trying to heat my children's rooms, we need to go over some fundamentals. Well, they're fundamentals for me. For you, they are black arts, voodoo, base lies, mistakes, tomfoolery, and blather. You've been reading the newspaper again, and everything sensible begins to sound like black arts, voodoo, base lies, mistakes, tomfoolery, and blather after you do that. So I'm warning you: I need to talk sense, and sense is going to sound weird.
You see, articles on websites are written by the girls that used to sit next to you in grammar school drawing little smiley faces instead of a tittle over "i" and "j." They had very elaborate, bulbous erasers and other gewgaws on the end of their pencils where a simple eraser once lived. They were forever raising their hand and tattling on you to the teacher, because you were bored and were misbehaving all the live-long day. They eventually went to Directional State College where they got an associates degree in Solo Cups and Oppression, and then they went to work pulling on bent oars in one of the tatty triremes still afloat in the Newsgathering Navy.
They don't know anything, or more accurately, they know a lot of stuff and none of it is true. Everything they know they found out by reading news articles written by people just like them. Their research method is to get drunk on appletinis four nights a week using their divorced dad's credit card, and on Friday at noon they ask a question on HARO to get the straight dope and deliver their writing assignment. They interview whoever responds, usually a kindly vinyl siding salesmen who explains that vinyl siding cures cancer. Even though the article is supposed to be about improving your gas mileage, it's dutifully transcribed, because deadline, duh.
For hard info, the Intertunnel is like the Telephone Game, with the same information being plagiarized and re-transmitted over and over until it bursts out of its final chrysalis into a listicle on Buzzfeed that explains the Top Ten reasons Bieber brought down the World Trade Center.
So bear with me. Everything you know about heating is wrong. It's not your fault. Allow me to help. Here are Eight Things That Won't Happen in Heating:
A Ceiling Fan Will...
See, I stopped the sentence at the verb. I did that because this is the Swiss Army Knife of heating advice: Ceiling fans have nothing whatsover to do with heating, so anything that talks about using a ceiling fan in any way related to heating your home is a dog's homemade meatloaf.
Warm Air Will Rise
That's actually true, but so what? People think the
conversation ends there. Hot air will not run up your chimney if you
leave the damper open. Hot air will not go upstairs and slam the door
and refuse to interact with you in the living room like a hot teenager.
Hot air rises, and then something else happens. Which leads us to:
The Stratification of Air Will Need to Be Dealt With
No, it won't, because it's impossible to have stratification of air in a house. It doesn't happen. Your cure for this stratification, a ceiling fan, cures a condition that doesn't condish, to coin a term. It doesn't solve a problem that doesn't exist.
Stratification is a fancy way of saying layering. News articles and ceiling fan makers talk endlessly about this imaginary condition, and how they'll solve it. Actually, by solving an imaginary problem, ceiling fans in heating season cause a real problem. Even fairly warm air delivered too quickly to a human is a draft, and drafts make you feel colder.
Warm air is less dense than cold air and newspaper reporters. It rises naturally to the first barrier it meets: the ceiling. It then travels across the ceiling until it reaches the next barrier, usually the wall opposite the heat source. Then it drops to the floor. It then travels across the floor to where it started, because air is being evacuated from that spot when the warm air rises. This is called a convection loop. This has to happen. It's warmer at the ceiling than the floor because the air is only halfway through the convection loop. If you interrupt it with a ceiling fan, you accomplish less than nothing. You feel a draft, half the room gets less heat than it would.
You'll Be More Comfortable If Your Furnace/Boiler/Heat Pump Runs Less
By weatherstripping and insulating your home until you turn blue if you stay home for more than four hours at a stretch, you're supposed to save money on energy and be comfortable. Actually, your energy supplier saves on energy because they don't have to produce as much, and your bill stays the same because reasons. You shiver just like before.
That's because your heating system doesn't like turning on and off all the time. When it comes on, it gives you more heat than you need to feel warm. It's set to deliberately overshoot the temp setting so it can rest when it gets where it's going. Then it waits until the temperature is substantially lower than you want it before it turns on again. That keeps it from cycling on and off all the time.
The perfect heat source runs continuously at exactly the correct setting required to keep the house comfortable without ever turning off unless it's time to open the windows. My pellet stove can do this in some seasons, but a regular furnace in a regular house will never even attempt this form of stasis. Everyone's too worried about hoarding heat instead of producing enough, and how comfortable the furnace is instead of the occupants.
Energy Efficient Windows Will Be Energy Efficient
No, they won't be, if you have a dictionary and look up "efficient." A single-pane window from a century ago is titanically efficient. A hole in your wall has zero R-value, after all. A sheet of window glass placed over it is R-1. That's, like, infinity and beyond in energy improvement. Well, it might not be an infinite improvement, but I was bored and goofing off in Math class, and you ratted on me, remember? It's some amount of big improvement.
Super duper energy efficient window manufacturers like to use percentages to advertise the improvement you'll enjoy when you purchase their products, because super duper energy efficient window manufacturers like to lie. A 100-percent improvement in the performance of a 90-cent piece of window glass takes you from R-1 to R-2. Whoopty! And to think it only costs an extra $250 per window. Your walls are R-13 and your attic is R-30, but hey, rock on, super duper energy efficient window dudes.
Weatherstripping Will Be the Key to Everything
You can't live in a mason jar with the lid screwed on to save on heat. I mean, you can, but not for very long before your estate takes a hit from the professional mourner bill. You need fresh air in your house, and spending thousands to mew yourself up, only to call the HVAC guy back to add a fresh air exchanger to let the cold air back in, is silly.
If you do the easy weatherization stuff, everything that follows costs a lot and lowers your quality of life. It's similar to the way government works.
A Bigger Circulating Fan Will Help
Everybody's house is designed by Dr. Caligari but they blame the HVAC system when they're chilly or hot. They ask the intern who writes everything at This Old House dot com if a bigger circulating fan will spread the heat more thoroughly into their sunken fondue-eating area next to the combination solarium/darkroom. There's a problem. Heat moving slowly is heat. Heat moving quickly is a draft. A bigger fan or more fans is rarely the answer. And remember, a ceiling fan never is.
Your Fireplace Will Send 143 Trillion BTUs an Hour Into Space
This one could be true. I don't know you personally, and you could be a Bond villain stroking an Angora cat and plotting world domination by sending 143 trillion BTUs an hour into space. Then again, you might be an obese pipefitter with halitosis wondering if Tom Brady's wife might be trying to call you for an erotic liaison. That could happen, too.
I'm the last living human that knows the actual, proper name for an open fireplace made of masonry: An ornamental fireplace. Look up the word "ornamental." It's not a furnace. It's not supposed to be used to heat your house efficiently, so solutions to fix the problem of it not being a good furnace are of doubtful utility.
Even if you leave your damper open when your fireplace is not in use, not a lot of air will go up your chimney, or come down it, either. If you feel a draft near your chimney, it's because your house is weatherstripped like a mummy's tomb, and your furnace or boiler or whatever is burning all the air inside your house for combustion. It will then desperately try to draw in more air from outside so the fire doesn't go out, and as a by-product, so you don't die of asphyxiation.
You're supposed to have a fire in your fireplace once a year to get rid of Christmas wrapping paper and a couple of logs from that tree that blew down when Reagan was president. You're supposed to sit beside it and enjoy the look of the flames, and feel the radiant heat from the fire on your face. That's what it's for.
On Our Next Episode:
I may, if you're nice to me, write something about actual ductwork. Maybe.