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Old 10-22-09, 05:06 AM   #1
AC_Hacker
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Default Reducing the Heated Area of a House...

I was at a solar conference a few years ago, and I got into a conversation with a white-haired gentleman from British Columbia, Canada. At one point in the conversation, he described to me how life was for him, growing up on a farm in Ontario, Canada.


"In the winter, we all spent our time in the kitchen, because that was the warmest place in the house."

That first got me to thinking about the idea of reducing fuel consumption by reducing the heated area of the house.

And then I ran across a book that addressed energy efficient architecture, and I saw a diagram of a house that had a central warm area, surrounded by 'buffer zones'. These buffer zones could be unheated halls or storage rooms, etc.



I also remembered reading a book wherein the author reminisces about his first date, and about going to get his girlfriend who was Polish and how her family lived in the basement during the cold Chicago winter. He beautifully described the strangeness of walking through the cold dimly lit house, and down the basement stairs, to be enveloped by the warmth and comfort and the delicious smells of the pot of soup simmering on the wood burning stove in the cellar.


So I have been trying my own kind of heated area reduction. I have found that normal doors don't make such good barriers for reducing the heated areas. In fact, I have discovered that quilted covers or sleeping bags make much better heat barriers. I have noticed that visitors quite frequently remark how warm it is in the heated area, as they pass through the quilted cover. I think that even a thin quilt has a higher R-value than most interior doors. Also, because the quilted cover is fastened at the top, it doesn't spill out the warm air, and you never have to tell anyone to please close the door... gravity does that automatically.


Here's a photo of my quilt door. It's nice and thick and has images of surfing vehicles, and tropical flowers. Helps cheer up the grey days. When I want to have full fresh air flow through the house, I roll up the quilt and prop it up into place with a big crooked stick I found on the beach. It all looks so funky that nobody has ever commented. Of course, Velcro would work better, but I'd lose the dramatic effect. The other door, barely seen to tthe left in the photo, goes into an unheated buffered room. I'm looking for a lively quilt for that opening.

I tried the idea of heated area reduction in the beginning of last winter, I was using central heat, and just confining it to one room. It didn't work so well because the firebox and blower were designed for a much higher output. The heating quality was really not so good.

So toward the end of last winter I bought the smallest mini split I could find (9,000 BTU). It looks similar to this photo (my own mini split is squeezed in behind a bush and is hard to photograph):


I got an 'inverter technology' unit, because it can modulate it's heat output over a pretty large range. I have confined the mini split to heating my living room only. The quality of the heat is way better than the central heat ever was. Best of all, and I realize that it's early in the heating season, but heating is presently costing me about $1.85 per week...

Has anyone else had thoughts or taken action along the line of reducing the heated area of house?

Best Regards,

-AC_Hacker

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Last edited by AC_Hacker; 10-23-09 at 12:44 PM.. Reason: better photo
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Old 10-22-09, 10:20 AM   #2
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I have really cold areas in my house, but the issue is, is that we have our living room in that area. The layout is kind of dumb really. And the master bedroom is probably the warmest room in the house and I think that's only because it's closest to the heating system.

Something I find dumb that is related to this, is...when they build a house, and put in the heating system in the basement, they put in the main square vent and all the other vents leading to the rooms in the house branch off that vent. Why in the world, do they put the vent closer thing (my technical term) halfway into the vent or almost at the end of the vent where it comes out of the register? Shouldn't they put it near the beginning of the branched vent where, if you close it, it won't use up all that heat running halfway through the branched vent first? To me, you'd lose a lot of heat that way.

I think the quilt/curtain idea would work way better then conventional doors. Give you a unique feel to the house too...and it wouldn't cost as much to upgrade your doors...AND when people get mad there would be nothing to slam shut...lol.
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Old 10-22-09, 02:42 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Higgy View Post
I think the quilt/curtain idea would work way better ... when people get mad there would be nothing to slam shut...lol.
In the long Manitoba winter, this could be very importnt!

So, if your furnace is in the basement, have you considered making your basement into the winter living room?

With soft, quiet quilt doors of course...

By the way, I edited the previous entry to show the actual quilt door I'm using. I initially made the previous post late at night and didn't want to mess with the camera thing.


