Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

Heating My Home

I recently read an article called “Restoring the Old Way of Warming: Heating People, not Places” . I read this at an interesting time, and it’s had me thinking over the past week or so. I wanted to explore my thoughts that came about from reading it and a couple other pieces: “Insulation: first the body, then the home” and “Heat your clothes, not your house”.

There is way more information available on this subject that I expected. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It has a lot of applications.

The article begins: “These days, we provide thermal comfort in winter by heating the entire volume of air in a room or building. In earlier times, our forebear’s concept of heating was more localized: heating people, not places.”

I’ve always grown up with the centralized heating of the air in the home, so the concept of only heating people is foreign to me.

I mentioned that I read the article at an interesting time, because for each of the previous winters, I’ve kept my apartment’s thermostat at about 68°F and worn a few more layers. But, this season, I’ve gradually crept the thermostat’s temperature up. First, I bumped it up to 70°. And then up to 72°. And, over the last couple weeks, I’ve had it set at 75°.

Having the temperature at 75° meant I didn’t need to wear extra layers. I could wear pants and a t-shirt, and be comfortable.

The first part of this year has been quite warm and sunny. I haven’t had the heat running too much because the natural sunlight warmed my apartment enough to keep it pretty close to 75°.

But the last week or two have been colder, cloudier, and snowier, so the heater has been running a lot more often to maintain 75°.

Each time the heater kicks on, I can’t help but think that, even though I feel comfy and warm, it is a bit unnecessary to heat the entire apartment, since I am only in one room at a time.

This article’s detail, then, is timely, in that it pointed out interesting facts and gave me some extra ideas about how to stay warm this winter.

The three methods of warming are conduction (heat transfer between touching objects), convection (warm air rising when an object is warmer than the surrounding air), and radiation (electromagnetic waves emitted by one object and absorbed by another).

The article uses the example that when you’re sitting in the sunlight, you can tolerate a colder air temperature, because the lower air temperature and higher radiant heat temperature average out to a comfortable level.

Churches, for instance, with their vaulted ceilings, can take advantage of radiant heating to keep the floor level warm, without wasting all their energy heating air that just rises to the inaccessible heights of the building.

This also reminds me that I have 9 ft. ceilings. If I’m sitting on my futon, I’m underneath a majority of the warm air. So maintaining the 75° air temperature actually involves heating my entire apartment, in a way that leaves most of that warmth out of my reach. This doesn’t seem like a very effective method, does it?

Is there perhaps a way to spread around the warm air up there? In my living room, I do have a ceiling fan. I looked up which direction the fan should rotate during the winter to help distribute the warm air throughout the room. That direction is clockwise. This could be a good way to actually make use of the warmest air up near the ceiling.

The article also mentions some other aspects of heating in the past.

Older buildings had a big problem with drafts. Fortunately, newer buildings do a good job of preventing them.

Hooded chairs are something I never knew existed. And I’ve seen folding screens in movies, where people change behind them, but I never heard of using them as local insulation for radiant heating. It’s probably the entire reason they existed at all, and I’ve just misunderstood their use.

I do have a fireplace, where it can be nice to sit and read and write for a while; appreciating the flickering gas flame and warmth. I don’t have it running much, but I could see a folding screen being useful when I do use it.

The four poster bed - another invention I didn’t understand. It makes much more sense when I see that the curtains and canopy are for retaining body heat and eliminating drafts. They weren’t just a fashion statement.

Hot gases from fires would be channeled through a series of pipes and that would heat beds and floors. The foot stoves described seem like they could totally make a comeback in some electric version. Perhaps heated ottomans? And I’d like to see the tile stoves mentioned, as well.

People still use heating pads to warm their beds. These are the modern, electric versions of older brass-and-embers instruments.

My first reaction, after hearing the phrase “heat people, not places” is to think of some high-tech additions to my apartment to accomplish that. But conductive and radiant heating systems have existed for 4,000 years or more. Radiant floor heating sounds brand new and fancy, but it’s been around for millennia. Incredible!

“While the old concept of heating is more energy efficient, the same cannot be said of most of the old heating devices.” So, while these forms of radiant heating are not a panacea - there are issues with thermal gradients, asymmetry of the heat, shadows, radiant diffusion through distance, etc. - it still sounds incredibly interesting.

Next, we get to what I think will be the most interesting part: how modern technology could be used to heat ourselves in a better and more efficient way. But the article ends. They mention that “next week’s” article will cover this stuff, but it hasn’t been published yet. So I’m left without knowing what that will be about. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

This did lead me to read the other articles I mentioned above, and then each inspired additional thoughts.

Since the article was a cliffhanger, I started to imagine what modern, radiant and conductive heating might look like. The goal would be to heat people instead of entire buildings or volumes of air.

