Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Phase One of using less energy for heating

So last month my plans for lowering our energy usage for heating got the proverbial kick-in-the-butt when I got our gas bill for December which was, um, higher than I care to discuss. I have now implemented Phase One:

And here's a redux of the current changes:

1. The kitty door:

Yup, there it is. This is working out great, for several reasons, some planned on, and some surprising and neat. I installed the door with the goal of keeping the ZOMG cold air in our "sunroom" (HA!) out in the sunroom, while also keeping the kitty water, food, and litter out there. SUCCESS! Calvin the Cat has adjusted well to his door (once he got past this weird phase where he thought he had to get his paw under the door and lift it up over his head; but then, Calvin's not the brightest bulb on the tree). The door itself was not particularly difficult to install, and my DIY skill level of "Hm, I'm pretty sure this is the direction the jigsaw goes" was sufficient, and even still, after I discovered that the jigsaw's guide had busted and I was gonna have to do this freehand.

There are also two "surprising and neat" features that this little door has confered. One is that, though not visible in the picture above, to the immediate right of this door (at a 90* angle to it) is the door to the pantry. Often, both of these doors would end up open at the same time. I don't care how skinny you are (and I'm not), it was a pain to get through. And it was hopeless if you had anything in your arms (e.g., groceries, laundry, etc.). Now at least one of the doors stays closed regularly, which really helps keep that space passable. The second "hey neat!" feature is the psychological affect it's having. You see, what happens is that you come in from outside (we have a detached garage where our car, moped & bikes reside) into the sunroom, which is cold, but not nearly so cold as it is outside. And you think "Ah, warmth! I'm glad to be inside!" But then, glory of glories, you go through the door into the kitchen and it's really warm! Sure, maybe that's only 60*F, but compared to the sunroom, it's a sauna. And so the interior of our house feels even warmer still. *geek*

2. The Curtain Barriers:

There they are--these are the curtains that block off the rest of the house. Oddly enough, when these photos are side-by-side (with the white curtain on the left), it looks a surprising amount like what you see when you walk through our front door. Anyway, these curtains are designed to block heat into the other side of our house, where our family room, dining room and kitchen are. These curtains are all GoodWill finds--the one on the left is two twin-sized sheets, and the one on the right is a Queen sized comforter that I sewed some scrap fabric onto to put it onto a curtain rod. Is it working? HECK YES IT IS. It is actually startling how well this works. We've shut the vents in the rest of the house, and only keep open the ones on the living side of our house. It is remarkably warmer. In fact, I've even turned down the heat again (to 60*F), and it still feels warmer now than it did before. I may turn it down yet again. So far so good.

3. The Kotatsu:

Okay, here's the one disappointment in my current experiment, and it was the one I was sort of looking forward to the most. The kotatsu is in the living room, which is in the shut-off section of the house, but it is the room we hold our weekly roleplaying game in, so I wanted a way to warm it up a bit for everyone. But the kotatsu just doesn't work that well. I currently have three different guesses for why that is:

1. The blanket sucks. Even on high, it just doesn't feel very warm, and I'm talking even with both hands pressed on either side of the electric coils. Now, maybe it's really not supposed to get that hot--it's not an electric heating pad after all--but still.... maybe it's just not a good blanket. It's a Biddeford? Anyone?

2. It's not big enough. If I'd gotten a queen or king (correction: if I could've afforded a queen or a king) it would go over the laps of the people sitting next to the table, and maybe all would be well.

3. We're not Japanese. In Japan, people sit on the floor around the table itself rather than on couches next to the table. Perhaps this is the key difference. Sadly, I don't see our gamers starting to sit on the ground for the sake of warmth--they seem more content to stay on the couches in coats.

So, the overall verdict? A success. Even though the kotatsu isn't all that I'd hoped for, overall this strategy is working well. And for our weekly game, for the time being, I can just open the heating vents in the morning and at least bring those rooms up to 60*F once a week.

The next step will probably be getting some kind of a space heater. This will allow us to drop the gas-forced-air heat even more, and also we can take the space heater into the living room for our weekly game (and, possibly, for a new fiber-arts group that seems to be forming at my house, through very little of my own intervention). But, as usual, I'm happy to take suggestions!


  1. I was wondering how the blanket would work. I agree that we are not Japanese, so that's kind of a culture shock to your guests as well as a possible shock to the system of it being colder than in their homes. I'm thinking a different type of heater would be beneficial. My boyfriend takes a blanket and sits with it in front of our electric heater that we use for the bedroom, and he gets HOT. I'm thinking something like this may be better than the blanket because you would actually be heating the space under the table instead of the blanket. I don't know much about the electric blankets, I don't like them--but if you're only heating what is touching the blanket, the space under the table won't get warm. If I'm wrong, and I could be about how the blanket works, let me know. You're doing the trial run for me here. ;)

  2. I love this blog! I can well sympathise with the cat flap - we actually spent months trying to persuade our terrified Smudges to condisend enough to use this new fangled contraption. (Possibly due to the first one we installed being about three sizes to small and we had to replace it with a dog flap).

    I was thinking along the lines of Sunnypessimist - how about making 'portable' quilts for each of you... after the fashion of the chinese quilted coat. I have it on good authority that they are filled with duck down... for extra warmth - braces could be worn under the quilted jacket to which hot water bottles could be attached.

    Plus they look quite 'trendy'

  3. Ahavah--you should see the paces we put our poor cat through. In fact, check this out: The Calvin the Cat Access System. This is my kludged together way of allowing Calvin to defend our food against numerous 4-legged fiends!

    We are definitely going to move to some kind of space-heater-based solution for the other room. Our family has lots of blankets everywhere, too. My kids pretty much nest their way through the winter! =)

  4. ahhh bless! Smudges put on rather a lot of weight after 'The Operation' and the word 'run' just disappeared out of his vocab.

    Ahh then the kids would be right at home here... Mum rarely moves from in front of the fire unless things are ABSOLUTELY desperate.

  5. Have you considered 'warm things' for each guest? :) 'Warm Things' are our family name for the various sorts of barley/rice/grain bags that you microwave (yes, I know, power, but it seems a better use of power to heat a bag for 3 minutes than run a space heater for 20).

    If every guest got a warm thing and a quilt, you could keep the room quite cool and have people still be comfy, I would think. Slippers would be good too, if that's not commonly done in your part of the world.

  6. Apple Jack--Huh, that thought had not occurred to me. I'd thought about hot water bottles, but somehow the "Warm Things" idea seems more appealing (I don't really know why, it just does). I can probably whip some of those up with no real problem. Do you have any suggestions for good materials to use?

    And I agree that a microwave on high for, like, 3 minutes is a vastly better use of energy that a space heater for 20.

  7. My understanding of a kotatsu is that the heat source -space heater or electric blanket- goes UNDER the table and a regular blanket goes over the table to hold the heat in. Then everybody sits around the table with their legs under the blanket.

    Maybe you could put the electric blanket on the couch and sit on top of it. Also, if your doing role playing anyhow, maybe folks could wear a hat as part of their role. You lose a lot of heat through your head.

  8. Anon--
    Ah, now that makes sense! I wonder, is it safe to have, say, an electric space heater under the table? Probably, but I will check. I don't think our electric blanket has the Umph to do the job, but I will give it a shot, since I've already got it. Thank you very much for the clarification!

    And the hats are a delightful idea. Especially for one of the characters, who so help me god nearly got us killed 80 times so she could get her *#$)@ hat! ;-)