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Giving the Furnace a Vacation

October 23, 2009

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I’m continuing my series of ways, tips, and products to save money this heating season. Check the category “HVAC” or do a search for “heating” and “furnace” for more posts on this subject.

I have a great big old house, having more holes than Swiss cheese. Also, 90% of my home is uninsulated, and cannot be until I remove the bricks (called “noggin”) from between the studs (which means I have to gut every room and replace every wall). And to top it all off, half of the house is in the renovating process, so there are large gaps and holes in the walls. I have gone through the house and duct-taped heavy plastic sheeting over most of the renovation holes, but wowsa, this place gets cold. It was cold even before we started renovating. So our furnace works very hard, and it costs a fortune to run. I’ve been slowing gathering ways and alternative methods to help allay our reliance on that money pit that sits in our basement. A few things I have found that help:

1.) Seal off unused portions of the house with heavy drapes.
2.) Seal off doors and doorways with heavy drapes.
3.) Use space heaters in rooms where we spend most of our day.

I used to be adamant against electric space heaters, believing them to be very expensive. But even while electricity is more expensive, pound for pound, than natural gas (which our furnace uses as fuel), it is more economical to turn down the furnace and use a space heater in the areas we frequent. The problem lies with the larger rooms, such as the living room. Our small space heaters just don’t seem able to permeate the biting cold that hits us over the winter. We actually looked into getting a woodstove. However, woodstoves require constant care, constant cleaning, and providing for a constant supply of wood (which means constant labor supplying and carrying it). AND we’d have to build a type of outlet/chimney AND get a permit from the town to do all this. Wow. No thanks.

So we looked into fake fireplaces. We’re still looking into them, actually. (I’m very slow to make up my mind, these days, ugh). I have always liked the natural gas fireplaces, but this would require a plumber to come and set up a new supply run of pipes. We may do this someday, but not this year. I have been looking into electric fireplaces. I can set up a dedicated circuit for it easily enough, not requiring any hired help to do it. I’m just wondering how truly economical the electric fireplaces are compared to the natural gas ones. After all is said and done, which one is better? If any of you readers out there have an opinion or any experience, I’d surely appreciate a comment or review!

there’s a beautiful Bionaire Electric Fireplace and it comes with a remote control AND it has a safety shut-off AND a timer that you can preset (very nice!). It’s running for only $260 with free shipping– I think that’s a very reasonable price.

So this is my next experiment into the HVAC world of economy. I think a “fake” fireplace would serve us well and relieve us from heating the entire house all the time. Please– if you have any experience with such a unit, let me know!

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Looking at Electric Heaters

October 22, 2009

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I do not trust kerosene heaters. They are a terrible burn and fire hazard. I had a few bad experiences as a young lady (turned it on only for the flames to go POOF; another time, I burned holes in a shirt that I had been drying over the heater). And if you have young children or rambunctious pets, kerosene heaters are in danger of being tipped or pushed over. Plus, the kerosene creates a lousy soot that coats everything, YUK! I’d much rather pay a little more in electricity for “clean” heat. I bought an electric heater a few years ago for our living room, and now I’m looking into getting one for my daughters’ room upstairs, that gets terribly cold in the winter. Now that I rewired their bedroom, we can safely run a heater up there! yay! šŸ˜€

I tend to stick with “name brand” products when I purchase important appliances like electric heaters. There’s a sweet Honeywell Mini Tower Surround Heater. There is no free shipping with the model, but the shipping is still quite inexpensive. has a very good selection of name-brand heaters right now, just in time, too! We’re trying to run the big furnace a little less frequently, and stay huddled around space heaters where possible.

What to look for in an electric heater? Well, efficiency– my other heater generates 1500 watts on high power; the Honeywell model is nice because it has a fan that circulates air all around the heater and not just in the front of it. I also look for protection from tips and overheating– a good electric heater will shut off if the unit tips over or if the unit gets too hot. And the name-brand is just a little added protection (warranty, a United States-based company to contact if necessary, etc).

So while I would never heat my home 24/7 with an expensive electric heater, they do have their uses for small, cold areas. has some good prices, get your space heaters before they sell out by mid-winter.

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Change Your Furnace Filters Regularly

October 12, 2009


We had our first big freeze last night. The house is pretty cold this morning, but I am stubbornly being a miserly scrooge frugal by refusing to turn on the furnace yet. Truth is, I’m late this year in getting ready for winter! My furnace needs a tune up and new filters yet, and I need to inspect the ducts to make sure everything is working properly.

One of the nicest things you can do for your furnace is changing the filter regularly. But how often does one change the filters? I’ve done a little research, and the answer is: it depends. Haha! Seriously, it does depend on your furnace, your house, and your lifestyle. If you have a lot of pets and a huge drafty dusty home like I do, you should change your furnace filters every month. If you use your furnace irregularly, have no pets, and have a smaller home, every other month or every three months are fine. Most furnaces come with recommendations in the manual; always check that first.

The main purpose of the furnace filter is to protect your furnace’s delicate moving parts from dust and dirt. And some filters come with extra benefits, such as capturing very small particles of dander, dust, and allergens. I only use those now. You should see how quickly they fill up with gunk!

I read a review at Consumer Reports a while ago, and they did a test on furnace filters. The “cheapo” brands (the ones I always got) were horribly non-effective in filtering dust and allergens from the furnace system. The filter that got the highest grades were those by the manufacturer 3M. Those are the only ones I purchase now; they’re called Allergen Reduction Furnace Filter. They are, obviously, more expensive than the cheapo ones, but at least they do the job! And we change them every month (well, try to). So I am always looking for deals. They come in a pack of 6 and the shipping is very inexpensive. Sometimes you can snag some when there’s a good sale; however, at this time of year, sometimes things are out of stock. Don’t ever wait to order seasonal stuff like this!

It’s important to change your filters regularly. Leaving filthy filters in your furnace can cause the furnace to overheat and shut down; installing insufficient filters can cause dust and dirt to pass into your furnace motor, clogging up the works and reducing the efficiency of the furnace (which means more expensive heating bills). Be sure to change your filters regularly!

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Cold Air Return Vents

December 3, 2007


This blog gets a lot of hits from people searching Google, questioning whether they should cover their cold air return vents.

I just wanted to let you know that it is very unadvisable that you cover these vents. I did for a few years until my Furnace Guy informed me of the details.

Your home needs cold air return vents. The hot air coming from your furnace entering your house must have a source. Unless you have a very sophisticated direct-vent furnace with supply air coming from the outdoors, you need return vents. This keeps the air in your house moving and reduces air pressure from the heater vent air filling your room.

Think of it as a fan in the summer. If you put your fan in your window and open the door, what do you have? Circulating air. What happens if you close all other windows and doors in that room and still run the fan? The fan blades still work, but the circulating air supply is almost entirely choked off, and the cool air no longer vents. It eliminates the fan’s efficiency. Moreover, it makes the fan run and you are still charged for the electricity to run the fan. You are essentially paying for nothing, plus wearing out the fan motor even faster.

A forced-air furnace needs intake air to supply the outtake air. To close off your cold air return vents chokes off the intake air supply. So it not only is costing you more money to do less, it is also making your furnace work harder to run.

My Furnace Guy said that, in a perfect world, every room that has a heater vent should have a cold air return vent. There is a mathematical calculation they use to determine how many return and supply vents a room and house needs. In my old home, I only have TWO small return vents. This is not good. I am trying to fix this, knowing that it is costing me more and making my new furnace wear out sooner. The worst thing I could do is cover my cold air return vents.

So… if you are wondering whether or not you can cover the cold air return vents– no, you can’t.

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