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Restoring the Old Way of Warming: Heating People, Not Places (lowtechmagazine.com)
146 points by stonlyb on Feb 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments

It better be cheap; it's possible to build an affordable house that is well-insulated enough that the plug loads will be higher than the heating loads.

In a very cold climate, you also need to keep your house fairly warm to avoid problems like frozen pipes.

Ironically, the wasted heat caused by poor building practices can help make buildings more durable by facilitating the drying of the external walls (less of a concern in Europe where houses are often made of masonry instead of wood).

Agreed. They seemed oddly insistent on pushing their implicit premise that heating large volumes of air is wasteful.


However, the volume of air is not inextricably linked to energy expenditure, which only happens when heat flows down a gradient, not while it sits in a room. We can model it like a simple resistive circuit; the equations are analogous.

    V  = I * R
    ∆T = P * R
    P is heat energy expended per time (power)
    ∆T is the temperature difference between hottest and coldest regions
    R is thermal resistance, a measure of how insulating something is
Bringing the thermal gradients into the room (as opposed to holding them across the wall alone) adds a small, fixed bit of thermal resistance "in series" to what's already in the walls and windows.

    P = ∆T/R
    R = Rwall + Rroom
Rwall is a function of the amount of insulation, while Rroom is fixed by the geometry of the room. If Rwall==Rroom, you can save 50% of your heating bill by huddling over your heated desk. However, if Rwall=10*Rroom, which it may well be if your house is properly insulated, you can't even save 10% of your heating bill with area heating.

alricb is right: don't let the name of the site fool you. Insulation is the cheap low-tech solution that works, while spot-heating is the gimmicky high-tech solution that only works in specific circumstances and even then only after ignoring the time, money, and discomfort invested in reinventing the wheel.

There are specific circumstances where spot heating could win out, though. Consider big open areas like church naves, gym halls, concert halls, large open-plan workshops and so on. Even if it's cost-efficient to heat these when they're near their intended or maximum occupancy, it's often too expensive to heat them for say 1-3 people. (And it just takes too long to heat them if the small group of people enters at short notice.) These buildings also tend to have high ceilings, so from any point on the ceiling you're fairly likely to have a mostly unobstructed line of sight to any person in the hall. So use ceiling-mounted narrow-throw IR spot lights trained on the small number of people inside to warm them. By hitting each person from decently-widely-separated directions with two to four different heat lamps at the same time it should be possible to overcome the problem of radiant asymmetry without having to resort to local insulation. Apparently some work is being done on this at MIT: http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21615065-... http://senseable.mit.edu/local-warming/ .

Nobody is advocating a bad insulation. You said it yourself, P ~ ∆T: I think the rationale here is to lower ∆T and provide heat to your "spot" as needed. It's probably not going "mainstream" quickly either, but it can save you some energy: it's not so wild to imagine lowering your thermostat a few degrees and get a localized heat source if you seat in that one spot most time.

Right, as long as heating has a nonzero cost you will be able to forego it and save money. The more interesting question is whether or not you can maintain the same level of comfort (same interior temperature) in a small region of the room with a local heater and save money. Since exterior temperature and comfort temperature are fixed, this is the justification for ∆T=const. Most people decide that heating is worth the price as it stands; the real question is "can we make it cheaper via spot heating?"

Alricb and I think the answer is "no." Over the lifetime of a house, I would guess that the money you would spend on spot heater(s) and their electricity would net a better return if you invested it in insulation. After all, insulation keeps heat out during summer and air conditioning is much less efficient than heating :)

I've seen some truly amazing things done with passive solar (i.e. building your house to optimally capture sun radiation and store it. The greenhouse effect on steroids.) Some houses in Maine don't have any heating system at all; they are built on certain inclines, angled just the right way, with ideal ratios of windows to insulation. In some cases, large stones are strategically just inside the windows to retain and slowly release heat.

It requires an esoteric expertise, lots of charts and graphs, and freedom to customize your plot of land. But it's awesome.

Motorcyclists provide an interesting example of this principle. The extreme windchill experienced by motorcyclists makes it very difficult to keep warm - a rider travelling at 70mph at 0°C experiences a windchill of -18°C.

