19 October 2008

How to save on your heating bill this winter, without spending a fortune

We have a lot of glass in this house. We like having all those south facing windows as they give us light and warmth, however, once the sun goes down, all that glass is a rapid heat-transfer system, swapping the heat from indoors with the bone chilling cold of an Alberta winter night.

Last year, when we had the really long, really awful cold snap I did make some window quilts and they made a huge difference. The trouble is, hanging them is a real hassle, and on cold days, although we'd like the sunshine, the window panes are still very cold to the touch ... meaning if we uncover them, we're losing precious indoor heat through the glass.

We did purchase some Energy Film at Home Depot last year and tried it on one of the windows: the stuff actually works really well! There is a bit of distortion when you look out the window, but it's not significant, we can still see the sheep and chickens and cats and cows, and the odd little warble in the view is of no consequence. A very simple test proved the effectiveness of the plastic film: just touch the uncoated glass with one finger, and the coated glass with another. The difference in temperature is dramatic.

The downside, of course, is that this stuff is expensive. It's around $30 (perhaps a bit more, I can't quite recall) for a 24"x48" piece. Now, we do need to see out of some of the windows, so it's worth it to pay the extra so we have 'viewports' that are not covered by heavy drapes or other cold blocking techniques, but we certainly can't afford to cover every window with this stuff.

This is where the bubblewrap comes in. You've probably seen this suggested somewhere or other and thought it was too weird to be true ... but it really does work, and it really is both cheap and easy.

We picked up three 20'x24" rolls of bubble wrap at Staples for about $12 per roll (yes, that is twenty feet of bubble wrap), and covered almost all of the remaining windows in the house. We'll need another few rolls (and a ladder) to finish the high front windows, but this morning's chill temperatures gave me the opportunity to try the 'finger test' on the bubblewrap as well: yup, it works.

There's still a chilly space between the curtains and the window, and we use fairly heavy draperies that go all the way to the floor wherever we can. This provides a space for that 'cool air pocket' to sit, further slowing the transfer of heat to outside and cold to inside.

If you want to try this, here's what to do:
  • Get your hands on some bubblewrap. The stuff with the tiny bubbles worked better for me than the stuff with the medium sized bubbles, and I didn't even want to attempt using the stuff with the great big bubbles, but use whatever you can find.
  • Get a spray bottle and a pair of scissors.
  • Go to the window you want to cover, and unroll the bubblewrap. Hold one edge against the bottom of the window, stretch up to the top, and mark the place where you need to cut. It's really easy to cut straight lines on bubble wrap: the bubbles act as built in guidelines.
  • Cut the bubblewrap to fit inside the window, without much overlap onto the frame, and ideally, without much open glass. Lots of our window panes are just a bit over 24", so we just leave the edges uncovered, or, if we need to see out some of the time, snug the bubblewrap right up against one edge and leave an open space where you can peer out at the world.
  • Get your spray bottle (filled with water or vinegar and water, or whatever you clean windows with) and spray the entire window, generously.
  • Push the bubble wrap against the wet window and squish it into place, smoothing from the middle out so that the whole thing is smushed into the water and against the glass. I tried some with the bubble-side-in and some with the smooth-side-in, and I think I've settled on bubble-side-in as being a better stick. Some of your bubble wrap may flop over and peel itself off after a day or two, don't lose heart: just respray and restick. Eventually it'll decide to stay put. I think some of it needs a bit of time to adjust to an unrolled position.
  • Voila: you have now started on the road to saving a bunch of money on your heating bill, you have improved the comfort level of humans who must sit near these windows, and you are still getting sunshine into the room!

If you want to try the Energy Film, you might want to consider what we did on the patio door as a cost-saving measure: we have a large, three-pane door. We do need to see out of this door, as it looks out over one of the pastures. We hung one piece of Energy Film on the centre panel, and all the rest of the glass (including the bottom portion of the center panel which the Energy Film didn't cover) is coated in bubble wrap. Lots of light, some restriction of the view, but we can still see outside. Also, it turns out that the bubble wrap with tiny bubbles will fit behind the patio door when it is slid open, so you can even put bubble wrap on the 'underneath' panel of your door, and still get the door open.

Here's to keeping warm and using less fuel to do it!

For more energy saving ideas, check out Solar Gary's excellent site: here's his article on bubble wrap insulation, it includes a calculation of the payback period, too ... which is very short!

1 comment:

  1. hi ajc,

    thanks for your comment re 'cows in the corn' back at It Strikes Me Funny.

    i have a window in my workshop that could use the bubble wrap idea. thanks for the tip.


    gord h.


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