Dear Mr. Marantz,
I am writing this letter in the hopes that your knowledge and background can help me be more comfortable in my home during the heating season. Our home is a 1260 sq. ft. bungalow, with a cathedral ceiling in the living-dining area, built in 1969. The windows are original dual pane wood casements and the attic insulation that we can access has been upgraded to R-50 with extra roof venting. The basement is finished and insulated with 2 X 6 framing and R-20 insulation. The furnace is a 5 years old mid-efficient unit. All entry doors have been replaced with steel insulated ones. We have insulated steel roller shutters for our bedroom windows, and put plastic on the rest of the windows for the winter. I moved the thermostat from the living area to the hall and then replaced it, hoping that it was the cause of our problems. We have also added a large gas fireplace, which we use as a space heater in the living room along with a 52-inch ceiling fan. We had the Hydro Home Energy Audit and they said the furnace was properly sized and that our home was extremely tight.
My problem is simply that we are always cold. Not just in one room, but throughout the house. For example, on a cool November night, our furnace ran on average 10 minutes on and 7 minutes off, from 8 PM until the automatic setback turned down at 11:30 PM. This is at a modest setting of 66 F. It has been my experience that when the temperature dips below 0 C the home cannot keep the comfort level.
What I would like to know is what would be our next step to further increase the comfort level of our home during the heating season. The hydro technician said that replacement windows were not going to help much, considering the high costs involved. Do you agree?
Which of these three items would make our home more comfortable, taking financial considerations into account? Replacing all the windows, adding a thermal heat pump, or both of these items or something else?
Thanks; I hope you can help us.
Problems with heating and cooling of modern homes can be a very complex issue, which is difficult to assess without on-site investigation, but I think your problem is simple. Turn the thermostat up! If you are trying to stay comfortable in a home in the winter with the evening setting at 66 F, this is the problem. Most homeowners set their thermostats at 20 C or higher, unless they are extremely active when home. If you are similar to many homeowners, like myself, and enjoy relaxing in front of the TV or Stereo after dinner, you will feel colder due to this sedentary situation.
The cycling of your furnace, in the example that you mention, does not sound unreasonable to me. Furnaces are normally sized so that they may run almost continuously on the coldest days of the year. The furnace will cycle more often at night, as the ambient temperature drops and the sun has gone down. This may seem like a simplistic approach, but your expectations of balancing comfort with costs may be not be attainable in your older home.
Newer homes have 2 X 6 construction in the exterior walls with proper insulation and air-vapour barriers, dual or tri-pane sealed unit windows, insulated doors, and high levels of insulation in the attic. All these items help to increase comfort in the home, by minimizing air leakage and heat loss, and maintaining low fuel costs in the bargain. Older homes, such as yours, likely have 2 X 4 walls, with fair to poor quality insulation and vapour barriers and leaky windows and doors. No matter how much insulation is added to the attic, and how many doors and windows are upgrades, the walls of the house will still leak some air and heat unless they are increased in depth and properly air-sealed.
It is normally not worthwhile spending large amount of cash on high-end windows and heat pumps, to lower heating bills. Upgrading your furnace, as you have done, will probably be the most effective item in reducing gas consumption. The simplest and most cost-effective items are normally air sealing around windows, doors, outlets and switches, and other areas where warm air may leak to the exterior. This can often be done by your-self, with a simple caulking gun, weatherstripping, and blow-in foam insulation. The plastic you have installed on the windows, if it is properly installed on the inside of the windows, will help reduce air leakage as well. I don’t know what steel insulated roller shutters are, so their effectiveness I can’t comment on.
The point that I am trying to make is that you should not become so concerned with trying to make your older home so cost-efficient, in regards to energy consumption, that you sacrifice the comfort of the occupants. You will never be able to match the energy efficiency of a well-sealed and insulated new home, so don’t worry about it. It appears that you have done more than most homeowners to minimize heat loss, and a few more simple air-sealing jobs may help, but that is about the best to hope for. Turn the heat up, a little higher, and the additional comfort should be worth the extra expense.
I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year and to thank everyone who sent in questions in the last year. I attempt to answer as many as possible, but I am sorry that not all can be properly addressed. Thank you for reading and keep the questions coming!