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).
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
P = ∆T/R
R = Rwall + Rroom
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.
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 :)
It requires an esoteric expertise, lots of charts and graphs, and freedom to customize your plot of land. But it's awesome.
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.
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.
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. Not suitable for cooling down hot & humid air (you'd have a condensation problem) but definitely an option for heating a home.
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?
Japan deals with poor insulation using kotatsu, and things like heated toilet and train seats. Ugh, it still sucks though.
But I really like your idea about carpeting the walls. Might do that if I end up living here long term!
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.
You're leeching heat from your neighbors.
Micro heaters cut 87% off my electric heat bill
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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.
 Maybe this is more useful in places that already barely need heating. Winter lows in the 20s and 30s (F), that sort of thing.
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.
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).
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.
Two problems meet one stone - hydronic heating (http://www.warmmfloors.com/ | http://www.hydronicheating.net/)
Back in the day the houses were not insulated as tightly and people did not shower every day.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
Anecdotally, the partner of the Columbian who shares an office with me is complaining that she is now used to colder temperatures.
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.
Same for the mold washing machine. Do one cycle with about 200cc of bleach. You can also wash dirty white clothes.
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.
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).
but I can't see it catching on. People like their comforts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are examples where the base model of a car in Canada comes with heated seats, but it's an extra in the USA.
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.
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.
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.