12.17.2005

ouch

This is the wallet kind of ouch.

We live in an old house. The appliances are new and it's been well maintained, but it was built in the 1940s: it's heated by oil, and not well insulated. I knew that would mean an expensive winter, but no one could tell me even approximately what kind of expense we were getting into. Our landlord lived here briefly, and he showed us his old heating bills, but the price of heating oil has changed a lot since then, and he wasn't working at home. In any case, even if we had known the exact figures, we still would have taken the house, so it barely matters.

Three weeks ago when we came home from our little Thanksgiving trip, there was a receipt in the mailbox informing us that the oil tank had been filled in our absence. That alone, however, is meaningless. The real test is how long that tank lasts.

Well, two days ago I was shocked to see the oil truck pull up again. Three weeks?? That fill-up lasted only three weeks? Gulp. The plastic has been on the windows only one week, so perhaps this oil delivery doesn't reflect that yet. Plus, some of those windows were only shut on the inside, and were seriously drafty - and now that's fixed. Will this make a big difference? We hope so.

We've also lowered the thermostat by one degree, and I'm using a space-heater near my desk. (I bought the heater for Allan when he still lived in Vermont! We used to jokingly call it "the fireplace". Who knew I'd be glad we kept it all these years?)

I don't know if there's anything else we can do? If not, this is going to be a very expensive winter. Oh well. I'm grateful we can afford it and are in no danger of actually freezing, like so many poor and elderly people in the US. But: ouch!

16 comments:

James said...

Keep your eyes open for any sources of draughts. Make sure your doors are weather-sealed! That's often a big place for heat loss. Also, consider getting a programmable thermostat that can turn the heat down overnight automatically. I don't remember you having a fireplace, but if you do, check to make sure you're not loosing too much heat there.

Mandy & Eddie said...

Do you have curtains covering your windows? The first house we bought was a fab but drafty house, and we absolutely HORRIFIED to get that first gas bill. Since we didn't have any money left after the closing, the first thing we did was get a new thermostat, covered the windows with plastic and long, heavy "winter" curtains (check IKEA), and finally, after a few years, had some insulation blown in and got new windows. We probably needed a new furnace, but we always tried to dodge such a big financial hit.

Good luck and stay warm.

Ferdzy said...

Good advice here already, especially about curtains.

We used to own 8 townhouses all built around 1920. We saw all the bills, and they varied pretty wildly.

The woman with the lowest bills not only had heavy curtains on her windows, but curtains instead of doors between rooms. Also, she kept the house at a low temperature, and used a space heater in whichever room she was sitting in.

Programmable thermostats can save money, but don't set them too low at night; if your walls, floors, furniture etc cool down too much you will just be running the furnace a lot in the morning to heat them up again.

Talk to your landlord about a new furnace. We put new furnaces in our townhouses for about $2,000 apiece. We got a quantity discount, and did not go for the very best either. Nor did we have to redo very much ductwork. Let's say yours could be done for $3,000. See if your landlord is willing to go halvsies with you. If you are planning to stay there several years, you should see the savings. (Don't start by offering to pay for half. Start by asking him to replace it, and keep that in mind as your place of compromise.)

L-girl said...

Thanks for the advice, everyone.

- The doors may not be weather sealed. We'll check that out this week.

- We have a programmable thermostat, but so far we haven't used it. I guess we could. We keep it pretty cool in here already, so I'm not sure how much lower we could go. What is yours set for at night?

- Sadly, no fireplace. So no draughts there.

- The landlord put in a new furnace a few years ago, so that's done.

- As for heavy winter curtains, I hear ya, but I don't know. The way my home looks is super-important to me. I don't know if I could live with heavy curtains. Plus I have allergies and heavy curtains are major dust-catchers.

G said...

Three weeks is a VERY short amount of time ... could be a small tank, though ... does the receipt mention the tank size? Or it could mean it's time for a new furnace, depending on how old it is.

Best bet is to talk to your landlord about the short tank life and see if you can get him to have a heating company send someone in to take a look at the house. A good heating professional will be able to tell him if the tank, furnace, or house structure is the issue.

L-girl said...

Best bet is to talk to your landlord about the short tank life and see if you can get him to have a heating company send someone in to take a look at the house. A good heating professional will be able to tell him if the tank, furnace, or house structure is the issue.

