16. Control Your Heating: Three Ways to Save Energy When Heating Your Home

Real world homes benefit from energy-saving tips to maximize heating dollar

In the ideal world we would all have super insulated homes that meant lovely stable indoor temperature achieved with very limited heating and cooling. If you can get one of those homes through buying, building, renting or refurbishing then great. For the rest of us these three ways to save energy can help us maximize comfort for our heating dollar.

Room Heater
Heating is a contributor to carbon emissions when the energy source is non-renewable

Fundamentals: know what you’re paying now and what you’re using

Getting the temperature right in your home can make a huge difference to your heating bill. I’m going to talk about how tweaking the temperature in your home can make a big difference to your heating bill. But first off I just want to make sure that you know how much you’re paying for your heat. If you’re using heating oil or electricity without a heat pump to heat your home then you’re paying a lot per unit of usable heat. I know it’s an expensive process switching between heating systems but if you have options to hand it might be worth looking at.

Heat loss contributes to increased energy demands

I’m going to look at three simple tips you can use to reduce your heating bills. But to understand why they work we need to get to grips with heat loss. The amount of heat your home loses is the main thing determining how much heat you need from your heating system. The total heat loss of your home is a combination of conduction losses through surfaces like walls, floors, and windows, and ventilation losses which is air leaking out of the gaps.

More technically, conduction losses are a function of the area, the thermal conductivity of the materials, the temperature difference, and time. For ventilation losses, it is the product of the air change rate, the volume of the space, the temperature difference, and time. If we rearrange this equation a little, we will see that the total heat loss is directly proportional to the temperature difference. From which we can conclude that the total home heat loss is proportional to the difference between internal and external temperatures.

The purpose of this chart is to show the annual number of heating degree days in five different cities. The temperatures are between 16 and 20 degrees centigrade. Rio is very warm and need virtually no heating to maintain warm internal temperatures. LA is still quite warm. Madrid is getting colder. New York is much colder. And then London is even colder again. If we just focus in on the effect of reducing the temperature from 20 to 19 degrees centigrade, we can see that heating degree days are reduced by roughly ten percent.

If we instead reduce the base temperature from 20 down to 16 degrees centigrade or 68 down to 61 degrees Fahrenheit, we see that the reduction in heating degree days is much larger, closer to 40 percent. This 40 percent is the type of reduction you might see in your heating bill if you are prepared to move from a warmish 20 degree house down to a relatively cold 16 degree house. If at this point you’re expecting me to suggest a correct thermostat setting for your house, you couldn’t be more wrong. I can’t even agree on the right temperature with my wife, so I’ve got no business telling you how you should heat your home. Instead, what I’m going to do is give you three strategies that maximize the amount of comfort you get for your dollar.

You can reduce your home’s heat losses and hence its heating bills by lowering the thermostat setting in your home the smart way to do this is to reduce the standard temperature on your thermostat a degree at a time and then on the occasions when you do feel cold just to bump up the heat temporarily. In our home, we typically set the temperature around 17 or 18 degrees centigrade and then on certain days when you’re quite stagnant or it’s been cold outside you’ll find yourself wanting to bump up the heat which is fine but on other days when you’re busy or it’s slightly warmer you might not feel the cold in which case you’ve use less heat.

The second strategy is to use your thermostat to time the heating in such a way that maximizes the warmth when you need the heat and allows the house to cool down when you’re not using it. Having it unnecessarily warm when you’re at work or when you’re sleeping just increases your heat losses and hence the amount of heat you need to pump into the home. In our home, the winter heating typically comes on for an hour in the morning and a few hours in the evening. The key with this strategy is to make sure that your heating is on before you wake up or before you come home, so that the house is nice and warm when you need it. The third strategy is to heat rooms differently depending on their purpose.

For a kitchen, living room, or bathroom, you might want to keep the temperature quite warm, around 20 degrees. Whereas in a dining room or study, you could tolerate cooler temperatures, around 17 degrees. And in bedrooms, you can have them even cooler again, if that’s what you like. I’ll home the living rooms are downstairs, which we hit quite well, but a lot of this heat drifts up, allowing us to heat the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms minimally. Already showed you like this you need to use a common sense which in our case means we have a very cold bedroom while our kids bedrooms out through all of one year old is actually a lot more month now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pretend that each of these three solutions is ideal. They are what they are.

In an ideal world, you have a super insulated home that allows you to keep a very even 20 degrees in all rooms for very little eating costs. But if you’re a renter or can’t afford to improve your insulation, these three tips are a great way to make sure you maximize the amount of comfort you get your eating dollar. So remember, turn down your thermostat as much as it’s comfortable, time your heating for when you need it most, and heat rooms differently depending on their purpose. Catch us tomorrow for day 17 or we’ll be looking at air conditioning.

1: Introducing the Shrink

2: Eat plants for a day
3: Shuffle your food
4: Start a vegetable garden
5: Build a compost heap
6: Make a seasonal meal 

7: Take a purposeless walk
8: Cycle somewhere new
9: Let someone else drive
10: Improve your fuel economy
11: Research your motor
12: Plan a flightless holiday

13: Turn off your gadgets
14: Change a light bulb
15: Seal an air leak 
16: Control your heating
17: Control your cooling
18: Research your intensity
19: Research solar power
20: Save some water

21: Declutter a room
22: Upcycle some junk
23: Choose a used product
24: Invest in good design
25: Recycle some waste

26: Pay a person
27: Buy a quality offset
28: Plant a tree that sucks
29: Plant flowers for bees 
30: Support broader change 

Lindsay Wilson
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I founded Shrink That Footprint in November 2012, after a long period of research. For many years I have calculated, studied and worked with carbon footprints, and Shrink That Footprint is that interest come to life.

I have an Economics degree from UCL, have previously worked as an energy efficiency analyst at BNEF and continue to work as a strategy consultant at Maneas.  I have consulted to numerous clients in energy and finance, as well as the World Economic Forum.

When I’m not crunching carbon footprints you’ll often find me helping my two year old son tend to the tomatoes, salad and peppers growing in our upcycled greenhouse.