Many riders in northern climates use electrically heated underclothing, which, in conjunction with an insulated outer layer, can keep a rider warm with just a few watts. Better battery technology could make such garments commonplace.

Milwaukee Tool came out with a line of heated jackets, powered by the same batteries that power their drills and other tools. I believe the red ones were the first ones out, then they saw a market in the hunting crowd and came out with the camouflage version.


In Rarotonga in the winter months you can buy puffer jackets with copper wiring sewn to the inside with a 9V battery.

Very cool....how long does it last?

Some heated motorcycle jackets can be plugged to the bike's battery (you just have to install the plug somewhere accessible and connect it to the battery.) Then when you get on your bike you just have to connect your jacket and off you go. The alternator provides the power during your ride.

For ex. stuff like that: http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/gerbing-12v-ex-heated-jac...

Together with heated grips, cold is not an issue.


Apparently 5.5h on maximum power,which is pretty impressive.

As others pointed out, this older style is more suitable for masonry homes which might be less susceptible to mold and have enough thermal inertia to prevent pipe freezing.

On the flip side, you can make your house air-tight and use a heat exchanger to refresh the air while retaining the heat: that's the concept of Passive Houses[0]. Not suitable for cooling down hot & humid air (you'd have a condensation problem) but definitely an option for heating a home.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house

There's a section there that talks about hot climates - you use an energy recovery ventilation system instead of heat recovery.

At least in Japan and most parts of China, houses are poorly insulated and heating is often from aircon, which means if you want to stay warm, you wear thick clothes inside, sit under a heated blanket and what not.

This sucks.

Your nose and hands are still cold. If you want to move from the blanket its cold.

I don't see anything that really addresses this. Yeah, the insulated chair is nice when you sit on it, but what about when you need to get a cup of coffee?

I'm currently living like that in Japan. In fact I'm writing this sitting in a Kotatsu. Last week it once got 6C in the apartment. We use a DeLonghi oven, a small heater and a Kotatsu whenever we need a place to get warm. With the Kotatsu we were able to get the bill from 120$/m down to 80$/m. I have to say, one can get used to it - the constant change in temperature keeps up the blood flow and I feel a lot stronger against the cold compared to when I stayed in Switzerland, which gets a bit colder in winter outside - but always has cozy 21C inside. Only one thing: A Kotatsu is such a trap to get lazy. It's also dubbed 'bad people maker' in Japan - I can totally see why.

Wow, that looks awesome! I'm in Canada, and one of the worst things for me is having cold feet around the house. Happens no matter what I do. Heavy socks, slippers, doesn't matter. A Kotatsu looks like the perfect solution!

Ya, my wife's mom lives in south china and we just visited her over Xmas, coldest 7C I've ever had to deal with.

Japan deals with poor insulation using kotatsu, and things like heated toilet and train seats. Ugh, it still sucks though.

Well, you could always just size up one of those heated blankets, and attach it to the wall. Maybe even combine it with a more efficient fuel source like Natural Gas, and heat water that flows through the system instead of a coil. Sounds much more efficient, especially if you have multiple people in your household. Imagine a system like that...

Coming from Denmark that basically sounds like "normal" heating to me (except we usually only heat through the floor or dedicated radiators)

But I really like your idea about carpeting the walls. Might do that if I end up living here long term!

I was attempting to be srcastic and explain that mounting a radiator on a wall connected to a gas boiler would be an improvement on what we have here. Also, many places in the UK and Ireland have insulation on exterior walls already.

We were thinking about heated floors; still not that great, but the best you can do in a south Chinese apartment without central heating.

I just recently got a heating pad just for this purpose.

Its freezing here up in the NE. To save money (apartment has terrible insulation) I got a heating pad with a 'stay on' feature.

Actually I had to get another one because my cat got the idea first and now its hers.


Turned the apartment heat down to about 55 (it stays around 60 for some reason), and I move the heating pad back and forth with from my office chair to my lazy boy multiple times a day.

Feels great, and I'm very very comfortable. It must cost almost nothing to run it all day, at least a lot less than heating a 3 bedroom apartment another 10 degrees.

