Monday, December 22, 2008

How to heat a high house

This will most likely be boring to anyone but me, but oh well! The layout of our house is somewhat unique and creates its own challenges. Our house is four levels and three stories high. All the "public" rooms are on the ground floor. One full flight up is a bedroom and bathroom. 1/4 of a flight up and across the hall is another room we use as an office (read: full of heat generating computers). 3/4 of a flight up from that is another larger bedroom and bathroom. One end of that room is a closet that is open to the room and at the back of that is a finished attic space that is open to the closet. Each room has electric wall heaters on individual thermostats. Yhere is a gas-fired "wood stove" in the living room on an electronic thermostat that stays at 68 when we're home and 63 overnight and during the day when we're gone.

The problem has not been generating heat. The problem has been how to distribute the heat evenly throughout the house. The gas stove in the living room is more than capable of heating the entire house. The problem is that the stairwell acts like a chimney and most of the heat goes right up to the top of the house, as it would be expected to do. So, we close the door to the top-floor bedroom to keep the heat out. The problem with that is with it being in the 20's outside, that room then quickly cools down into the 50's, which is way too cold. And, all that heat just pours into the office. If we leave all the doors open, the office gets even hotter than the bedroom. The heat seems to congregate at the top of that level and then add to the heat in the office from the computers. If we turn down the heat from the "wood" stove, the ground floor gets too cold to use and it seems silly to send heat upstairs to rooms we don't use that often.

So, how to keep from freezing in some parts of the house and burning up in others? We could use the electric heaters in rooms that are closed off but those are expensive to run. Going to bed in a 50 degree room is not a fun thing, believe me! The solution that seems to work the best is, believe it or not, a curtain. We used a tension rod to hang a set of curtains (simple attractive ones) across the hallway at the bottom of the flight that leads to the office. We have the option of keeping the curtains fully closed, opened in the middle slightly to allow some heat up, or opened all the way to all lots of heat upstairs. So far it's worked pretty well. When we have the curtains closed all the way the heat seems to be pushed back to the living room ceiling (which is open to the stairwell, and it heads back down the living room.

So that's our high-tech solution to keep the house temperature regulated without spending lots of money heating individual rooms we're not using. I'm surprised that a simple curtain could be so effective at keeping the temperature regulated within our tall narrow house, but as long as it works I'm happy!

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