Friday, June 14, 2013

Moving Warm Air within a Home


Last week I described many of the common pieces of advice I offer householders during the home energy audits I’ve performed as part of Project HEAT (Home Energy Awareness Training). When I walk through the door and meet the householders for the first time, I make two statements:

1) Every home is different and every occupant is different.
2) For a warm, cosy home, holding heat is the least expensive, and generating heat is the most expensive…but there is also the option of moving heat inexpensively.

The rest of this column is dedicated to explaining the addendum to the second statement: moving heat inexpensively.

About half of the homes I’ve audited have a single, fixed heat source at one end – usually the lounge – and cold, damp bedrooms at the other end. This hot lounge/cold bedrooms syndrome is probably what inspired the development of heat transfer units, which consist of insulated ductwork that runs above the ceiling with a small fan to push the warm air where it’s needed.

The electricity required to run a small fan is negligible. If you were to shut off every device in your home and turn on a small fan, the power meter would not even turn. However, if you put an electric heater in a back bedroom, you’d see the meter spin like an old Neil Diamond album. Hot August Night!

But, you point out, installing a heat transfer unit costs hundreds of dollars. True…and that’s why I have an eco-thrifty alternative.

Keep in mind that the idea here is to move excess heat from a room that has a fixed, economical heating unit – a wood burner, gas fire or heat pump – to other cold rooms. What good is having one room at 23 degrees and others at 14?

I have seen dozens of homes that are rectangular in shape, where the heater is at one far end and installed on an exterior wall. Given the age of these homes, it is safe to say the walls are uninsulated. This is a terrific example of terrible design. Even Mark Bachelder, the man who built my farmhouse in the states in 1782 knew enough to put the heat source in the middle! This style of home is called a “Centre-Chimney Cape” (short for Cape Cod).


In our home in Castlecliff, we installed the second-hand multi-fuel cooker on an interior wall next to the double-doorway to the lounge. We use an amazing self-propelled device called Eco-Fan to move the heated air from the kitchen into the lounge.


But we had the luxury to redesign our home and place the fixed heater appropriately. For those without this option, here is the eco-thrifty way to move warm air that anyone – owner or renter – could start using today. All it takes is two small desk fans with the bases removed.

I’ll use the common example of a heated lounge and a long hallway with two or three bedrooms at the far end. First, hang one fan in the top corner of the doorway from the lounge to the hall. This takes warm air from the ceiling and pushes it in the general direction of the bedrooms. Cool air will flow along the floor into the lounge where it is heated by the economical heater.


Next, hang another fan in the top corner of a bedroom doorway. This pushes the warm air from the hall ceiling into the bedroom. Switch the fan to another bedroom every 30 minutes between the hours of your evening meal and bedtime. That’s it!

But be aware, if you have a giant hall with high ceilings, it may be better to think about a heat transfer unit that would bypass the hallway. As someone once said, “Every home is different.”

Peace, Estwing

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