in urban areas can't always take advantage of siting and those kinds of passive energy saving measures. Should we use it for new development? Sure. But also consider that rehab/infill/more dense development also means energy saving advantages in terms of reducing infrastructure needs and energy expenditures for transportation for the inhabitants.

I really wish that building codes did have some minimum requirements for energy efficiency of building materials and construction techniques/quality. The apartment I live in currently has no excuse for its inefficiency - it was built within probably the last 5-10 years. But it was the cheapest possible construction, and it shows. All the exterior walls are cold to the touch. The furnace is "least efficient" according to the Energy Star sticker on it. The patio doors are so drafty it's ridiculous. I'm pretty sure there's no insulation between our ceiling and the roof.

I try to keep my heating requirements reasonable. Just got a fancy programmable thermostat so it can be 66 when we're home and 64 or lower at night or when we're away. (Also I feel I should note that 66 as measured at the thermostat in the dead center hallway is not often indicative of true temperature in the bedroom or large open plan front room, both of which have huge patio doors that are not very efficient. I would guess the actual living space temps are at least a couple degrees colder than what the thermostat thinks.) We've sealed the back north-facing patio doors and windows off with plastic, and the south-facing front patio door gaps have been pretty effectively filled with rope caulk. The front room gets wonderfully warm from the sun so if it's out, the heavy curtains are open for sunbeam worshipping for all the creatures in my house; but if it's cloudy, they are closed.

I wear flannel bottoms, knee high wool socks + slippers, a knee-length very heavy sweatshirt-style robe over whatever I'm wearing, and often a wool hat. Ask anyone who knows me - if I'm on the couch, I've got a blanket over me. And I'm still cold, especially if it's windy and the drafts are finding their way in. The worst part for me about being cold is my nose gets super, super cold. And there's not much you can do about that save from wearing a freaking face mask inside your own house and no I'm not doing that. My heating bill was $89 for January so it's not like I'm doing too badly. I guess I wish I could brag about how my heat is set at 56 and my hardy northern constitution but sorry, no way that's happening.
posted by misskaz at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


78F in the winter! One of the few redeeming qualities of winters here in Minnesota is that you get to wear all of your super warm, comfy sweaters, socks, pants, and slippers while sipping a hot beverage and at night you get to snuggle in under every blanket you own while the rest of the house is cold. While I'd happily do away with winter if my comfort were the only consideration, I never really feel cozy during the summer like I can during the winter.
posted by VTX at 12:40 PM on February 16, 2015


don't accuse me of not wearing woolly jumpers (and everything else, in bed too, under wool blankets) and using central heating! Not that i wouldn't like, but just haven't changed, stayed in the 1980s
posted by maiamaia at 2:41 PM on February 16, 2015


So I have an on-demand heater with 2 settings (hot water only, hot water & radiators) with 5 valves for different areas of an 80sqm 2-br apartment, 3 a/c units with four modes (heating, dehumidifying, cooling, air circulation) for the two bedrooms and living room, and a lot of sweaters, hoodies, and hats. I grew up in Minnesota, where we had central heating and guilt and winter clothing to keep us warm or we died, and I live in Beijing where the winters can vary from Manhattan to Minneapolis from year to year. All I know is, living here, all these options have blown out my heating guilt circuits. I no longer know how I should feel about being warm.

What I can tell you for sure is, I used to try sleeping at night with the radiators off, until one night two years ago when Beijing was having a really bad winter, I realized that friction from my competing desires to save energy and be a good citizen of earth and to be comfortable for once dammit do not, in fact, generate heat, because they are immaterial concepts. So I got out of bed, turned on the radiators, opened all the valves, turned on the air conditioner in my room and moved my bed right under it, set it at 30C full blast, dumped out the stupid hot water bottle, took off my sweater, and have slept much better since.

Until this rather mild winter, when I started waking up from sweating in bed. At least before I had a vague eco-friendliness to guide me. Now I'm just lost. This article only confused me more.
posted by saysthis at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2015


What I can tell you for sure is, I used to try sleeping at night with the radiators off, until one night two years ago when Beijing was having a really bad winter, I realized that friction from my competing desires to save energy and be a good citizen of earth and to be comfortable for once dammit do not, in fact, generate heat, because they are immaterial concepts. So I got out of bed, turned on the radiators, opened all the valves, turned on the air conditioner in my room and moved my bed right under it, set it at 30C full blast, dumped out the stupid hot water bottle, took off my sweater, and have slept much better since.

