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How cold can a room be?


oldhouse45's Avatar
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01-09-09, 08:13 PM   #1  
How cold can a room be?

My brother and I live in our family house; he is downstairs and I am upstairs. We keep the heat down as low as possible during the winter to save on oil.

Normally the thermostat is set on 50 degrees, and we supplement the heat just a room at a time with small electric heaters. His kitchen has just one radiator and it never gets warm with the 50-degree setting because it is last in the heating structure and he hasn't used an electric heater there. Consequently, the kitchen temperature is below 50 degrees.

A pipe broke under his sink this week, and our plumber said it may have been caused by the low temperature there. I have two questions:

* What is the minimum temperature a room should be to avoid this problem? (We plan to put an electric heater in the kitchen now.)

* If the faucet were turned on to a drip, would this be sufficient to stop the pipes from freezing?

Thanks for your time.

 
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01-09-09, 08:26 PM   #2  
the minimum temp will vary depending on airflow and location of the piping, if the piping is in a exterior wall the temp you keep the room will need to be higher to avoid freezing temps in the wall than if the piping is in a interior wall, leaving the cabinets open so air can circulate in them will help, usually electric heaters are less efficiant than a oil heater, however that assumes you are trying to keep the temp the same thruout the structure, I would be very carefull not to overload the circuts as that will be a fire hazard. leaving the faucets dripping can help to prevent freezing, but if the temps get low enough it will still freeze.

are you going to cowboy up or just lay there and bleed?

 
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01-09-09, 08:43 PM   #3  
Laing Thermotech, Inc. - The Leader in Instant Hot Water Technology

Look at "AUTOCIRC" on this website. This product has a timer and an on/off switch. Since you keep the temperature low in the house this product will circulate the water in your piping system.

 
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01-09-09, 11:28 PM   #4  
have you tried heat tape for the pipe? I would try too get the heat as close to what your trying to protect.
Is it possible that a local social service can be made aware of the way you are living.. you might want to reach out and allow someone to help you with more heat .

 
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01-10-09, 04:01 AM   #5  
I don't think there is much of a $ savings if you have to supplement the oil fired heat with electric. Seems a little counterproductive to me. You are probably paying more for electric than oil. We keep our house at 62 in the winter, and it is quite comfortable. We, likewise, do it to cut down on $, but find we are no more uncomfortable than we would be if it were at 68 or 70.

 
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01-10-09, 11:41 AM   #6  
I keep my heat at 62 and dress accordingly. I guess I could keep it cooler and wear a jacket.

Keeping heat at 50 and then heating rooms with electricity is not cost effective. Pick a higher thermostat setting than 50, lose the supplemental electrical heat, and dress accordingly. Wear a sweater like Mr. Rogers. A small coverlet on back of sofa can be pulled down as needed when not up and moving about.

Monitor the oudoor temps. When heading into a deep freeze, leave the sink cabinet doors open for air circulation.

Make sure you seal all air gaps around windows and doors. Roll up a towel or rug to stop drafts at bottom of doors or install weather seal. Seal all gaps where wires and pipes enter the structure. Seal around pipes beneath sinks. There is insulation for pipes. Insulating hot water pipes prevents heat loss and saves on energy. Insulating cold water pipes can prevent condensation and help prevent freezing.

Make sure attic has adequate insulation and ventilation. Inspect crawl space for insulation and vapor retarder. If basement is unfinished, inspect insulation between joists.

Energy Star info on sealing and insulating: Air Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR : ENERGY STAR

 
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01-10-09, 12:07 PM   #7  
Hi oldhouse, turning down the heat to temps that low, as you have found out, can cause more problems, just when you don't need them. Here are some questions to help us advise you on how to close off some areas and heat others.
Is your heating system in the basement?
Do you have one thermostat or two?
Hot water heat or steam heat?
Are your windows older single glass windows?
Does the house have much insulation?
Are you seniors?
Do you have plumbing, bathrooms, upstairs and down? Kitchen is of course down.
Is this a basic two story home, cape, or other?
Is your fiel oil or gas?

Let us know and we will advise.
Bud

 
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01-10-09, 01:47 PM   #8  
How cold can a room be?

One thing that has not been mentioned - I keep my thermostat low as well and I find it feels warmer if I use a humidifier. Moist air heats easier than dry air.

 
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01-10-09, 03:08 PM   #9  
Thanks for bringing up humidity. Humid air does heat more easily than dry air. Humidity level should be maintained 35-55% year round. This can be measured with hyrometer (sold where thermometers are sold).

Running fans also improve air circulation and can help with the movement of air. Many reverse direction of ceiling fans in winter to circulate warm air at ceiling downward. Warm air rises. Cold air is more heavy and sinks to the floor.

