There are many reasons to begin passively heating your home. For one, it equates to saving a lot of money on heating bills in the winter. The savings come because passively heating means we aren’t relying on fossil fuels, coal, or nuclear power to keep our spaces comfortable. Ultimately, not using fossil fuels, coal, or nuclear power exclusively to heat our homes helps to prevent a lot of pollution.
If that all sounds good, the best news is that we all can potentially start adopting some new practices to passively heat our homes today. Passive heating, for those new to the concept, is relying on the sun and other indirect factors to warm our homes, as opposed to a thermostat and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) unit. Instead, we learn to heat our home through design and responsible practices.
The following tricks will work for most homes and apartments as they are.
1. South-Facing Windows
South-facing windows (north-facing in the southern hemisphere) are one of the most important concepts in passively heating a home. Because the sun shines from that side of the house, making sure it can enter through all the windows facing it will allow it to naturally warm the air inside. Most green homes have been designed with this in mind, but even homes that aren’t green by design usually have some south-facing windows. During the day, be sure these windows are not shaded with curtains, shutters, or blinds.
2. Thermal Mass
Thermal mass is a material’s ability to absorb heat. Some materials — stone, brick, tile — have a high thermal mass whereas less dense material, such as wood, don’t. It’s a good idea to keep items with thermal mass near those south-facing windows, as they will absorb the heat from the sun during the day and release it at night. Water, too, has good thermal mass, so rather than draining warm bath or hot shower water right away, let it sit in the tub until it cools. The water will be warming the air passing over it.
The cozier, as in smaller, spaces are the easier they are to heat. It’s good practice to shut doors to the spaces that don’t need to be warm. In the winter, it’s time to consider hanging out primarily on the southern side of the house, the one that been allowing sunshine in all day and warming up thermal masses, and shutting off the other areas. The less air to warm, the less energy it takes to do it. Reduce the square footage and passive heating can go a long way.
Cooking itself isn’t passive energy, but when we are cooking anyway, the heat from the stove or oven certainly helps to heat up our homes. Rather than eating out or ordering in, get into the practice of making nice pots of soups and baking homemade bread. Not only will the soup help to keep you warm (and the bread smell wonderful), but the heat put off by the kitchen, especially the oven, will also warm the house. Then, when the baking is done, leave the oven door open to allow the remaining hot air to escape to good use. (If you have pets or small children, do this with extreme caution and keep them out of the kitchen while the oven cools.)
5. Blankets and Clothes
Honestly, it’s so common sense that it seems ridiculous to say it, but we should dress appropriately for the weather, even when inside. If there is a little chill in the house, then we might just need to put on a sweater rather than a t-shirt. And, there is absolutely nothing horrible about snuggling beneath a blanket or quilt. Part of using less energy and spending less money is not asking those heaters to do all the work.
Insulating well is a huge part of passively heating. Whereas the south-facing wall can be utilized to let more heat in, the northern side of the house needs to be well-insulated. That means windows should be covered, either with curtains or even cardboard boxes so that the window pane can’t transfer the cold air from outside into the warm room inside. In design, these walls should have more insulation, and we should all make sure our attics are insulated. There are some great upcycled, eco-insulations available now.
7. Sealing It Up
Finally, while passive heating is on the to-do list, now is the time to investigate the house for drafty windows and doors. It’s important to get these areas sealed up. When relying on passive heating as opposed to power heating, we have to prevent cold air from entering and make sure warm air isn’t escaping. This is crucial for making the most of the heat that we have naturally and passively.
Once the goal to keep the heater off is set, these techniques can really help to make a home more comfortable without using any electricity to do that. It’s adopting these types of habits and utilizing these types of design that are going help reduce and reverse some of the damage the last century and a half have done to the planet.
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