That was all done before we moved in. But I'll mention it to him. It can't hurt. He's a great guy and will help out if at all possible.

David Cho said...

Ah..

Just about to go for a walk with Noah IN SHORTS. Hehehe.

I will have to duck now.

L-girl said...

I will have to duck now.

David, no weather in the world could make me want to live in Orange County.

But here's a snowball atcha anyway. :)

Scott M. said...

OK... what else...

Check for drafts through recepticles and switches in outside walls. If so, take them out and put vapour barrier on the outside of the metal box they are housed in. If that's too difficult for you, you can get pre-cut foam that you place in behind your coverplate (which will help but not so much).

Heavy curtains are highly recommended... try and find some that are not as allergenic (I have the same problem).

Want to know for sure? Get your landlord to do a "Energuide for Houses" check. It will cost him $200 or so, but they'll come in and detail all of the problems with the house including indicating where every draft is, what insulation needs to be fixed, and give tons of ideas. As well, if the landlord puts out money to improve it, when they come back and do a second check and it shows a substantial difference, he can get a rebate from the federal government.

What else? If you have an attic and can get into it, check to see how much insulation is up there and how warm it is. If it is warmer than outside, and the insulation is on the bottom of the attic, you are losing tons of heat from the attic. For a 900 sqft. area of attic (one floor), it will cost about $250 for 3" of blown-in insulation ($350 for 5"). It can pay back very fast!

For thermostats, I have mine programmed for weekdays to turn on at 5:40am to 20c, down to 17c at 8:30am, back up to 20c at 4pm, and back down to 17c at 10pm. On the weekend, it goes up to 20c at 9am and down to 17c at 10pm.

Other things to bear in mind: do you have bathroom vents? If so, do you leave them on? When you blow the hot air out, cold air must come in to replace it. Similarily with your dryer vents.

On the topic of the dryer vent, if you have a low-humidity problem in the house as well (typical for drafty houses), you're pumping warm humid air out of the house. Depending on your abibility to distribute the warm, humid air you can consider venting the dryer to the inside of the house. Be cautious though, you don't want to create one extremely humid area where mold and other things can exist!

To check for drafts, turn on all of your expelling fans (bathroom, dryer, etc) and use a feather. Check any break in the exterior walls, switchplates, picture holes, door and window frames, etc.

And finally, remember to dress warm inside. If you come home and want to be able to walk around in your underwear, perhaps you're asking too much. At night, you'll be amazed how good a sleep you can get with a cool (17c) outside and a resonably warm blanket (but not too warm).

L-girl said...

Thank you, Scott M. I'll see what I can do.

Of the various things you mentioned, the attic is a likely source of heat loss. In fact, the access is right beside me right now, in the closet in my office.

We have vents in the bathroom and kitchen, but they are rarely open, and then only for short periods.

Anyway, the attic is a good idea. I'll check that.

And finally, remember to dress warm inside. If you come home and want to be able to walk around in your underwear, perhaps you're asking too much.

This made me laugh. We keep the temperature at 19 all day. Socks and long sleeves needed all the time. No one's walking around half-naked here. :)

you'll be amazed how good a sleep you can get with a cool (17c) outside and a resonably warm blanket (but not too warm).

No I wouldn't - I'd just be me. Because of allergies, I prefer to sleep without heat on at all. We bundle up big-time. No worries there.

David Cho said...

Oh, I'm sure you won't mind Los Angeles which is just down the street from me.

dogsled_stacie said...

Ahhh... install a wood stove!! Toasty warm and only costs you how much you can possibly cut (I realize this may not be feasible where you live).

My place is regularly between 20-25C (sometimes more when I don't pay attention to the raging fire).

L-girl said...

Ah Dogsled_Stacie, sounds lovely!

But I don't think our landlord would be too pleased when we burned down the house... ;)

Oh, I'm sure you won't mind Los Angeles which is just down the street from me.

One of my closest friends moved to Pasadena just as I moved up here. I just got an email from her about shopping for a Xmas tree in jeans & a t-shirt...

Scott M. said...

Pasedena, Miami Beach, Hollywood and Tampa are all close to where I live...

in Keswick

David Cho said...

Well, if you ever get to visit your friend in Pasadena, BE SURE TO LET ME KNOW.

L-girl said...

David, I definitely will!