Archive for the ‘Save Heat Energy Costs’ Category

Just Say NO To Outdoor Woodburners!

woodburnerOutdoor wood burners were considered to be a great way to heat your home about 10 years ago. The “mess” and smoke was outside the home, and these wood burners not only could heat your home, they could also heat your water since they sent heat to your home in the form of hot water. But after talking to a friend who recently decided to scrap her 7-year old leaky and non-working unit, I must recommend that you stay clear of these units. Here is why:

  • These units produce a LOT of smoke. And if you live anywhere close to neighbors, they will hate you for having this unit. See This Report.
  • The cost is anywhere from $4000 to $10,000 for complete installation. This is not just a woodburner, it is a hot water system that needs to be integrated into your homes hot water and heat system. Think of how well you could better insulate your home with all that money!
  • The expected lifetime of these units is as little as 6 or 7 years, although many units offer a 10-year limited warranty and some even offer an additional 25 year warranty (for extra cost). My friend was not so fortunate as her model did not offer much of a warranty and her steel water jacket corroded and leaked, along with water lines leaking and freezing. If you pay $6000 and only get 8 years of use, that amounts to $750 per year! Add to that the cost of wood and you may end up paying out $1000 per year to run this unit!
  • These units require a LOT of wood! About 5 full cords (15 face cords) were required each year for my friend’s stove. A whole bunch of people from her church and our church would cut and split the wood for her. Otherwise, it would have cost her even more to have the wood cut and split.
  • These stoves require electricity to run the blower to keep the fire going. Otherwise the fire dies out. Also water pumps require electricity. This makes the outdoor wood burner useless as a heat source in case of power outages.
  • In short, don’t buy one! Your much better option is to spend your money to better insulate your home – for tips on this, see If you really want to use wood heat for the aesthetics or as a backup heat source, consider supplementing your current heat with a free standing decorative wood fireplace – these require smaller amounts (1 full cord or less) of dry split wood that produce less smoke, cost far less to purchase, and can keep your home from freezing up in the event of an extended power outage. See for a summary of wood heat choices. Make sure to check your local codes first to see if wood burning appliances are allowed. If a wood burner is not allowed, a decorative gas fireplace might be a nice choice.

    Stimulus Plan Equals Energy Rebates

    Save 30% on Energy ImprovementsAccording to this Washington Post Article, homeowners who add energy-efficient appliances like heating systems, AC systems, or windows can get a tax credit for 30 percent of the costs, up to a total of $1,500.

    Heating My House With Only a Fireplace

    We live in northern Wisconsin in a 40+ year old ranch home. Read here about the wood burning stove that we can now heat our home at temperatures down to zero degrees F! Wood Burning Stove
    The wood burning stove pictured left heats our house thanks to the new blower system and many improvements in insulation I made this fall, documented on this blog and on my site Also, you will find a host of other resources for saving money while on a budget on this site, including a page on how I cut my oil hot water bill nearly in half, along with a homemade solar shower I constructed.
    Wood Burning StoveThe stove is in our basement on the finished side. We live in a fairly modest 1200 square foot mid-sixties era ranch home with another 600 square feet of (somewhat) finished area in the basement. Our basement was always very cold so we decided to put in a free standing wood stove. The stove worked great, but much of the heat tended to stay in the basement, too much at times.
    Wood Burning StoveAnd our upstairs was not really getting much heat. To send more heat upstairs, I put in a floor grate (pictured on left) a few years back. This helped somewhat but still did not deliver a lot of heat. The way to get more heat upstairs was to install a blower run on a thermostat. The blower was purchased at Home Depot online and is nice in that it is fairly quiet. This blower is designed to be part of a 6″ stove vent pipe. The thermostat was purchased from and works incredibly well. This is the same thermostat that is used in controlling temperatures on large greenhouses I see listed in seed catalogs. This blower will turn on, and stay on, as soon as heat builds up and will turn off, and stay off, when heat levels diminish. About the hardest part of rigging this whole system up was fishing the 14-2 wire through my finished basement ceiling to connect to a power source. For safety sake, consult or hire an electrician when installing this system.