 
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01-10-09, 09:57 PM   #10  
How to prevent pipes from freezing

Using an electric heater to heat a room in hopes of preventing pipes from freezing is not an energy efficient solution. Wrapping pipes with heat tape or easy heat is also an option but, only practicle if you have easy access to the pipe or at least the portion which is known to keep freezing. Heat tape must be installed correctly to avoid injury or risk of fire. Heat tape "does" require annual inspections and plan to keep extra fuses on hand for any blowouts which they're notorious for.

Here's a link to a news article that is surprisingly common this time of year. "[URL="http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/010909/loc_375555570.shtml"] "Heat tape caused four home fires in the last six months in Juneau" From an energy efficient perspective I believe heat tape can consume as much as 6 watts per foot of protected pipe. And, although it's a lot less energy than most electric space heaters out there it's hardly an efficient solution.

Someone previously suggested looking at the AUTOCIRC from Laing Thermotech. Although, they do have a pump that can circulate 90 degree water through the lines it's a bit excessive in my opinion. Redytemp on the other hand, a long time competitor of the autocirc has a model that's specifically designed for preventing pipes from freezing in the winter time and the rest of the year, provides us with instant hot water. Their system has adjustable temperature control that allows for a circulation temperature setpoint below 50 degree's, just enough to protect our pipes and keep demand on our water heater to a minimum. I chose the Redytemp because of it's calcium proof parts just so we wouldn't have to perform maintenance, inspections every once in a while and it didn't require a water softener to prevent calcium or mineral buildup inside the system like the autocirc states in their install instructions. We have one in our home and one that stays in the RV which we like to install in our cabin each winter .

 
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01-12-09, 05:47 PM   #11  
Thanks to everyone

I want to thank everyone for their help. I will take everything into consideration and act accordingly. To answer some of the questions that were asked:

The heat is oil, the radiators use hot water, the house is old, but well insulated. The windows downstairs are only about 20 years old. My windows upstairs are the original ones, with storm windows on the outside from the 1950s. The house was built in 1879, just 14 years after the end of the Civil War, but it's in pretty good shape.

We're not poor, nor seniors, but just don't want to spend too much on oil because the price isn't fair. My electric bill upstairs only went up $90 last month, which is $22.50 per week, or about $3 per day. My brother's bill downstairs went up very little. He doesn't mind freezing a little to save on heat. His three cats sleep with him at night and help keep him a little warmer.

Thanks again.

I really appreciate all the responses.

 
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01-12-09, 07:02 PM   #12  
If upstairs are older and drafty, you can cover with plastic during winter to prevent heat loss. There are kits available at home centers.

How's the attic insulation? Do you have enough R-value?

 
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01-15-09, 05:47 PM   #13  
I have a question too!

My husband INSIST that it is ok for us to close all other rooms and heat just the living area with a space heater.

Right now it is 58 in our bedroom (closed off to heat), 61 here in the living room with a space heater or two or three! (this is where thermostat to gas furnace is located and kept on 58). Our two other bedrooms and a bathroom are closed off by a pocket door. Right now the temp is at 54 and dropping in that area. It is below 0 outside. We are on a crawl space.

This running space heaters in the area of which we are was caused by out gas bill last month being $200 when we normally have a $100-$120 bill this time of year. We have seen some really colds days over the last month.

We used the space heaters some last month and didn't see more than a $20 increase in our electric bill which was around $80.

I am trying to tell him he is wrong but we all know the outcome of that.

I really think with the temps this low we need to just run the furnace througout the home and if we want to use a space heater we should only use it in rooms away from the thermostat to keep it from making the other rooms freeze up (windows have had ice on them etc)

Our house seems well insulated and is only 20 yrs old. It was a custom built home for its time. Our house is 2000 sq ft. Our gas bill in the winter is usually $100 or less and Elec is $60.

[shrugs] halp!

 
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01-15-09, 07:16 PM   #14  
best way to git rid of the house i know of running space heaters is the biggest fire hazard you could have, not to mention they are very inefficient. check for air leaks and drafts around switch plates, plug boxes, doors, window, etc. my guess is your house has a lot of air leaks causing the problems your experiencing.

life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies

 
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01-15-09, 07:41 PM   #15  
Posted By: Speedwrench best way to git rid of the house i know of running space heaters is the biggest fire hazard you could have, not to mention they are very inefficient. check for air leaks and drafts around switch plates, plug boxes, doors, window, etc. my guess is your house has a lot of air leaks causing the problems your experiencing.

life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies
Can you cite that for me? "best way to git rid of the house i know of running space heaters is the biggest fire hazard you could have". I would like to know where you get your information from.

Thanks

 
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01-15-09, 07:56 PM   #16  
Most research tends to show that for HVAC systems that it is not wise to close off heat vents or doors. The concept is an building 'envelope' for which the system was designed to serve.

You block it off. You mess it up. This building envelope works under the assumption of no air leakage and optimum insulation for the area in which you are located. If you have the properly insulated windows, proper insulation in attic and walls, proper ventilation, vapor retarders and moisture control, etc., then your home is secure against heat loss. Each of these individual parameters can impact the effectiveness of the building's HVAC system.

