Fall is rapidly turning into winter, and in many places in the Northern Hemisphere, homes are already submerged in snow and ice. However, even if you have started heating your home for the cold season, you might not be doing so with peak efficiency.
There are good ways to heat up a room, like a space heater or a wood-burning fire, and then there are great ways to heat up a room, which do so quickly, enduringly and with minimal energy waste. If you are struggling to find the best way to heat up your home, here are some solutions for you to try.
Understand the Heating Options
Setting aside options like “blankets,” “wood-burning stoves,” “hot water bottles” and “arson,” you essentially have three ways to heat up a room: central heating, steam heating and electrical heating. Each option has pros and cons, which you should learn before deciding what is best for your home.
Central heating systems rely on a furnace, which typically burns gas to heat the air that is forced into the various rooms around a home, but there are some furnaces that use electricity for heating. These days, new construction homes are built with central heating, which is advantageous because central heating is much more efficient than other heating options. You can install central heating into an older home that currently lacks the system, but it does require you to find space to place a furnace and run ductwork — in other words, you will need an attic, basement or crawlspace. Central heating is relatively affordable to maintain and repair, but annual maintenance is necessary to ensure a system remains functional.
Steam heating, or hot water heating, is the more formal name for using radiators in each room to provide heat. Boilers bring water up in temperature and send the steam or water through pipes to baseboard or vertical units located in each room. Radiators take up space year-round, and they tend to suffer from both plumbing problems, like rust and water leaks, and heating problems, like overheating or underheating, making diligent maintenance a must. Plus, the warm air isn’t often well-distributed in the room; it tends to hover in the space directly surrounding the radiator. Generally, radiators are being replaced by central heating or by less fussy electric space heaters.
Electric heaters tend to be ductless or portable heating units used to warm a relatively small area of a home. Also called space heaters, electric heaters aren’t terribly efficient; because they have no method of dispersing their heat, similar to radiators they are only good for individual rooms or close proximity. Fortunately, space heaters come in nearly every shape and size, from wall-mounted and baseboard heaters to tabletop units, making them useful emergency tools or heating solutions for rooms that don’t receive central heating. If you cannot make serious modifications to your home, or if you need a temporary and affordable heating solution, an electric heater is a wise choice.
To sum up, central heating is ideal for most buildings, but if you live in an older home, you should opt for electric heating, which tends to be faster, more affordable and more reliable than steam and other heating solutions.
Look for Heat Loss
Heat loss is a process where the warm air of your home leaks out through cracks and through the surfaces of your home, such as the walls, ceiling and floors. Replacing all that escaping warm air is cold air from the outdoors — so if you aren’t doing anything to stop heat loss, your rooms are doomed to be chilly all winter long.
Your first step should be winterizing your home by checking for drafts and sealing cracks, especially in weak areas of your home, like around windows and doors. A good technique for this his holding a burning stick of incense or a lit candle where you suspect you might have heat loss; if the smoke or flame flickers, you know where to check for air leaks.
There is no way to entirely prevent heat loss through your walls and ceiling, but insulation can make your heating efforts more efficient. Your attic should contain between 12 and 15 inches of insulation; it is good to check the level once per year and add more when necessary. The insulation in your walls can also degrade over time, but adding insulation to finished, closed walls can be tricky. You might want to hire a professional for that job.
Keep Rooms Clean and Clear
Regardless of what heating solution you choose, you can ensure greater heating efficiency by keeping your space well-organized throughout the cold months. Specifically, you don’t want to block off the radiator, the vents or any other heating apparatus; though you might be tempted to hide these relatively unsightly elements behind furniture, doing so traps the warm air, preventing it from spreading into the rest of the room and keeping you warm.
Additionally, you shouldn’t allow dust bunnies or animal hair to coagulate around your heating elements because they too will prevent the proliferation of heat. Worse, dust, dander and small debris can be sucked through the vents into the ducts, where they are harder to reach. If your ductwork becomes clogged, your heating won’t run efficiently, raising your energy bills and keeping your home ice-cold — and it could be a fire hazard, too. Though it might seem like a pain, reorganizing your furniture and being thorough with your wintertime cleaning should keep your rooms warmer throughout the cold season.
Watch Your Windows
Heating can be expensive, so it is best to take full advantage of whatever free or cheap heating you have available. Most folks take this to mean “bundle up” using sweaters, warm socks and layers of blankets, but it also means you should keep your window coverings open as much as possible, allowing the winter sun to shine into your room and add heat. This process is called passive solar heating, and it has for centuries been among the most effective ways to keep homes warm. If you are considering a more significant remodel of your home, you might add large windows to its south face, so you can maximize the effect of the winter sunshine. However, even if you can’t change your home in this way, you can benefit by keeping all your windows as light and bright as possible during the daytime.
Heating homes is tricky. Sometimes, the best solution for someone else’s room isn’t the best solution for yours. While you endure the season ahead, you should consider how you might benefit from a different heating strategy next time around.