    Reduce Basement Window Heat Loss

    If you have windows typical of an older basement, they are the 14″ by 30″ Basement Windowtype awning type windows that swing in to open. And these windows will generally be of poor quality and allow a lot of cold air in. The result is a cold basement that results in cold floors. A low cost solution is to add plastic. But the concrete wall will not accept the two-sided tape (I tried!). To provide a nice surface to accept the two sided tape, I measured off some 1×2 strips and screwed them together at the corners to make a square frame. I then screwed the top edge into the floor joists above and used two concrete screws, one on each side, to hold it to the wall. After drilling the holes for the concrete screws, I applied Great Stuff expanding foam under the frame to fill in any gaps and form an air-tight seal. Then I fastened in the concrete screws, allowed the foam to expand and harden, and then trimmed the excess off. Then I covered with two-side tape and clear plastic.

    The result? My basement is a lot warmer!  That window was very leaky and I did not have a storm for it. Now, my interior plastic storm, sealed air tight, has stopped that cold draft completely.

    Weather Strip, Seal Windows, and Insulate!

    Window PlasticIf you read my article about Different Types of Heat Loss, you will learn that you can lose a lot of heat through convective heat losses. Convective heat losses occur when air movement transports heat out through window and door cracks.

    Window plastic is a very inexpensive way to convert a drafty old window into a window that performs as well as a top-of-the-line energy miser. Door WeatherstrippingAnother way to deal with these convective heat losses is to weather strip around doors. The weather stripping costs very little, but can make a big difference.

    To read more in detail about how I weather stripped around doors, added plastic around a window, and added more attic insulation to reduce my heat costs, go to Four Easy Home Insulation Tips

    Save 50 Percent on Oil Hot Water Heater Costs

    Recently, I just completed a project where I can potentially cut my hot water heater bill in half!  As a side note, my oil fired hot water bill was over a hundred dollars a month when oil prices were over $4 a gallon, so I have a lot to save. What I did was:

    • Turned down my heat settings
    • Had maintenance performed on the heater
    • Used an insulating blanket
    • Installed a temper tank – this allows the incoming water to warm up to something on the order of 70 deg F rather than 40 deg F. I also utilized waste heat from my hot water heater exhaust with a hot air blower system hooked up to a thermostat.

    Go to Save Hot Water Heater Costs for more details on what I did. Watch the video below!

    Converting 4″ Walls to 6″ Walls and Adding Insulation

    In the summers of 2005 and 2006, we converted our exterior bedroom walls from 4" (3.5" actual thickness) into 6" (5.5" actual thickness). This is a 57% increase in thickness, but since we also replaced some old compressed rock-wool insulation and added a vapor barrier, the R-value was perhaps doubled. And boy, do we feel a difference when the temps dip below zero! But, we still had our living room, kitchen, and bathroom remaining with 4" walls. So, with the high price of heating oil, I decided to tackle the South wall of our living room. To see a nice overview of the steps involved, go to This Article At NaturalHandyman that I wrote for them. Within the article are details of the projects and step-by-step photos. To see a video overview of this latest project, go to South Wall Insulation Project Video or play the video embedded below.

    This is a messy project, but if you clean as you go, it is not bad. Once the painting is done, you are left with the "finishing touches" which consist of shortening trim and replacing other trim and extending window and door frames. This can drag on a bit since it is slow work, but at least it is not messy. I am still plugging away at my trim from our South wall project of late July. But it will get done. Still, this project is well worth the time if you live in a northern climate and you will appreciate the comfort of a well insulated house.

    The cost of this South Wall Project was about $200. About $35 in new insulation, $40 in drywall, $80 in 2×4′s, and some more for window and door extenders, Great Stuff insulating foam, plastic, and other odds and ends. Not a lot to pay in my opinion, and money recovered in a few winters.