"(it stays around 60 for some reason)"

You're leeching heat from your neighbors.

And some larger buildings will actually attempt to charge you if they believe you are doing this. It happened to a friend of mine some years ago.

It looks like it's 180W, so it would run for about 4 pence an hour (in the UK, depending on rates).

They've got nothing on this guy:

Micro heaters cut 87% off my electric heat bill


One winter when I was younger and had my own apartment, I was shocked by how much it cost to heat the whole townhouse, so I shut the heat off, enclosed my computer desk with a 5' x 5' x 6' PVC framework over which I draped blankets. Inside was a space heater that I only had to run for 10 minutes to get the whole space nice and toasty. Moved out next year.

cmd+f "pipe"

0 results found

Try setting your heat to, say, 50 degrees F and you may discover you've got some cold spots in your house when the pipes there freeze and burst. Let alone if you try going for lower temperatures, or entirely without whole-house heating.

So set it to the low 60s and wear layers? Welcome to what anyone who's ever been even close to poor already knows.

[edit] Maybe this is more useful in places that already barely need heating. Winter lows in the 20s and 30s (F), that sort of thing.

It's pretty common around here (Copenhagen) for people to set their radiators to around 5-8 C (40-45 F) in rooms that they aren't using, or the whole house/apartment to that temperature if they're gone for more than a day or so, to save money on heating. Most radiators have a specific "frost protection" setting, indicated by a little snowflake icon, which is set by the manufacturer or building to whatever temperature they think is suitable for frost protection (mine are at 5 C / 41 F). I haven't heard of anyone having trouble with burst pipes from this setup.

Could be an issue with hollow-wall wood-frame construction and forced-air duct heating? With brick/stone construction and regularly spaced radiators, things typically won't freeze anywhere, even if you have the temperature set down to 5 C. It's also relatively uncommon for pipes here to be in outer walls; all of mine are run along or in the interior walls.

I had pipes freeze when our heater was set to 68 F. It's not a brick house and the people who built it were not professional builders so I don't think they got the insulation completely right.

I think as much as anything natural gas is cheap in the US.

Does a house usually cool all the way down to 5 if you are gone for the day? A wood house definitely would (newer houses with better insulation might not, but many standing houses would).

No fuel source--apart from a wood- or coal-fired stove--is cheap enough in the US for folks in coldish climates to be indifferent to heating costs. Natural gas is probably the best deal right now, but lots of homes have oil or electric and it doesn't make economic sense to cut over the equipment. Also bear in mind a lot of the (populated, chilly) northeastern US's average housing stock is older than many other places.

I think there are quite a lot of people who aren't terribly concerned about their heating costing $2,000 vs $1500, and even more at $750 vs $500.

That doesn't mean there aren't lots of people on the other side of it making sure to mind every dollar, just that you might expect the full range of anecdotes in a typical discussion.

> It makes good sense to return to this concept of heating, but that doesn't mean that we have to go back to using fireplaces and carrying burning embers around the house. While the old concept of heating is more energy-efficient, the same cannot be said of most of the old heating devices.

Two problems meet one stone - hydronic heating (http://www.warmmfloors.com/ | http://www.hydronicheating.net/)

Just use local heating (Heat Tape) on your pipes too. No need to heat the whole crawlspace just to keep your pipes from freezing.

This sounds like a good idea until mold starts growing in your house.

Back in the day the houses were not insulated as tightly and people did not shower every day.

Depending on the exact climate/heating system, the energy saved might be enough to run a dehumidifier and still come out ahead. The dehumidifier will also raise the air temperature.

Recently, I've been wondering why we use exhaust fans in bathrooms and not dehumidifiers. I might be way off base here, but it seems like taking conditioned air that's a little moist and dumping it outside and replacing it with drier unconditioned air would be less efficient than just removing the moisture from the already-conditioned air.

I imagine it isn't one of those things where it's "always cheaper to do X", but there's probably a break-even point. Does anyone know how to do the math to draw that chart?

