North of the Border: Winter Heating

by Pat Mestern

It is cold today, very cold. The furnace gives a comforting grumble as it kicks in to keep the house at 65 degrees F. We have the furnace "tuned up" for maximum efficiency each autumn, but it is entitled to a grumble now and then. With a huge house to heat, we help the furnace along. Heat "travels" on humidity. The more humid the house, the warmer it feels. The same is true in the summer, isn't it? A spring flows from west to east in the basement during winter thaws, late fall and early spring. This does put moisture into the air - sometimes. We once had a small humidifier attached to the furnace but the children suffered many colds when it was operational. After a report came out stating that "nasties" grew in humidifier water - akin to Legionnaires Disease - we disconnected the unit. If you have a humidifier, clean it thoroughly - especially if seniors or young children are living in your house. Air conditioners can produce the same "nasties." Of course, you can add ingredients to the water to kill the germs but that presents more problems. Do not forget to have your furnace checked again in the spring.

So how do we achieve maximum humidity? We throw two pails of water in an unused corner of the basement each night - and each morning in the middle of a dry, cold winter. We get away with this because the basement in our 120-year old house is not livable. We invested in two pumps and have one small fountain in the living room and one in the upper floor (Adumb, the cat, loves this arrangement - personal watering holes). These fountains have benefits - no more static at the computer and no more "dry winter nose blues." Also, the sound of trickling water is very soothing. The upper hall holds the clothes drying racks. A summer fan blowing toward the racks accelerates the drying process and distributes moist air throughout the house. Our oil bill is approx. $1,200 per year (we also use an oil-fired hot water heater). Others with houses the size of ours - who heat with oil - have bills of $1,700 - $1,900 per year.

Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at

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