Trying to Keep Warm

The boiler went out in my house last week. We have an archaic steam-driven radiator system, and we knew we were living on borrowed time.

It is a good time of year to lose heat. It hasn’t been terribly cold in Chicago, so we’ve managed to keep the temperature in the house around 60 degrees through space heaters and sunlight — an uncomfortable but bearable temperature.

I’m giving a speech in Florida this morning, providing the perfect chance for a respite from the chilling temperatures at home. Or so I thought. When I arrived at my hotel room last night, the air-conditioning was set to exactly 60 degrees.

There are many ways to skin a cat.


double d

As a banker, I was involved in a massive remodel of a great old house with radiator heat. I was amazed at the advances that have been made in that technology. I guess all those houses can't be retro-fitted to forced air systems. They pulled out a boiler the size of a bulldozer and replaced it with a highly efficient one, the size of a dorm fridge. Amazing.

Is there really much cat-skinning going on anymore?

Charles

I've always wondered where all the cat skinners went and why they were so determined to figure out new techniques.

Sarah

There are definitely cat-skinners out there still. Who else could have done that number on my Anatomy & Physiology kitty?

Ouro

What applies to cats, applies to rabbits.

Phildeaux

Good luck getting a boiler repair technician this time of year. I know in Salt Lake City, there was about a two week backlog to get someone to come to my house to do a repair. And it was pretty simple, not a replacement of a boiler.

It is funny that during the summer, my wife and kids seem to crank the AC up to lower the temp around 68 degrees, yet during the winter, 68 degrees is too cold.

Mike

Often times if people have a comfort preference between radiant heat and forced air they choose radiant. Forced air systems tend to make the environment much drier and they also throw dust, hair and other detritus into the air where it can irritate the respiratory system. Moreover people tend to forget about having their ductwork regularly cleaned which only exasperates the problem.

Regarding the lack of heat in your house, exposing oneself to a consistently cold environment not only help your build to a tolerance to the cold (and thus be able to reduce your energy expenses in the future), but also forces your body to kick up its metabolism to stay warm. This causes you to burn more calories and thus loose weight.

I have previously talked with some Cold Warriors who were stationed in Alaska for long tours of duty. They said that in winter they were having to eat 5000 calories a day and they still lost weight. Also, they said when it got UP to Zero degrees that would be considered T-Shirt weather.

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Paul

The boiler may be archaic, but in my mind not the system of distributing the heat throughout your house with steam. It's the epitome of simplicity. In most installations a single pipe leads to each radiator instead of the two pipes needed for circulating hot water systems. No pumps needed: the steam travels from where its hot (the boiler) to where it's cold (the radiators), where it gives up much of its heat. Then it trickles back as water, propelled only by gravity to the boiler to start the cycle over. No electricity needed. I like simplicity.

But I'm also fond of the other aesthetics pleasures of steam heat. No other heating system has character like steam heat: hissing and sometimes banging and thumping. I even like the greater swings in temperature you get with them. I like being connected in some way to the systems that sustain me. The silent, invisible systems that maintain my environment at optimum temperature and humidity are not for me. It's like a car where you can't hear the engine.

So keep that old steam system going!

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misterb

So what economics principle is at work here? With energy costs running at a record high, why would a hotel waste the energy required to cool a room to uncomfortable levels? Assuming rational decision-making doesn't seem to work in this case.
Unless there is a large group of polar bears who rent a significant percentage of Florida hotel rooms.

Toni

Paul, sounds like you're describing my old dorm room in DeKalb. I'd like to have some of those northern heat systems down here in NC...not that I'll need it for long. Summer should arrive in March.

Kevin C

An efficient boiler is most of the battle.

The hammering and surging are mostly caused as the house sags and causes bows in the pipes that prevent the water from flowing by gravity back to the boiler. I found that inserting little shims under the feet of noisy radiators (essentially un-sagging the house) fixed 95% of the problems in my system.

The other thing is that, after 80 years, it may be time to replace any air vent (the little bullet-shaped thing sticking out of every radiator) that foams or whistles continuously. See http://www.heat-timer.com/?page=varivalve

At the end of the cycle some "inhaling" is normal as the valves let air back into the system (as the steam retreats to the furnace)

For more, see http://www.heatinghelp.com/steam_problems.cfm

Kea

Bah, I'm from a subtropical climate but I spent two winters in Boston with the heat set to 60 degrees or less at home at all times. The first year I was sharing an old drafty house with other poor college students, and the second year (after being evicted from said crappy house) I lived in a middle-aged lady's unheated attic with only a space heater. Try coming home daily to a 50 degree room, then complain.

Blaise Pascal

Coincidentally, the boiler went out in our house last week as well. I think with the colder weather old problems are becoming evident as the systems try to start up again after months of dormancy.

We normally keep our house set at 60-65, for energy efficiency issues. We have hot-water radiators, not steam. Usually, we don't even notice that they are working or not. It just keeps the room a fixed temperature with very little noticeable hysteresis.

Fortunately, our boiler was relatively easy to get working again, so our house is back up to a nice toasty 65. It was down to upper 40s before we could get it working again.

Having lived with radiant heat and with forced air, I much recommend radiant.

Okapi

There are many ways to skin a cat.

This comment is highly offensive to those of us that like cats.

bill

A disproportionate percentage of boiler break downs are the first 1 or 2 of the season. For that reason, I usually let the system run the first cold night or two, or even earlier, with the thermostat set at 70. After that, we keep the house at 60 (nights) to 64 (days) all winter. Basically, if my system is going to go at the beginning of the heating season, I want to be the first to break, not the last.

Ele

Welcome to Florida, Steve. When we moved down here from Chicago we thought we wouldn't need sweaters indoors LOL. (We were wrong -for summer, at least).

The principle underlying the freezing A/C temps in buildings? I believe it's a state law aimed to prevent infectious disease. Germs die. (Studies show that no, humans don't get colds from exposure to cold temps).

Geno

Where in Florida were you? Are you coming to Miami anytime soon? I would love to attend one of your lectures. 60 degrees for us down here is a major cold front. That means bring out the heavy jackets not sweaters.

AJ

I'm not surprised your hotel room was set to 60 degrees. I've noticed as society has gotten FATTER over the years, the temperature in public buildings has gone down to the unbearable level. Especially for those of us fit people who don't have a lot of fat for insulation.

It's common practice now for my wife to carry some sort of warming garment whenever we go into buildings. This includes the summer months here in the midwest.

Survei

The heater went out my house too. It's been a week and it won't be replaced for about two weeks! We're managing to keep comfortable though.

double d

As a banker, I was involved in a massive remodel of a great old house with radiator heat. I was amazed at the advances that have been made in that technology. I guess all those houses can't be retro-fitted to forced air systems. They pulled out a boiler the size of a bulldozer and replaced it with a highly efficient one, the size of a dorm fridge. Amazing.

Is there really much cat-skinning going on anymore?

Charles

I've always wondered where all the cat skinners went and why they were so determined to figure out new techniques.