Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Getting set for the winter of 2011-12!

My how time does fly! Here it is, already the fall of 2011, and time to get ready for another blast from old man winter! As it is still only the latter part of October, I still have some time left to check and do the following:

Have the heat pump checked by service personnel.
Change the air filter in the furnace.
Inspect the outside of my home for leaks.
Check all outside door seals.
Set heat pump thermostat at 68F.
Deploy my two space heaters; one in the living room and one in my bedroom.

(This year I will not be installing plastic over the windows as I don’t feel that they lose that much heat).

Goals for this season

Following are the kilowatts of power I used during the three coldest months of the year 2010-11:

Month             kWh                Avg kWh
December        1629                      54
January            2071                      69
February          2087                      70
Totals              5787                      64

At about ten cents per kilowatt hour, my bills added to more than $500 for those three months last year! I'm hoping to do better this year, but at the same time I realize that I'm somewhat at the mercy of Mother Nature and here's why.  Consider that a key variable which will dictate much money I will have to pay, is determined by the mean temperature (a total of the highs and lows averaged together) for that month. Let’s look at last December as a case in point.

December of 2010 normally has a mean temperature of somewhere close to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that if you take the high temperature and the low and average them out you would get a figure of 35.

 [click to enlarge]

As you can see by the graph, a typical day is likely going to fall somewhere inside the yellow box whereby the sum of the high and low for the day add up to 70 with the average being 35 degrees. This means then, that for most every day, the temperatures (usually at night) will drop below the 32 degrees. A point below which my heat pump works. In other words, pretty much the entire month will see the ‘emergency heat’ lamp on fairly often. This means that heating elements have been turned on in the furnace to provide heat which the heat pump is unable to provide.  When that happens, you can basically count on having a high electric bill by month's end.

So, a month like December (and January and February, for that matter) are going to cost you quite a bit unless you can figure out a way to beat the ‘physics of the situation’. In my view, there are three ways to accomplish this on a realistic level; one, move to Florida for the winter, two, you can move to a basement (if you have one) where you’ll be able to utilize the buffer that is the earth to lower your heating costs, or three, you can employ the use of space heaters in only the rooms you absolutely need to occupy while setting the furnace stat to a lower than normal (say 60F) temperature setting. Then, hunker down and think plenty of warm thoughts! For anyone that might be interested, here is a graph I constructed that allowed me to estimate the electric power I would likely be using for a given mean temperature. This assumes that the furnace is heating the whole house! It worked surprisingly well:

[click to enlarge]

As you can see, if I am experiencing a mean temperature outside of 35F. (red line), then I can expect to use somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 kWh of electricity. I can control this figure to some extent by cutting back on an unnecessary use of power like the TV, radio, etc. Also, if the sky is sunny, I can open the drapes and catch a little heat that way. But other than executing the 'basement' alternative, I'm pretty much stuck!

Well, that's my plan for this winter! I'm hoping for a wet and snowy one as that will ratchet up the mean temperatures quite nicely. 

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