Saturday, December 6, 2008

Enforced Energy Conservation

This is what my thermostat read when I came downstairs this morning:

I assure you, I am not that energy conscious. Nor that cheap.

My dad was that cheap. He removed the furnace from his house entirely and got through the Midwestern winters by wearing his overcoat constantly and running space heaters in closed rooms. He swore he wasn't going to give the gas company any more than he absolutely had to.

I, too, economize on energy. But not that much. I routinely set the thermostat back to 55 degrees at night and stay warm and cozy under five covers and three cats. But by 8:37 in the morning I really do expect the temperature to be heading back up towards 61.

Wednesday morning, the thermostat said 53 degrees when I got up, but the furnace straightened itself out. Probably had nothing to do with the fiddling I did with the fan switch.

Thursday morning was a bit warmer outside: no trouble with the heat.

Friday morning, yesterday, the outside temps dove back into the mid-20s. And my thermostat read 52 degrees. Then 51.

I called the home warranty people, who had a heating and cooling repair company call me. Yes, sir, the furnace motor is going. No, sir, the fan and the gas burner are not running. Yes, sir, the pilot light is on. No, sir, I can't seem to find the switch for the furnace motor. Yes, sir, I've found the label inside the furnace . . . oh, look, I think it says this unit was installed in 1987! No, sir, that is really not surprising, it was my POs-1 who put in the forced air system . . . No, sir, I still haven't found the switch you describe . . . oh! look! the burner and the fan just came on!

That's good, the heating guy said, because they were pretty booked up that day. Call them back on Monday to let them know if they should still come out.

I did not wait till Monday. Not with the thermostat reading 46 degrees F. Not with it again in the 20s outside. A number of calls and some futile fiddling with switches later, the maintenance guy has determined the problem is the module. Which he can't get till Monday. And hopefully it's not some other part I forget the name of: that'd mean replacing the whole furnace.

(Though given that I have a replacement warranty, that might not be a bad thing. Even the sort of bog-standard furnace the home warranty company will pay for has got to be more energy-efficient than the unit I've got!)

Meanwhile, I get to rough it through the weekend and most of Monday. Baking Christmas cookies was not on today's calendar. But, um, I think I just changed my plans . . .


Sandy said...

Oh dear! I do hope you and the critters can stay warm until you get the module replaced. If I had tons of money, you would have a new furnace! I don't think there is anything worse than being cold. I grew up with no heat, and it is not a pleasant thing.

batticdoor said...

How To Reduce Your Energy Bills / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills.

Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

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Attic Stairs

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

Whole House Fans and AC Returns

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.


A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit

Kate H. said...

Hey, Sandy, you mean you don't play your childhood experience to the hilt and lecture all the kids on how easy they have it these days? LOL!

Thanks for the thought re: a new furnace!

Gene said...

Our two cats are quite handy at keeping us warm, though if it gets really cold, Rosie gets under the covers with us.

Our thermostat is programmed to let it get as cold as 50 at night, but it rarely gets that cold by morning even if its colder outside.