Tag Archives: heating

Around the World in 8 Designs: Part 5

This week’s column is special to me because it’s about my first home in New Hampshire, USA. The house was built in 1782. I bought it in 2000. Locally, the style of the home is called a Centre-Chimney Cape Cod. Cape Cod is a peninsula extending into the Atlantic Ocean from Boston, Massachusetts. Summers on the Cape are brilliant, but winters can be brutal. Early residents built their homes around a huge chimney containing up to four fireplaces. (You read that correctly.)

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As the first half of the name implies, chimneys were located at the geographical centre of the home, surrounded by living spaces. Put another way, the fire(s) were specifically located as far away from external walls as possible. Put simply, this is good home design. It is so obvious, in fact, you may wonder why I bring it up at all. Apparently, some time between 1782 and the present day, architects forgot where to place fixed heating devices. Every week I see a dozen homes with poor heater placement. The classic example is the flued gas heater in the lounge at one extreme end of a long rectangular house. Meanwhile the bedrooms at far end of the home are frigid and more than likely mouldy as well. A somewhat misguided solution to this situation was to put an unflued gas heater in the hall between the bedrooms. Screen shot 2015-05-19 at 7.30.01 AM While on the surface the location of the heater may seem appropriate, there are two flaws: 1) unflued gas heaters release 1 litre of water per hour into a home often contributing to the mouldy walls in those far flung bedrooms; 2) a hall may be central to a home, but it is not a living space. Another brilliant aspect of the design of my 18th Century home is that it had no hallways. Just four rooms around a central chimney – elegant simplicity and a lesson for today’s architects. Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 12.47.38 PM Special Note: Last week I departed from what was meant to be the 4th example of good home design from around the world (today’s column) to discuss the issue of indoor moisture caused by rising damp. Because of the rain we’ve had recently, I’m afraid that rising damp will be a huge problem for our region for the rest of this winter. Soils are saturated everywhere and it will be summer before they are dried. If your home has been especially damp lately, please ring me at the number below.

Weighing up Your Best Heating Options

Last week I wrote about the balance between time and money in life and in renovation, and which heaters are good, bad and okay. To review, most of us trade our time for money and our money for time. (More on this later.) The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) recommends that homes have at least one energy efficient fixed heater with a low running cost. These may include a flued mains gas heater, a wood burner, a wood-pellet burner, or an Energy Star rated heat pump. On the other hand, what EECA does not recommend is the use of unflued gas heaters be they mains tied (usually in the hall) or LPG tank heaters. If you know anyone who uses these heaters please share the following sentence: These heaters make homes damp and release toxic gases, and LPG heaters are a fire risk and are THE MOST EXPENSIVE FORM ON HOME HEATING IN NEW ZEALAND. EECA sees no problem using plug-in electric heaters for short periods of time in bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms that are used periodically. In my opinion it is better to use a dehumidifier in a bedroom on the south side of a home than an electric heater if there is an efficient heater in the lounge. Of course no heating decisions should be made for a home without first topping up ceiling insulation and addressing the huge heat loss from windows and glass doors. (More on these in the weeks to come.) EECA’s EnergyWise website lists the pros and cons of fixed heaters. Here are some highlights:

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Modern woodburners are good for:

  • low running costs, especially if you have access to free or cheap firewood
  • the environment – they produce very little pollution and use renewable wood energy as a fuel
  • heating large spaces
  • heating hot water in winter through a wetback system.

However, be aware that:

  • firewood must be dry to burn most efficiently
  • building consent approval for installation is needed

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Wood pellet burners are good for:

  • the environment – the pellets are made from waste products and burn very cleanly
  • heat control (better than a wood burner)
  • heating large spaces
  • heating hot water in winter through a wetback system

However, be aware that:

  • they won’t work if your electricity isn’t working
  • building consent is needed for installation

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Flue gas heaters are good for:

  • convenience – you can control the temperature and timing with the thermostat and timer controls
  • heating larger areas for longer periods

However, be aware that:

  • you may have to pay a fixed charge for reticulated gas supply
  • EECA recommends choosing  an ENERGY STAR qualified model
  • gas heaters must always be installed by a registered gas fitter Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 9.56.28 AM

Heat pumps are good for:

  • low running costs when used properly
  • producing instant heat
  • convenience – you can control the temperature and timing with the thermostat and timer controls.

