Cybernaut 

Hot houses

While we still have a week of summer left, and a couple of months to go until ski season it’s getting colder at night. I live in an older house that is shifting and settling, and my roommates and I have started to notice drafts.

Cold air is sneaking in through gaps in the window frames, through the sliding door, under the front door, and even through light fixtures. Our home and water is also electrically heated, and last winter we were running up bills in excess of $400 every two months.

For a bunch of ski bums, that’s a lot of money to cough up. Our saving grace is an excellent woodstove and our connection to an urban logger in Vancouver.

But unless we can cut down on the drafts and keep the heat indoors, it’s still going to cost us an arm and a leg to stay warm this winter.

In addition to our heating problems, we have a mouse and squirrel problem, some plumbing issues to fix, and a new floor to install in the bathroom. By the time it snows it will be too late to fix a lot of these problems, so the next couple of weeks are set aside for winterizing and all around home improvement.

We have the tools and some knowledge of how to use them, but we’re likely going to be hampered by men’s intuition – an ingrained belief that we know exactly what we’re doing and where we’re going. I’ve winged a few home improvement projects before, and let’s just say it’s generally a waste of time, money, and blood. It’s better to start with a plan.

Like last week’s sites these came from On Magazine (www.onmagazine.com), formerly Time Digital.

www.doityourself.com

Do It Yourself is huge. There are honestly thousands of detailed project descriptions on this site, from installing a bathroom to wiring a fuse box. After maybe 10 minutes of surfing I had the answers to pretty much all of my problems plus some new ideas. I just wish I had a backyard to put the gazebo in.

The Interface is cluttered, but by being a little patient and using the Search option you should be able to find the plan you want.

www.homedoctor.net/

Like Do It Yourself, this site has dozens of step by step home improvement tips. The approach is slightly different in that it assumes from the very beginning that you know nothing – not a bad way to go if you can be honest with yourself.

The sections on Energy Saving, Heating/Cooling, Home Safety, and Allergy Control are particularly interesting.

www.insidespaces.com

As well as the usual project information, this site is full of tips and trips to keep a house running smoothly – that includes preventative maintenance, like flushing sinks with hot water and baking soda once a month to keep them clear and vacuuming the lint from your dryer twice a year.

www.plumbnet.com

Go to the "Help Around the House" section for the layman/woman stuff. There’s obviously a lot more to being a plumber than screwing pipes together and replacing the washers in your faucets periodically if they’re charging you $50 or more an hour, so you should probably read everything you can before you bust out the big wrench.

www.pbs.org/wgbh/thisoldhouse/

This is the official Web site of This Old House, one of the most popular home improvement shows on television. Because the show is produced for the idiot box, every project is simplified. They tell you what to get, where to get it, and how to use it properly.

eww.bchydro.bc.ca/powersmart/

Baseboard heaters are probably the least efficient way to heat a house, but when they’re all you have and it’s 10 below freezing outside, they tend to stay on anyway.

There are ways to make them more efficient, however, and ways to cut down on power usage around the house to compensate.

B.C. Hydro’s Power Smart program is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to save money around the house without wearing toques and down parkas to bed.

First take the Power Smart Home Energy Profile, answering the questions truthfully to get a full assessment of your energy uses. The program will then calculate how much you could potentially save on each bill by using power friendly methods to light your hallways and heat your house.

Another good tool is the Appliance Calculator. If you have a roommate who showers twice a day, does laundry every other day, uses the dryer to warm their mittens, and runs the dishwasher half empty, while you shower every three days, do laundry every three weeks, hang your gloves up over the heater and cram the dishwasher to the breaking point, you’re getting the short end of the stick when you split the bill.

The Power Smart Tips are also useful.

Since heating generally accounts for half of all power consumption, that should be the first place you start looking for savings. Insulating and draft-proofing can cut power bills significantly, as can the use of a programmable thermostat.

As a renter it’s not up to me to install triple paned windows, but using plastic and the right caulking will cut down on drafts significantly – people lose up to one-third of all their heat through improper windows. Drapes also help, although you should open windows that get the sun during the day.

If you have a woodstove or a fireplace, you should also close the damper between uses. Close doors to reduce the amount of space you have to heat.

There is always a question of cost verses savings, especially when you’re renting. If you spend $200 to keep the heat in, for example, will you save $200 on your electric bills?

It depends. A Power Smart house that’s properly insulated and sealed should be able to at least break even. A Power Dumb house doesn’t stand a chance.

Time to call a house meeting.

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