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-AC_Hacker
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Old 10-23-09, 02:14 AM   #4
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I've been toying with the idea of enclosing a balcony in the NW face of our house to create an unheated buffer zone. It's going to be hard to convince the other occupants, especially since we have more important renovations waiting for funds...

Here in Poland quilts have been in action for decades, if not centuries. During the winter, many stores and homes have one hanging about 1-2 meters in from the entrance, creating a vestibule. This keeps the warm air in the rest of the space from exiting when the door is open. Unfortunately some stores, especially the high-end fancy ones, don't want to have anything to do with quilts. For some unknown reason they prefer to keep their doors wide open year round, in the summer heat and in the freezing cold. They think that a blower over the entrance creates an air curtain holding the cool/warmth in. It makes me cringe when I see this.

Most houses here are constructed with a small (2-3 sq.m.) entry room, often unheated, to keep the house's heat from escaping. Almost all Amercian houses that I've seen don't have this: the front door opens up into a large hall area, next to the living room.

Many homes (and even apartments) have double doors, ie two doors on one frame - one opens in, the other out. This creates an air pocket that greatly improves insulation. My Brother-in-law recently insulated his front door on the inside. I'll see if I can get some pictures.

Advanced HVAC systems allow you to have 'zones'. For example at night only the bedrooms (upstairs) are heated, while during the day only the ground floor is warm. Closing the vent/radiator in an unused room, allowing it to be a few degrees cooler, also helps reduce heating losses.

That's great that you have the mini split. Makes me jealous


BTW: AC, I can't see the picture of the quilt door.
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Old 10-23-09, 01:26 PM   #5
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Default Quilt Door picture is fixed...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
I've been toying with the idea of enclosing a balcony in the NW face of our house to create an unheated buffer zone.
Good project. I have one room in my house that has buffer zones on five sides, leaving only one exterior wall. This room is already the coolest in the summer and the warmest in the winter. I'm looking to frame up a small solarium on that wall that would be the sixth buffer wall and also could be used as a green house room in the very early spring, similar to your balcony.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
Here in Poland quilts have been in action for decades, if not centuries. During the winter, many stores and homes have one hanging about 1-2 meters in from the entrance, creating a vestibule. This keeps the warm air in the rest of the space from exiting when the door is open.
Yes, many of these practices are very old. Easily discarded, but also easily rediscovered.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
My Brother-in-law recently insulated his front door on the inside. I'll see if I can get some pictures.
Yes, I'd like to see that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
For example at night only the bedrooms (upstairs) are heated...
I have found that I really sleep better, when I sleep in a cold bedroom, with lots of covers. But I don't like to get into a cold bed. So I have an electric blanket that I turn on about hour before I go to bed, and turn off when I get into the bed. It's a very inexpensive luxury. I made a timer out of a discarded electric coffee pot timer. Once set, it goes on at the same time each day (evening in this case) for two hours, and then off. I set it to go on a 9:30 PM and if it isn't off when I go to bed, I turn it off.


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Originally Posted by Piwoslaw View Post
BTW: AC, I can't see the picture of the quilt door.
It should be visible now...

Regards,

-AC_Hacker
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Old 10-24-09, 01:35 PM   #6
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Here are pictures of my brother-in-law's door insulation. The door itself is wooden, nothing fancy. This is the view from outside, inside was identical.



The insulation is a piece of fake leather (I think?) with a thin layer of some kind of sponge/foam insulation on one side (No pics of that, sorry). This covers the whole house side of the door, wraping around the edges.





It creates a layer of air between it and the door, which insulates not only thermally, but also acustically. I forgot to ask the price, but it shouldn't be too expensive. Brother-in-law is very happy with it, says that it's much warmer in his unheated entry room, plus it's so much quieter.
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Old 10-26-09, 10:33 AM   #7
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Woah...that's quite the quilt door.

We have actually thought about setting up a room in the basement as the winter living room. But I still have to finish the basement first. I think it will be really nice once we're done. I want to spray foam the basement possibly, and put one inch rigid foam on the floor then put interlocking plywood or OSB board on top, so it should make it really cozy down there.

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