A Warm House

Remember Oscar and Emma and the saga of the digital thermostat?

Well, that’s the Skipper and me.  Only not the way you might think.  Yes, I’m the one who’s always cold, and he’s the one with the built-in furnace.  But when it comes to heating the house, my internal environment critic goes around turning down the heat until it’s just barely comfortable, and then putting on sweaters, and the Skipper is the one turning up the heat behind me and putting on his t-shirt.

The paradox has driven me crazy for years.  I never felt like it was worth burning energy to heat a whole space when I’m going to be cold anyway.  And I could never figure out how my husband, the same man who looks outside to the coldest, blusteriest, stormiest day and says excitedly, “let’s go sailing!” wouldn’t be able to keep warm at an environmentally-friendly temperature.

This fall, some pennies dropped.  I asked the Skipper one day, “did you grow up in a cold house?”  This was the same house that I knew had no running hot water and only 2 electrical circuits and was insulated with newspaper.  “You mean did we wake up in the morning with frost and icicles on the inside of the bedroom walls?  Watching our breath? Umm…yeah.”  So now, as an adult, the Skipper hates a cold house.

I also realized that I was acting out of some built-in habits and beliefs, namely that being “good to the environment” = being uncomfortable.  Hmmm…Calvinism anyone?!  Deep in my Scottish Protestant bones is still the visceral belief that if I’m not suffering in this lifetime, I’m not doing it right! 🙂

So, ’round and ’round we went, the Skipper and I, me trying to suffer, he trying not to, each with our own moral arguments, up and down 1-2 degrees on the digital thermostat.  But no more.

Drumroll please…..

The woodstove is in!

Our house was originally designed for a gas fireplace: there is a chimney box framed in that was then hidden behind drywall.  No gas line ever arrived at the property, but we’ve intended to put in a woodstove since we moved in.  This fall, we decided we were ready to take the plunge, and the Skipper took down the section of drywall, tiled a hearth, and we found a stove that would fit the space and a company to install it.  It’s been in and operating for almost a week, and though the space still needs some finishing touches (paint), the experience of heating with wood has already been transformative.

Forget fighting over whether we “should” be uncomfortable at 20 (68) degrees or whether we spend the money and burn the hydro at 23 (73).  Now we’re both warm by the fire at 25 (77)!  My sweaters are off, guilt-free; the throw blankets I just got are now purely decorative.  The tension in my shoulders that stays until summer comes back is unwinding.  And there’s more!

Our house was already pretty efficient, with a high-efficiency electric furnace and a heat pump, so it will take a few years for the stove to pay for itself, in theory.  Skipper had the system tricked so that the heat pump worked on its own, without the furnace, most of the time.  But the numbers are staggering nonetheless.  Running the furnace (which we do use, once the temperatures are around and below freezing) uses in the 20,000 watts range; using the heatpump takes us down to closer to 10,000 watts.  At the moment, we’re running the blower fan on the stove (50 watts?), and a ceiling fan (200 watts?), and then when the main room gets too hot, we turn on the furnace fan to pull the heat downstairs.  It uses less than 450 watts. So less than 1kw altogether.  Amazing!  Then there are the auxiliary benefits: just like in the summer, it seems RIDICULOUS to use the clothes dryer when the house is so toasty (I know, we could have done this regardless, but we were lazy), and staying by the fire is so nice that we’re not spread out around the house in different heated and lit spaces on different computers.  When I’m cold, I also take longer, hotter showers to help me warm up.  Add to this that the Skipper is scrounging pallets and other waste wood at his jobsite, and there are a LOT of wins here.  For the first time in a while, we’re looking forward to getting our power bill!

There’s nothing like a warm house…especially when it’s guilt-free.