How I Cut 87% Off My Heating Bills Last February


For years I have talked to people about how to save energy.

And when I try to describe a few things about “heat yourself instead of the whole house,” it seems that there has been a huge gap between the stuff in my head and what others are willing to believe. So last year I experimented. By February, I cut my electric bill by 87%. I’m confident that this year I might be able to push it past 90%.

First, I have to express that I’m not one of those “polar people” that go swimming in icy waters. I have learned that even when bundled up, I get uncomfortable in rooms with a temperature below 65 degrees F. I guess I’m a wimp. So this isn’t about being tough. This is about science and understanding the different kinds of heat. The key is to heat myself instead of the whole house. Here is my lame drawing of me, at my desk, and I am heating the whole house:

And here is the same image, but I’ve turned the house thermostat down to 50 and I have a personal heater at my feet:

My shins cooked and my fingers were numb with cold. A bit of optimization led to a better solution:

This turned out to be an excellent solution. I was plenty warm in a room that was 50 degrees. My collection of personal heaters consumed about 235 watts – far less than what the personal heater at my feet used. I started playing with ways to lower that and got that down to 82.5 watts:

And now for the stars of this show. 82.5 watts comes from these four things:

A dog bed warmer (15 watts):

personal heater dog bed warmer
A heated keyboard (25 watts):

personal heater heated keyboard

heated mouse (2.5 watts):

personal heater heated mouse

A standard 40 watt incandescent light bulb:

The heat from the incandescent light bulb was key. I have to admit that I probably looked a little goofy, but the important thing is that it worked, and it worked well. There is now plenty of room to make it all pretty for folks that want pretty, and I have loads of ideas for that space.

The light bulb hung in a chick brooder lamp thingy about three inches over my head. It warmed my bald spot and my nose. And was positioned in such a way that the light was not in my eyes. The other three contraptions gave off heat that would rise. Just a tiny bit of heat right where I needed it. I can even say that I let the room temperature drop below 50 and I was still warm as toast.

For a lot of people, this can turn into $1000 of savings over the winter. And $1000 is worth looking goofy while sitting under a chick brooder. And that includes turning the thermostat up a few times over the winter because you have guests. For other people, it is much more than the thousand dollars. That’s a thousand dollars worth of dirty electricity from coal plants or hydro systems that are killing fish and filling with silt behind the dams.

I have a lot more to say on lots and lots of details about this. You can read my discussion about this as I tried things last winter in a thread called making the best of electric heat, or you can read the summary I wrote last winter called I cut 87% off of my electric heat bill.


BIO: Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploadspermaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to MakeitMissoula on this Blog Homepage here.