Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Eight Things That Won't Happen in Heating

Before I continue my peripatetic recounting of 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.   


Mark Matis said...

You ought to be truly ashamed of yourself for talking about the SJW journalists' tittles like that!

Sam L. said...

Ah usta be ignert about heat and vents, but thanx to Mr. Sippi, I is now ignorant, and can spell ignorant. Ya done good for me, Mr. Sippi!

vanderleun said...

The perils of working with ductwork:

jon spencer said...

A buddy, when he built their fireplace had the combustion air ducted from the garage.
In addition to the warm air and radiant heat that the fireplace provided there were also water circulating pipes from the heating system in the firebox to supplement the wood fired boiler in his basement.
His wood pile was a 3 year pile, as the only wood that he burnt was at least three years old, cut, split, piled and covered the first year. Then aged for the next two until the third years winter.
Never saw the house less than toasty.
There was lots and lots of summer sweat needed to provide the winters warmth.

Mr. Ed said...

Heck, I'm still waiting (with bated breath, which also won't heat your house) for the next installment in the Great Foundation Story of 2013 (or whenever it was)...

Sam L. said...

Mr. Ed, Ike Azimov wrote 3 books on Foundations, and not near as in'tresting as Mr. Sippi's. I too await Volume 2!

Larry Geiger said...

I had a fire in my "open fireplace made of masonry" last night and it was very "ornamental". It was also pleasing and warm and delightful. I sat in my chair next to the delightful flames and read my book for awhile. The cat and I sat on the hearth and warmed up and then I climbed into my warm beddy bye. The cat went somewhere else. I suppose. That was Wednesday evening. Pretty much how things went Tuesday and Monday evening. Very pleasant.

My wife and I both took warm showers, which warmed up our bedroom and we then retreated to the warm beddy bye. It was cool in the morning when we got up which helps to move things along efficiently.

Sometimes we have a fire inside in the "open fireplace made of masonry" and sometimes outside in the fire pit. Mostly Live Oak and some Turkey Oak. Mostly not split but aged at least one year in the wood shed.

Gringo said...

When you live in an area like inland Maine where the temperature often reaches 0 to 20 below in the winter, there are going to be heating problems.

My father rehabbed every room in the house over the span of 12 years. He built cabinets, wall sidings, and floors, but drew the line at plumbing and most electrical work. His insulation record was inconsistent. He insulated the eaves of the third story attic so that it was comfortable in the winter even though there was no direct heat there. It was comfortable even if the attic door remained closed. As that attic had an electric train set, it got a fair amount of use during our childhoods. On the other hand, my father didn't bother to insulate the eaves of the second story attic when he transformed it into a livable area. It was still cold in the winter- colder than the third story attic, even though it had heating ducts.

In her final year at BU, my cousin shared a house in Cambridge. Courtesy of her status as an art student, she had access to a lot of paper. She took paper in 4-8 foot rolls and used it to insulate her room. It was a lot warmer than the rest of the house in the winter.

What insulation projects have you done in your house?

Thud said...

The feelgood factor of a large open fire is not to be underestimated even if keeping it fed makes me feel like Casey jones.

chasmatic said...

The vampire by sunlight or stake.
The wolfman by silver in bone.
The demon by book, chant and pentagram.
The fascist by fire alone.

That's the only one of many quips and aphorisms that I borrowed from the internet that has "fire" in it, unless you have the whites of their eyes in sight.

I borrowed it from Van der Leun (with permission). I have had original thoughts, about one per season. As good as a nod to a blind horse.

shoreacres said...

I surely was glad for that word of affirmation: "You need fresh air in your house." A front rolled through here about 4 pm, dropping the temperature 20 degrees. The gale warnings are up, and my computer monitor's vibrating on its desk: a sure sign that we're hitting gusts of at least 30 kts. And, my north-facing window is allowing great quantities of air from Nebraska to roll in. I could put up heavy drapes, I suppose, but I rather enjoy looking out onto the water, so I'll just think of all the wonderful fresh air that's going to guarantee my waking up in the morning.

ruralcounsel said...

There's a reason circulating fans have a reverse direction setting. So in the winter, they pull air updraft, allowing the stratification battle to proceed, without giving a horrendous concentrated draft on the humans below.

ruralcounsel said...

And running a fireplace does cool the house, because all the hot combustion gas is going up that chimney, and it means the house has to suck in cold outside air through all the leaks and cracks in order to make up for the air needed by the fire.

Yes, it feels warm if you are in the zone where you can get radiative heat transfer from the open flames, but it does make the house overall colder ... unless you can supply the combustion air from the outside directly into the firebox, instead of filtering it in through the whole house.

chasmatic said...

It's important for me to maintain my brainflow. What with a large schnozzle and capable lungs I need a lot of air. Fireplaces are insufficient for the purpose. I use hearth stones; placed in or close to the fire they absorb heat and after the fire curtain comes down the hot rocks are transferred to bedrooms where specially designed bed bases hold the stone until morning. Not one molecule of oxygen has been harmed in the practice of this method.

Nothing has ever frozen in my home. I chose the Southwest, New Mexico down around the border. I think that has contributed to the success of my heat plans. Oh, and the opposite procedure can be used in the summer, only this time with cold stones.

Sam L. said...

I had a house some years back with a fireplace in the basement and bedrooms above it, with kitchen and living room off the side between those levels. The fireplace would suck air from the rest of the house and send it up the chimney. Heckuva draft thru the stairway into the basement room.

Larry Geiger said...

So Mr. RuralC since the rest of the house gets colder when the fire is going we move the small table and a couple of chairs in front of the fireplace and lay out the RummiKub game. As long as it's warm the battle rages into the night.

RonF said...

I think I've found some girlfriends for the boys....

Sixty Grit said...

Heed, callow youth, the wisdom of Sir Sippi. Five years ago it was, by current reckoning, that he saved me thousands on replacement windows. I am indebted to him. And being the cheap sort, I still have the money I saved. So by "indebted" I mean in the non-literal sense, only.

I recently bought a can of expando foam to seal the large gaps around the intersection of the walls and ceiling. That stuff sticks everywhere except where it is supposed to.

I built a nice big fire last evening. Fortunately it was outside. I don't have a fireplace.