The problem with using the air conditioner for heating (or cooling for that matter) is low ambient humidity.

Also, in North America houses are designed to be heated. Immigrant friends of ours didn't realize this and turned off the heat in their basement. By spring everything was covered in a thin layer of mold.
posted by Nevin at 9:10 PM on February 16, 2015


Heated floor mat under the desk, $40 and 100 watts of toasty bliss.
posted by buzzman at 9:29 PM on February 16, 2015


Hnad Sandwich - They're also finding that, while the geothermal units are efficient, a significant amount of energy is required to run the coolant circulating pumps, which reduces the overall efficiency of the system.

Ground source heat pumps are usually more efficient than air source heat pumps. Ground source heat pumps convert 1kW of energy input into 3.5 - 4.5kW of heat output (the Coefficient of Performance), whereas air source heat pumps convert 1kW of energy input into 2.5 - 3.5kW of energy output. Air source heat pumps are also subject to seasonal variation in their CoP due to the varying air temperature. It is more difficult to extract energy from low temperature air! They need good airflow and are also quite noisy (40-60db at 1m) so they have to be sited carefully.

That said, they are much easier to retro-fit to existing properties in built up areas, especially if people are inured to noisy air conditioning units. Ideal for warm or temperate climates as they drop considerably in efficiency when operating in air temperatures of 7°C or below.

Ground source is better for new builds and the difference in efficiencies is more noticeable in cooler climates where the air temperature is lower than the ground temperature for any significant portion of the year. For instance, in the UK the average air temperature is between 5-12°C over the whole year.

The thing that is always constant in retro fitting properties to be more energy efficient is insulation, insulation and insulation. Also draught proofing and where appropriate shading to cut down on solar gain. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer.
posted by asok at 3:23 AM on February 17, 2015


Oz's issues are a lack of insulation and not draft-proofing your houses

My grandfather grew up in one of mainland Australia's coldest places, up on the high plains in Victoria. For some reason never quite explained, but somehow linked in part to catholicism and sex, the males in the family, father and sons, didn't sleep inside the perfectly adequately sized house, they always slept on the verandah (porch), with a canvas curtain to roll down when it rained. That's when they were at home - for several months a year they drove cattle through the high plains and slept under the stars.

His rugged upbringing served him well during WWII when he was a prisoner of war in changi and on the burma railway, he came home a skeleton, but alive. According to the (possibly apocryphal) story he was one of the first people on whom anabolic steroids were tested, to thicken him back up. He studied mathematics, became an actuary and went on to have a successful career running of a large insurance firm.

With this wealth he built a stylish modern house, with virtually no insulation, huge modern expanses of single pane glass. About twenty years after the original construction, my grandmother had a tiny gas heater installed in the living room into the space of the tiny coal fireplace which I had never seen lit, and she bought an electric blanket for her side of the bed.

There weren't ever any warm blankets in the house, just these worn thin scratchy wool things, and there were never enough of them, so when we stayed they as kids someone would tuck me in to bed under my grandfather's tobacco smoked polyester dressing gown.

But the strange thing is, I don't think they were impervious to cold, I think they were quite uncomfortable, and as they got older they seemed to drive up to queensland for the warm weather quite often, but for some reason now lost with their passing, they never stopped the draughts, never put any insulation in the roof. I just don't think it occurred to them as the sort of thing you did.
posted by compound eye at 4:48 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting data asok. In Canada, even in the most temperate climates in the maritime provinces or southern BC, heat pumps are marginal. In central Canada, where air temps run between -20C to +25C on average, they're losers compared with most other types of hvac. My father in law just renovated a place with a ground-water heat sink near Ottawa, ON, having to replace the water-water heat exchanger and the pumps. Doing the math and amortizing over the expected life of the system, a standard gas heater/electric a/c would be considerably cheaper to install and run, starting from a new install. It was only marginally cost effective to replace the old geothermal set-up with the new instead of completely replumbing to a gas boiler.
posted by bonehead at 12:53 PM on February 17, 2015


Obligatory Both cartoon: Keeping Warm,
posted by happyroach at 3:55 AM on February 19, 2015


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