However, be aware that:

  • they must be sized correctly – for the space and the climate
  • some are a lot more efficient than others – look for the ENERGY STAR® mark
  • they won’t work during a power cut.

What all of these heaters have in common are low running costs but a higher installation bill. In most cases these heaters will pay for themselves over time and afterward represent ongoing savings for you year after year. This is known as ‘payback period’ and can be applied to everything from LED lightbulbs to Energy Star refrigerators to heat pumps. After the initial investment they save you oodles of cash over the long run. See, time really is money.   Peace, Estwing

Balancing Time and Money to Ensure a Healthy Home

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly article in the Wanganui Chronicle. 

About a month ago, the same Saturday edition of the Chronicle contained a pair of insightful columns depicting two sides of the same coin: time and money. One columnist shared her decision to return to fulltime work and how that would impact on the time she had for other things, while another columnist who is on a benefit complained of the opposite: not enough money to renew her driver’s license.

I have no idea how fellow columnists spend their time and money nor do I care. The point is that the old saying “time is money” appears truer today than ever. At work we trade our time for money and when we hire someone to do a job we don’t want to do we trade our money for ‘free time’. When we go out on the town we trade our money for ‘a good time.’ We might even hear Cyndi Lauper on the radio singing “Time After Time.”

In today’s society, time and money appear to be the primary assets and everything else flows from them. The same is true when renovating a home. If you have heaps of time and little money there is a lot you can accomplish along the lines of what we have done. On the other hand, if you work full-time and hire someone to do the renovations, chances are they will be more skilled and get the job done faster than you could.

In both cases, however, the utmost attention should be paid to creating the conditions for a healthy home. When it comes to maintaining healthy indoor temperatures there are two main factors: generating heat and holding heat inside.

The World Health Organization recommends 18 -22 degrees in living areas of a home and 16-18 degrees in bedrooms. The best way to maintain these conditions is to have adequate insulation and an efficient heat source.

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Baby Manu is always well insulated. 

Adequate insulation can mean many things to many people, but in the coming weeks I will explain the best levels of insulation for the ceiling and under the floor, along with what to aim for with windows and glass doors. Today I’ll focus on what heaters give you best value for money and which do not.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has a programme called Energywise (www.energywise.govt.nz) that provides excellent independent advice on everything from which tyres will give your car its best fuel economy to which heaters are best and why. Next week I’ll work through each type of heater, their strong points and their drawbacks. But for now I’ll group them into three categories: always; sometimes; never.

Always: According to Energywise, “For rooms that you use regularly it is well worth investing in suitable, fixed heaters which enable you to heat them effectively and cheaply. Clean, effective forms of heating include modern wood and wood-pellet burners, ENERGY STAR® qualified heat pumps and high star-rated, flued gas heaters.”

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Our modern wood burner almost installed. 

Sometimes: “For rooms that only get used occasionally, for short periods of time, electric heaters which are cheap to buy but slightly more expensive to run can often be sufficient. There are different types to suit different needs.”

Never: For both economic and health reasons, the use of unflued gas heaters (natural or LPG) should be avoided.

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Don’t do it!

According to EECA:

  • unflued LPG heaters are the most expensive form of heating (except for some open fires)
  • there are health risks – it will pollute air with toxic gases and large amounts of water vapour, so you must keep at least one window open when it is in use and never use it in bedrooms
  • they can make your home damp.
  • portable LPG heaters can be a fire risk, as anything too close can catch fire quickly.

As with the trade-offs between time and money, there are trade-offs with each type of “suitable, fixed heaters” as listed by EECA above. Next Saturday we’ll examine them.

Peace, Estwing