Think about some of the other things that happen in the bathroom, and ask yourself whether you'd want that air recirculating in your house.

too dry air ain't very good for your "mucous" membranes (nose, throat, eyes etc). You want to be sicker just to save few bucks for heating? If poor, I guess it's the only option, but otherwise having heated place is same "luxury" as say buying a cheap & good coffee in the morning instead of doing it yourself...

Invest ten bucks in a hygrometer and open the windows when the humidity gets too high. Mold is not caused by cold temperatures.

Mold is caused by humidity. One way to increase humidity in building's shell is to have humid air and large thermal gradients in poorly ventilated areas. Opening windows does not help in the humidity that gets into structures when air with vapour enters colder structural parts of the building and releases it's moisture. Warmer houses-> the point where moisture is released moves closer to outer wall. That's at least my laymans understanding of one of the mechanisms which affect houses.

true, proper term is "dew point" I believe, that's where all the wet magic happens (however weird that sentence looks like, it's perfectly normal)

Just a (cheap) shot in the dark, but I suspect that readers of "low tech magazine" might not shower every day either.

In the UK we have plenty of old houses where there is no central heating, double glazing, loft insulation or fitted carpet. Typically the windows are wood framed 'sash' windows with the walls made from quite thick stone (1 - 4+ ft thick). Heating might be just the one fireplace with the kitchen cooker also there to warm the house up. I grew up in such a house and not once did I see mould.

Typically such houses were built centuries ago for 'cottage industries' such as making cloth. Back then family sizes were much larger so herds of children would also warm the place up. There might also be an actual herd of animals too - pets as well as livestock, e.g. goats.

Also changed is global warming - the pipes would freeze in the 1970's. Nowadays, nada.

There was an art to keeping warm. Most important - the fire. This would be open and powered by coal or wood. It would not be 'turned on' until the evening or early afternoon if it was the weekend (in winter). Once started the fire would suck air from wherever possible so that was the primary source of a draft. To mitigate the draft thick curtains would be the thing. The front door would have a curtain as would internal doors to the living room.

If you wanted to keep the fire 'in' for the next day you could smother the fire in coal and keep the ashes in underneath. Air would by restricted that way so the fire would slowly burn through the available fuel. Rake it through in the morning, top up with more coal and perhaps some kindling (a word I haven't used in a while) and the fire would live another day. The default would be 'off' though.

As for clothing, one word - layers. Wool rather than cotton or anything else. The layers approach also worked for the bed. If you were lucky you might have a hot water bottle, otherwise no heat in the bedrooms.

Due to the thick stone walls heat would be retained in winter and cold during summer. Consequently, regardless of the time of year, there would never be 'T-Shirt' weather indoors. You would be acclimatised to the cold and expect to see your breath in most of the house mid winter. There would also be that thing where the side of you facing the fire would be red hot whilst your back would be freezing. To solve this problem you would need the air to circulate, so no standing right in front of the fire, blocking the heat, even if that was very pleasurable to do.

A cast iron fire grate would be red hot and in your living room. Today's central heating does not do 'red hot' in the living room - radiators don't glow bright red like that although electric 'bar' fires get close.

As for showers, a bath, once a week was it. We actually had a copper bath in front of the fire and that was filled with a hose connected to a twin-tub washing machine. Emptying the bath involved making an actual siphon, there was none of this 'plug' and 'plumbing' convenience. Needless to say it was very easy to dry off in front of the fire and towels would be toasty.

Personally I prefer watching a fire to watching TV.

Indoor fires are a massive, massive health risk. They are a major cause of death in many countries where open fires are still the main heat source for cooking. Even closed fireplaces are an environmental hazard, but more for the surroundings. (I have a closed fireplace myself, got it installed about a year ago, I'm not some tree hugger - but the facts are clear on this one).

The smothering of the fire is even worse. Try smothering a closed fireplace and watch the glass of the doors turn black in a few hours. That's all stuff that would have gone into the room, and into the lungs of those in there, had there not been a door in the fireplace; and even with a door, there is still hazardous material that makes it into the room.

We had a chimney to take care of the smoke and the air draughted in was clean, 'country' air. There is also the matter of efficient burning, wet coal means a chimney lined with soot.

