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Saving on Heat and Energy in the Wintertime: A Primer

Longer days and warmer nights lighten energy demands considerably during the summer months. As the calendar turns in most parts of the United States, however, the situation changes dramatically. In these locales, the cold and darkness of winter will eventually descend to confine people to their homes and increase the size of their heating and electricity bills by up to 40 or 50 percent.

This is the reality for those who still live on the grid, at any rate. But alas, while pursuing an off-the-grid lifestyle can simplify and improve a family’s quality of life in numerous ways, staying warm in the winter while keeping energy consumption down can prove to be quite the sticky wicket.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that anyone can adjust their lifestyles and adapt their homes to make them more energy-efficient and warmer in the wintertime. It must always be remembered that off-the-grid living thrives on its ability to stimulate inventive solutions to problems, so this kind of challenge is exactly the sort of thing that will bring out the best in those who have chosen this mode of existence.

Here Comes the Sun

Installing a solar energy system to provide home electricity is becoming a standard choice for preppers. But even if such an investment is too pricey, it is still possible to take advantage of the sun to help heat indoor spaces during the winter. Large windows facing the south and the southwest will allow the sun’s rays to penetrate and heat rooms quite effectively even on the coldest winter days. If possible, substances that have high thermal mass and can absorb and re-emit more heat from the sun over a longer period of time like brick, ceramic, stone, and concrete should be used as building materials on the south side of the home, both indoors and outdoors. Solar thermal systems also take advantage of the sun’s natural effervescence to heat large amounts of water for home use, and plans showing how to build a do-it-yourself unit from scratch are now available from many different sources online.

The Mixed Blessings of Wind

Small wind turbines can be an excellent choice for those living in areas with sufficient air movement. This technology has come a long way in both cost and efficiency, although anything more than a one-kilowatt turbine might be out of the price range for most. This smaller type of unit is often used in conjunction with a solar installation, charging battery banks on winter days when the sun is hiding and nowhere to be found.

While wind can provide a decent amount of off-the-grid electricity, on cold days it can also cut through windows and walls and cool off indoor spaces in a hurry. This is why any home built in areas where the wind frequently hits should have some kind of wind break set up, most likely on the north and/or west side, to protect the house from those notorious clippers that carry Canadian cold fronts down to the lower 48.

Bad Spaces in New Places

It is amazing how vulnerable even well-insulated and constructed places can be to cold air leaking in from outside during the long winter months. This is why it is necessary each year to make a very careful inspection of your home and to be prepared to put caulk, weather stripping, plastic lining, or insulation in any space or crevice or crack that is found, as well as along the sides and at the bottom of any location where cold air could possibly enter or warm air could possibly leave.

The Phantom of Energy Use

Not everyone realizes that when appliances or electronic devices are plugged, in they are actually using power even when they are not turned on. This kind of electricity use is known as phantom energy, and it can be easily eliminated by using a power strip that can be plugged into an outlet and switched off at night or at any other times when electric devices are not being used.

It is also important to understand that not all appliances are created equal: new electrical devices frequently carry an Energy Star label, which certifies that they meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. Older appliances, on the other hand, are quite inefficient in many cases, and they will use a lot more energy than something that has been manufactured more recently.

Wood is Good

A good wood stove is terrific for heating and cooking, and it is an especially great choice for those who can harvest trees sustainably on their own land. If a larger unit is purchased, the stove can be placed outside and the heat can be piped in.

Needless to say, if it becomes necessary to purchase wood to fuel the stove, some of the money potentially saved will be lost; but when hard work and perspiration are all that is required to supply a family’s need for wood, a well-built and designed wood stove is probably the most efficient type of “alternative” energy available.


Snuggling, strictly speaking, is not a form of alternative energy. But nevertheless, it is an excellent way to stay warm when the temperatures are below zero and the winter winds are howling outside. And just as importantly, it can be a lot of fun!

©2011 Off the Grid News

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