There do exist radiant floor heating systems that use water or electricity to heat floors. I’ve experienced that once and it was pretty neat.

I can imagine a ceiling covered with radiant heating elements that are only active if someone is under them. It would feel like sitting in the sunlight, anywhere in the house. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I mentioned those electric heating pads… What about wearing electrically-heated clothing? Could pants, shirts, socks, shoes, hats, and all have filaments in them to do some conductive heating? This could effectively turn your clothes into a heated blanket, and make those ceiling heaters less necessary.

But there do seem to be a few issues with heated clothing. Would they use power cables or battery packs? Are battery packs currently small and powerful enough to support this use, or do we need more breakthroughs in battery technology? Perhaps the batteries could also be filaments woven into the clothes? If wireless power were feasible, we wouldn’t need cables or batteries while in the home. What’s the state of wireless power? (Tesla, we need you!)

And then I find out that electrically-heated clothing already exists. Sounds like motorcyclists have used these for years to ride warmly, by plugging them into their motorbikes. Still seems to be additional potential for these kinds of clothing.

The radiant ceilings do have the advantage of heating visitors who pay you a visit. It’d be like sitting outside on a nice, sunny day for a picnic! The heated clothes only work for a single person. But I currently live alone, so it could still be a viable option most of the time.

As mentioned previously, my first reaction is to think of installing all these high-tech, novel heating methods in the home.

The insulation article mentions, “Watching television in a t-shirt during the winter is a relatively recent phenomenon.”

So this makes me wonder, what if I step back a minute and see if there’s an existing way to keep my self at a comfy temperature, without heating all the air in the apartment.

Flannel sheets are one of the best things about winter. It’s awesome to bundle up at night in those warm sheets, a comforter, and some extra blankets. Am I missing out on something during the day, then?

What about the warm layers that I already own? I’ve not been wearing layers lately, since the air in the apartment was warmer. But winter is just another season of the world. I shouldn’t mind wearing extra layers for a few months.

I might as well appreciate the occasion to wear my long socks, some slippers, a pullover/hoodie, pants, and long-sleeve shirts. And wrap up in some blankets too! In fact, soon enough, it will be summer time and I’ll want to shed as much clothing as possible.

So, wearing the extra layers I already own is a good way to make sure that I keep warm without using a ton of energy each day on heating the air in my apartment, most of which I don’t even get to use.

It’s not that I won’t run the heat at all. It’s just realizing it’s possible to keep myself at a nice 75° without keeping all my apartment at that temperature.

I’d bumped up the thermostat without thinking what kind of impact it would have on the amount of energy I used. After all, what’s a few degrees?

The insulation article mentions that lowering the thermostat 2°F can save 9-10 percent on energy.

“… watching television wearing just a t-shirt requires an air temperature of 24° Celcius (75°F) in order to maintain thermal comfort. This would lead to a rise in energy consumption of 20 to 30 percent.”

Holy crap. This exactly matches what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been wearing t-shirts, and keeping the air at 75°, because it was most comfortable.

Does this mean that lowering my air temperature from 75° to 68° and wearing some more layers will use roughly 30% less energy? That’s an enormous difference.

This almost makes me afraid to see what my electric bill for February will be, since I’d mostly kept the thermostat at 75° during the day. The first part of the month had the weather and sunshine to help maintain that temperature without me running the heat all the time, so that should help make the bill a bit more bearable.

But it’s not just about the money. Think of the extra fossil fuels consumed just to keep my apartment a few degrees warmer. And then extrapolate across the entire Denver metro area. That’s huge.

“One layer of thermal long underwear allows you to turn down the thermostat with at least 4° C, saving up to 40% on space heating energy.”

That’s incredibly impressive. Just by wearing clothing I already own, I could drastically reduce the cost of keeping warm this winter.

There’s another factor to consider, I live on the third floor of an apartment building, so there is heat rising into my unit from the two units below me. I wonder how much that’ll help contribute to keeping my apartment warmer.

There’s an additional component to staying warm in the winter that these articles didn’t touch on: drinking warm beverages and eating warm foods.

I did notice that when the air was at 75°, drinking coffee could push me into the too-warm territory.

Would drinking coffee and tea, along with eating soups, stews, and chili be another way to warm people, not places? They did mention holding warm mugs can warm hands, but will their contents warm you up internally too?

I wonder if there’s been some study done about feeling warmer after drinking or eating something hot?

This was a lengthy piece, but I loved going from my first ideas about motion-sensing, radiant ceilings to what this piece is now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My main takeaway is that I’ll try to keep the thermostat set to about 68°, wear some additional layers of clothing I already own, and see what it’s like. Using that much less energy just seems sensible.