The fire was also a 'dustbin' of sorts, you could incinerate anything if you wanted. But plastics would give off dioxins etc. but there would be no smell from chucking a plastic bag on the fire unless the fire was dying out.

Thinking of others though...

We made our towns and cities 'smokeless zones' many aeons ago due to the soot making buildings black and 'pea-soupers'. Ironically the first smokeless zone in the UK was in the street next to the factory that made 'smokeless coal'. Needless to say the 'smokeless coal' factory was a massive polluter.

Even with a chimney, an open fireplace is very dangerous because open fireplaces do not burn hot enough to burn cleanly. True, wet coal (and wet wood) make things even worse, but an open open fireplace with bone dry coal (or wood) still doesn't burn cleanly. Burning anything plastic, rubber etc. is still dangerous, even if you don't smell anything.

Closed fireplaces are a bit better but still dangerous, although (as you note) more outside the house than inside. Wood or coal smoke is as dangerous as car exhaust fumes, or worse, in terms of particulate matter, although of course in most urban areas there is more particulate matter from cars than there is from burning wood or coal. But measured levels of particulate matters in rooms with fireplaces are as high as right next to highways, and often people spend more time in those rooms than they do next to highways.

Anyway, lots of people grew up in houses that were heated with coal or wood fires and only a small part of them got cancer from it, and as I mentioned I had one installed last year because as they say 'it's easy to live to 100: just give up everything that makes it worth to live to 100'. It's just that this is one of my pet peeves to bring up to people (not saying you are one of those) who think they're doing the environment a favor by not burning gas but by burning wood - because hey, wood is 'renewable', right? It's quite strange that so few people know about the health impacts of fireplaces, the scientific literature is crystal clear on it yet I know of very few places where residential burning of wood is subject to regulation, let alone prohibited.

You are correct, however, there is just one thing. Despite our low-tech primitive home, we also had a PAH monitor as in an industrial bit of kit that measures polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This could detect cigarette smoke that had been acquired on one's breath down the pub an hour ago after a four mile walk home. As a teenager I found this out 'the hard way'!!! Oddly enough it did not bleep because the fire was 'on' and burning coal.

Anyway, I am willing to think differently about open fires, but again, there is an art to having a fire. Building the thing and having it reliably start with just the one match was a skill. I think that the size of the fireplace was also important, to create a draught we could use a broadsheet newspaper opened out and held over the fireplace surround. This would get it going burning with ridiculously huge flames and a rocket-style roar.

Some people just don't get physics and plenty of friend's houses had those horrible wood burning stoves that were a complete waste of time. Alternatively there would be those huge fireplaces with no potential to do the 'newspaper trick' for getting it going. These fires just lacked the airflow that a proper fireplace/grate/fire combo should provide.

It is a pity that I don't have the PAH monitor, the fire and the other variables needed to checkout what you are saying for myself. That said, the PAH monitor only worked on things like benzene, I imagine that there is everything up to and including uranium, asbestos and sulphur to check too.

To be fair those indoor cooking fires often have no or poor chimneys.

But then again, a good chimney draws a lot of heat straight up and out of the property. If you're lucky there's a hot-water tank that gets some of the heat.

Regarding the circulation problem, you might want to look at the 'ecofan':


It's a heatsink with a peltier sandwiched in the middle that drives a fan. Works pretty well for wood burners. Also it's just fun to get electrical energy from your stove :)

It's worth bearing in mind that coal is the most environmentally destructive of all energy sources, by a hefty margin. Wood is renewable, but most people don't live in places with the kind of big surplus of wood you would need for everyone to use it as fuel.

A complementing approach is to teach yourself and others to tolerate lower temperatures, especially in offices and other environments, where people have to agree on a "comfy" heater setting. I wonder how much energy that could save.

This is really true. Where I am from, we discuss a six-week period or so when the season changes, from shitty to other-shitty, in which we say either your blood or skin thickens to the cold, or your blood thins for the warmth. (somehow, the skin never thins) I have no idea if this has any scientific basis.

Anecdotally, the partner of the Columbian who shares an office with me is complaining that she is now used to colder temperatures.