 
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01-15-09, 07:56 PM   #17  
a fire investigator that i go to church with, he investigates fires for a living and testifies at arson investigations all over the us.

if we're not supposed to eat animals why are they made out of meat?

 
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01-16-09, 07:08 AM   #18  
And as twelvepole mentioned, your supplies and returns almost match in size, so if you impede either supply or return, your HVAC is working at less than capacity. I'll also side with speed on the infiltration of air. Foam outlet undercovers with foam and plastic plugs, door seals - top, bottom and sides. Window casing - pull the case molding, ensure, or install minimally expanding foam in the crack, reinstall the molding. Those are the biggest holes in your house. Insulate the crawlspace and close your foundation vents.

 
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01-16-09, 08:08 AM   #19  
Posted By: Speedwrench a fire investigator that i go to church with, he investigates fires for a living and testifies at arson investigations all over the us.

if we're not supposed to eat animals why are they made out of meat?

Interesting.

I have been using a space heater every morning when I shower for over 10 yrs. My house hasnít burned down, or caught fire. Nor have I had any problems with any heater and I have been through several. Most just stop working.

I am not convinced it is as the fault of the space heater. I am convened it is the fault of the idiots who do not properly use them.

With that said....I know it doesn't excuse the faulty space heaters that do cause fires. I had a family member by marriage die in a house fire caused by a FAN (not heater). It caught fire in an enclosed unoccupied room and when he opened the door the back draft killed him. So I have been told thatís how it happened.

 
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01-16-09, 08:12 AM   #20  
Posted By: chandler And as twelvepole mentioned, your supplies and returns almost match in size, so if you impede either supply or return, your HVAC is working at less than capacity. I'll also side with speed on the infiltration of air. Foam outlet undercovers with foam and plastic plugs, door seals - top, bottom and sides. Window casing - pull the case molding, ensure, or install minimally expanding foam in the crack, reinstall the molding. Those are the biggest holes in your house. Insulate the crawlspace and close your foundation vents.
Like OP...our house from what I can tell is well insulated. Crawl space has the insulating barrier stuff (not sure what it is called). Attic has insulation blown in so thick you cannot see the rafters. Outlets have the little insulation thingys in them. Windows seem air tight (doesn't feel drafty and have held incents near them to check). The windows are double pain and have some pretty thick glass. Our garage stays right around 45 deg in teh winter and it is unheated however that is where the furnace is located.

My problem is getting the husband to turn up the thermostat and not use the space heaters. He acts like we are poor and can't afford the damn heating bill. That isn't the case. lol

 
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01-16-09, 04:19 PM   #21  
Newer space heaters are safer then old one. New style's have tip over sensors. This will shut the unit off if tipped over.

Also, people plug these things in on overloaded circuits, extension cords, etc that are a huge fire risk.

 
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01-16-09, 05:25 PM   #22  
To be honest, we do keep our thermostat at 62, since it is a heat pump and is ineffective at lower temperatures. We heat (like tonight at 4 degrees) with a plenum heater in the basement. Build a fire in an enclosed air locked chamber, set the draft, and the hot air accumulates in a plenum above it and is fan forced through the existing HVAC ductwork. Heat pump rarely comes on.

 
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01-17-09, 06:26 AM   #23  
Posted By: DIYliz I have a question too!

This running space heaters in the area of which we are was caused by out gas bill last month being $200 when we normally have a $100-$120 bill this time of year. We have seen some really colds days over the last month.

bill in the winter is usually $100 or less and Elec is $60.

[shrugs] halp!

I took a quick look at the data for Indy. For Dec 08, the heating-degree-days was 1051. That is 31% higher than the Dec average and 101% higher than last Dec. The variable gas costs for Citizens Gas was 78c/therm last Dec vs 98 c/therm for this Dec, a 25% increase from last year. So weather and higher costs explain your bill, a mild and cheap last Dec make for a bad comparison.

Since your furnace is in the garage, make sure the duct work is well sealed and insulated. Your losing heat to your garage if its 45 and the heated areas are in the upper 50s.

 
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01-18-09, 07:49 PM   #24  
Hey Chris....thanks that was very helpful.

We'll take a look at the ducts and make sure they are insulated. We are also going to look around and see where we can add some insulation (around doors/windows/etc). Pretty sure we are pretty sealed up but perhaps were missing something else too. We have Monday off and figured it'd be a good time to do it.

Thank you again for doing that.

 
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01-19-09, 04:59 AM   #25  
While you are checking your ductwork, make sure the returns are insulated as well. This insulation was omitted on older homes, as they thought return air was going to be "conditioned" in the air handler anyway. If you can keep that air warmer (or cooler in the summer) your exchanger won't have to work as hard.

 
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