Energy-Saving Home Heating Tips from the Past

Our Ancestors Had a Different Philosophy When It Came to Staying Warm

The first step in energy self-sufficiency is paying attention to things we sometimes take for granted. Knowing that you are only able to generate a certain amount of energy to rely on during the day makes measuring consumption and reducing waste essential.

In North America, the highest percentage of household energy consumption goes to heating. As society has become more energy conscious, we’ve started using less, thanks to better insulation and more efficient furnaces. However, heating still accounts for about 40 percent of our utility bill.

In the twentieth century, home heating changed radically. The modern approach is to heat the air in our homes. Every room now maintains a constant temperature throughout, even if we’re rarely in it.

The Traditional Approach

In earlier days, we focused heat on where the people were, relying on local heat sources and insulation to retain that warmth.

During the day, people would rely on physical activity and warm clothes to keep their temperatures up. When the sun went down, people would gather around a communal hearth. A similar tradition has survived into modern times in Japan with the traditional Kotatsu, around which people will work, watch TV and eat meals. The Kotatsu is a table with a built-in electric heater, surrounded by a heavy blanket for insulation.

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Since we need less heat when we’re physically active, such as when working in the kitchen or doing housework, it makes more sense to turn down the thermostat and rely on local heat sources when we’re less active. As the previously cited article on Low-Tech Magazine points out, a single degree reduction in temperature can lower our heating bill by up to ten percent. Fortunately, there are lots of energy-efficient innovations that don’t require us to stay by the fireplace. What follows are some ways to keep warm that utilize these time-tested principles.

One of the drawbacks of forced-air furnaces is that, due to the tendency of warm air to rise, the most comfortable air temperature can wind up being over our heads. Meanwhile, cold floors chill our feet. Underfloor radiant heat has been in use since ancient times when Romans built underground chambers, called hypocausts, to channel hot air for heating floors and walls. Modern underfloor heating uses electrical wiring or hot water pipes. A simpler alternative is heated rugs and mats. Retailers like offer heated chair mats, footrests, and other alternatives that let you turn your office or leisure space into a cozy hot spot.

Modern Innovations

Bringing the heat source as close to your body as possible is more efficient because there’s less opportunity for heat loss to the environment. Heated clothes, such as socks and sweaters, are ideal in this regard. Recent advancements in rechargeable battery technology have made this a more viable option than it has been in the past, with some garments offering 10 hours of heat on a single battery charge.

After our feet, our hands are the part of our bodies most sensitive to cold. A nearby heat source like the Italian designed Egloo provides a safe, quiet heat source within easy reach that uses no electricity. It uses the heat retaining properties of terra cotta to provide a long-lasting radiant heat source for your desktop or table. They start at $90, but they can be easily replicated at home using a flowerpot and tea lights.

Using enclosed spaces is another time-tested method for retaining heat. An example of this is the classic four-poster bed, which uses a suspended ceiling and drapes. It’s like a smaller room inside the bedroom to retain heat during the night. A compact, modern version of this is a bed-mountable tent, which keeps the occupant warm without restricting airflow.

Anyone who’s lived through a power failure in winter knows the shortcomings of being reliant on one source of heating. Having multiple diverse strategies for keeping warm can add peace of mind in addition to helping save energy. Arranging the furniture to make better use of radiant heat from the fireplace, or changing from one room to another as the sun moves west are examples of how easy it can be to keep warm more affordably through simple lifestyle changes.

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