Except: fat people and thin people

Adjust with woolen clothing. I can vary between 25°C and 15°C just by taking off stuff or putting it back on. (Also needs adjustments for movement since I warm up fast when I move.)

I find it interesting that they continually use the past tense in the article. While it is true that the west has largely abandoned these ideas, they are still very strong in the more temperate climates of Asia. I live in Shizuoka prefecture in Japan. It does not get very cold here compared to my home town of Winnipeg, Canada. On the very coldest days it might just dip below freezing at night. While some people heat their homes, my experience is that most do not.

It took me a long time to get used to it, but I prefer living this way. Since most people have not experienced it, I will point out a few things.

1) I would not do this if the normal daytime temperature was not above freezing. People's comments about water pipes bursting, etc, etc are right on. But more to the point, it's just plain dangerous for your health. Instead, I would heat the house to just above 5 degrees C (41 F) (see next point).

2) From experience, 5 degrees is the point at which my body starts to have trouble. Below that, my extremities shut down and frostbite is absolutely certain unless I am careful. Also, if you do not pay attention to your body, it is easy to get too cold. This can raise your blood pressure. Then when you warm yourself up, your blood pressure can crash. This can give you severe headaches and can even be quite dangerous. To be honest, I'm actually fine down to freezing temps if I pay attention, but the point at which I need to pay attention seems to be about 5 degrees C.

3) Baths/showers. Some people commented about mold. Where I live, mold is a constant problem because in the summer it often goes weeks on end without the temperature dropping below 30C (86F) even at night. Humidity is usually in the 80% range. So we have mold problems all the time. The key is to wipe down the surfaces with a towel after you have a bath and to air things out frequently (see next point). But a bath/shower (preferably bath) is practically mandatory when it is very cold. If you don't warm yourself up at least a few times a day, you will have health problems. The best time is right before you go to bed (this took a lot of getting used to!). That's the time your body needs the heat the most.

4) Airing out the house. The thing I could never figure out about Japanese culture was opening the windows in the middle of winter every hour or so to "exchange the air". Many people will use a small kerosene heater, so you need to do this so that you don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning. We use a charcoal hibachi (ceramic vase with ashes -- not a BBQ) to heat small areas and need to do the same. But even if you are using fancy electric radiant heaters (see below), Japanese people air out their houses frequently. That's because they aren't heating the air. I now do it religiously too and I'm convinced that it makes me feel better (the old me would think me absolutely crazy and probably many people reading this think so too!)

5) Even though you are heating bodies, not air, it is best to create small microclimates as stated in the article. Sliding paper doors and shoji screens are the traditional way of doing it in Japan. A low coffee table with a blanket over it and possibly a heater underneath as well (kotatsu) is amazingly nice. It always seems a shame to destroy the cozy atmosphere when you "exchange the air", but since the space is small, it heats up again very quickly.

6) In Japan they recently came out with "smart" heaters. They have cameras which can identify people and aim jets of warm air at the people. I've never actually tried it, but people tell me they are amazing. Heating bodies, not air does not have to be low tech!

7) Within reason, getting cold and then getting warm again is a pleasurable experience. The thing I look forward to most in the winter are things like jumping into bed with a hot water bottle when you are cold (seriously, if you have never tried it, it's incredible). Eating hot soups and stews in the winter are amazing. Warming your hands with a hot cup of coffee is wonderful.

When I first came to Japan, I asked an old woman what I could do to learn Japanese culture. She told me that to be Japanese is to be acutely aware of the seasons. It is the contrast that makes life interesting. In the winter it is cold and in the summer it is hot. Avoiding the season by constantly adjusting your environment robs you of that contrast. Over many years, I have learned to appreciate and enjoy that advice, although at first it was horrible ;-) With time and experience, though, I feel that I am much better off living this way. I hope this proves to be interesting to those who have never experienced this way of life.

According to my sister-in-law, central heating is more-or-less nonexistent in Croatia. Then again, so is the building insulation where she lived, so the two were likely related.

For the カビ in the bathroom, just dilute some bleach at 20% and put it in a spray pot. Apply once a week. Problem solved.

Same for the mold washing machine. Do one cycle with about 200cc of bleach. You can also wash dirty white clothes.

Man! How long does it take to get used to temperatures like that? As someone who grew up in California, I simply can't stand cold houses. If a house is anything but warm in the winter — let alone 5°C — I get depressed and miserable and completely lose my concentration. My home gets stripped of its homeyness and I feel completely hostage to the environment.

Ummm... This is my 6th winter. It is probably the first winter that I have consistently enjoyed ;-) Every year it gets better as I learn what to do and what not to do. My mother in law has several forms of heat in her house but absolutely refuses to turn it on. For a few years I was quite worried about her, but I've since realized that she just likes winter. It is massive culture shock at the beginning, though.

Being uncomfortable seems like something you should avoid. I think this is the general culture of the west. However, as I have adapted to this way of living I've come to realize that there are 2 kinds of discomfort -- discomfort that injures you and discomfort that doesn't injure you. You can ignore the latter.

Perhaps the easiest way I can explain it is through food. Many people love spicy food. The spicier the better. But it hurts! Why would you do that to yourself? Similarly, in the US (and spreading fairly rapidly), incredibly bitter beers are getting quite popular. Some of the highest rated beers are actually hitting the threshold of bitterness that we can taste. The reason people like these spicy and bitter foods is because along with the pain comes an amazing flavour. If you could have the flavour without the pain, it wouldn't be nearly as nice because it would be cloying.

This is also true of cold winters and hot summers. I admit that my capacity to enjoy 30+ degree weather with 80-90 percent humidity far exceeds my capacity to enjoy 5 degree weather with wind, but both are increasing each year.

If you would like to try this, I don't think there is any particular need to turn off your heat every day through the winter. On a day that you feel strong, accept that you will be miserable and turn off the heat. Then spend the day trying to find good things (you have to try a hot water bottle!!!). You will probably hate it, but you may surprise yourself that you discover some very nice things. Just like getting used to hot food, you can try it occasionally and perhaps even start to enjoy it.

Hmm, that's a very interesting way to look at it. So you would say you've grown to enjoy the cold? I can definitely relate in that I used to hate bitter beers and spicy foods, but now I've conditioned myself to love them by forcing myself to eat them over the years. Eventually, hate turned to tolerance turned to love. But there, I could see the benefit: both opened up an entirely new world of food for me. What does the cold get you, aside from a lower heating bill?

I would have to say that I don't actually like the cold :-) What I like is the contrast. The sun is nice. The sun shining down on you in a protected area (or through a window!) on a cold day is indescribably wonderful. I never used to like soup particularly much, but on a cold day I practically die for it. That kind of thing.

Seems related to a recent news about nanowire clothes for personal heating:


This said, I tried working at my computer for a few hours in a cold room with layers on but, obviously, no gloves, and my hands didn't like it.

The same was at school age: to save on heating we'd only heat up the kitchen (around 19C, 65F) so my brothers and I would do our homework there instead of our rooms (15C, or 59F).

I spent a couple of months on a mountain at temps down to -20C and high winds with no heating without getting cold by wearing a down suit like this


but I can't see it catching on. People like their comforts.

They look like they start at around $1000+, which means you are looking at about 1 year before it pays itself off. Based on my estimated heating bill anyway.

Additionally the biggest problem I find when turning off the heating in winter is hands and feet. You can wear gloves but then you can't type.

I like fingerless gloves (or get cheap ones and cut the tips off), but I also know people who feel hindered by them.

I do too but endlessly explaining to colleagues\friends why I'm wearing "homeless" gloves is tiresome. I don't know why people fail to see their utility, and indeed forget the explanation after a week and ask me again :-/

I remember seeing something about an idea to use individual wristbands that would give off electric impulses which would make you feel cooler or warmer. I believe some prototypes were being worked on. Wish I could recall the people / startup involved. Does it ring a bell for anyone?


3 Points:

1. Cars are moving into this with heated seats, and even heated steering wheels. Electric cars in cooler climates that don't have the excess heat production of an IC engine will depend on it to keep occupants warm.

2. There was an article a while back on HN about a fellow that had a computer desk with a heated keyboard, heated mouse, heated floor mat (designed for animal cages) and a warm incandescent light pointing at them.

3. The IoT can't happen fast enough. I want my electric blanket to talk to my HVAC system to know when to turn each other on or off. And my HVAC to interact with my flight schedule or my phone's GPS to turn up/down the temperature and know when to turn on so it's still toasty when I get home.

Heated steering wheels might seem like frivolities at first glance, but they're actually an important safety measure.

Lots of people drive with only the fingertips of one hand in the cold mornings because of cold steering wheels. Heating the steering wheel encourages the driver to keep both hands on the wheel, which is particularly valuable in winter when road conditions can be poor.

This is actually even more important in cooler climates, where you may need to scrape the ice off of your car right before driving. Having frozen hands most definitely does not make driving easier.

> 1. Cars are moving into this with heated seats

Moving into? I thought this has been commonplace for a while now? My parents 1991 model Volvo had heated seats. Maybe it's only common in colder climates.

It's not as common-place in base models as, say, air conditioning is.

There are examples where the base model of a car in Canada comes with heated seats, but it's an extra in the USA.

"The IoT can't happen fast enough. I want my electric blanket to talk to my HVAC system to know when to turn each other on or off. And my HVAC to interact with my flight schedule or my phone's GPS to turn up/down the temperature and know when to turn on so it's still toasty when I get home."

I have these things right now (well, not the flight schedule thing since that happens so little that I prefer manual control) with a few hundred $ worth of home automation gear and a regular PC as the control center. Anyone with a bit of hacker mindset can build such a thing, really.

Our video is a bit outdated but we are building an HVAC solution to make at least room level control a reality as well as seamless.


I don't know about other people but since I have to pay for heating I am deeply interested in this topic. The article provides a conclusion, but what are solution options? How to exactly use the classic principles with modern technology for more efficiency?

And the second point is that I am a lot more comfortable in an air heated system than a radiator system. Having a radiator warming me means one side of me is too warm and the other too cold, also eyes and breathing pathways get dried out a lot more, and I still need more clothing. Wearing less and having no dried eyes is a clear advantage of air heating.

Tune in next week to find out!

Down here in Australia central heating is (also) not very common, and at least around Melbourne it can dip to freezing or below throughout July and August. Generally only one room of the house is heated (often the room with the air conditioner on heat setting). Beds have electric blankets or hot water bottles, and otherwise you wear several layers if you want to be warm elsewhere. The curious thing is that gas is prevalent but gas furnaces are not, and electricity is too expensive to use to heat an entire house.

I think it's crazy how badly we insulate our houses in Australia. I live in Brisbane, and many houses just aren't insulated at all, like old Queenslanders [1] that just let the wind blow through underneath the floorboards and in through cracks in the walls, and even new-builds hardly have any... You'd think it never gets cold here, but it really does for a couple of months at least... What you end up with is houses that cost craploads to heat or cool and just have generally terrible thermal performance.

Sydney and Melbourne (that have colder winters) aren't much better...

I hope to build a house eventually, and fully intend to pack it with insulation, air-seal it as much as possible, use all double-glazed windows, and then use an energy recovery ventilation system to stop condensation and mould problems and reduce the load on the heating/cooling system. From my research, it looks like even a small PV solar system on the roof should be enough to completely offset the heating and cooling costs and keep the entire building at a comfortable temperature.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queenslander_%28architecture%2...

New Zealand is much the same with cheap uninsulated houses plus some bonus mold from a humid winter. Living in poorer korea now but the standard of living is higher just because they bother to insulate their houses.

Christopher Alexander (of the Patterns fame) gives props to this concept in "A Pattern Language": Pattern 230, "Radiant Heat":http://patterns-dev.github.io/patterns/newpat/newpat230/newp...

I'm disappointed not to see anything about "Human Heater." Just microwave 'em!

This reminds me of Human Heater from HBO's Silicon Valley.

Same thought, It's tagline was "Making World a Better Place" :) !! People reaction was "Brutal"

or you could just move to the tropics ;-)

Miami is nice this time of year. actually all year round.

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