Weekly Woot & Grumble: No Heat, No Fire
Report: we are unheated. September, October, and perhaps an optimistic dash of November, are glorious months where we get by without heat or air conditioning. These delightful respites from climate control save us mega bucks in the ol’ utility bills region. As avowed frugal weirdos, Mr. FW and I stretch the seasons on both ends. And, as I shared in my especial July 4th edition of the Woot & Grumble (made extra special by Frugal Hounds’ flag-print visor), we didn’t turn our AC on until July 1st.
Two months of AC isn’t too shabby, especially considering we didn’t keep it on every day during that span. Winter is a bit dicier here in the Boston territories and heat must be employed to ward off dangerous events like freezing pipes.
One of the factors that made September such a low spend month for us was the absence of heat or AC. Avoiding climate control is a frugal autopilot activity for Mr. Frugalwoods and me, but it’s the inverse of what a lot of folks do. Flipping on the AC or heat is usually a reflexive reaction to the slightest change of seasons. But, when you think about it, paying to achieve a perfect temperature when it’s a mostly OK temperature inside your home is just plain silly. Plus, you can last a lot longer than you think. I promise.
Fall is the time to roast chestnuts on an open fire, right?! Well, problem: the current Frugalwoods home lacks both chestnuts and fire. There is no sweet scent of woodsmoke wafting though the air. Frugal Hound has never known the joy of curling up in front of warm flames (and probably singeing her whiskers). As the leaves crackle outside, and pumpkin spices are employed in everything from oats to coffee inside, no balm of warmth emanates from that most wonderful of creations: a fireplace. Or a woodstove. Or even just like a fire pit. When we lived in Washington, DC, the house we rented had a superb fireplace that we used at every opportunity. And so, we know what we’re missing.
Alas, our Cambridge, MA home has neither fireplace nor woodstove. And, there’s nowhere to put one–the construction and design of our house just doesn’t allow for the installation of either. Anywhere. At all. Trust me, we’ve explored. We’re missing part of a wall right now from our explorations. But that’s neither here nor there.
In addition to this being mildly embarrassing since our name is Frugalwoods, it’s also a rather unpleasant reminder of how dependent we are on city resources in order to survive. Our heat comes from natural gas and electricity to run our boiler–and there’s really nothing we can do about it. Two winters ago, we had a two-day power outage during a severe snowstorm. We’re pretty hardy and didn’t mind snuggling up for warmth, but, our pipes weren’t quite on the same wavelength. We dodged a bullet and none of them froze and burst, but, it was a stark realization that we can’t control our home without the grid.
Yet another aspect of homesteading that we look forward to is the ability to heat our entire home with a woodstove. Cord upon cord of wood will need to be harvested (ideally from our land), split, dried, and stored. But then, we’ll be warmed all winter long by the fruits of our labors (with the fringe benefit of enjoying eau de woodsmoke, a singularly divine odor).
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I love the months we can get by without AC or heat. We’re the opposite though – our AC season lasts a lot longer than our heat season. I think it was around January of last winter that we had to keep it on on a regular basis. The dachshunds are fantastic little heat sources and love to cuddle, so I’m sure that contributes to a lower heating bill. I’ll have to remember to give them a treat later to think them.
I love fireplaces. I want one in every room. Ok…maybe not every room, but a friend of mine has three in her house. Three! Oh, the possibilities. We have one, but it’s gas so we miss out on that divine eau de woodsmoke.
I’d take one in every room too! My in-laws have a gas fireplace and it’s gorgeous, but indeed lacks the festive odor. Glad to hear the Barefoot Barkers keep you nice and toasty 🙂
I don’t mind going without the AC. We had a mild winter here in Indiana so we rarely turned it on. Heat has to be turned on for reasons you’ve mentioned. We do have a really nice fireplace, but we don’t use it that often.
It was a mild summer here too–very nice to get away without the AC for as long as possible! You should give me your fireplace 🙂
I love wood stove heat! Growing up our home had a wood stove that was connected to our radiator system; our Dad always harvested a huge stack of wood (which was usually stacked under our swing-set with a tarp cover—great place to warm up during winter sledding sessions!) and we fed that wood stove all winter long. The house was always toasty warm and smelled amazing—the smell still gets me all nostalgic for home. I also remember being a little afraid to add a log and stoke the fire, the raging inferno made me think ‘that’s what hell must be like!’ —haha.
Ahhh, that sounds wonderful, Valerie. I really hope our kids have that same nostalgia one day. Thanks so much for sharing!
It’s downright chilly here today! I’ve got long sleeves and am curled under a blanket because the outside temperature this morning is… below 70! Whoa! Fret not, it’ll still get into the mid-80’s this afternoon.
We’re big season extenders, but we can get away with it pretty easily because of the relatively mild climate. We do use the AC most nights April – October, and there were only a handful of days this summer that we used it during the day. But then we’ll aim to get through this whole winter without using AC or heat once because we don’t want it recirculating construction dust all around the house.
PS – have you tried the pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds at Trader Joes (and by that what they mean is pumpkin pie spiced since pumpkin pie spice tastes nothing like actual pumpkin…)? Really good… but not nearly as good for me as the pepitas we usually buy.
Whoa, Mrs. PoP, sub-70 degrees!!!!! How’s your frostbite? Note to self: do not invite the PoPs to come to Cambridge anytime October-May ;). Good point about the construction dust–you’re wise to plan your kitchen reno for a time when you don’t need to use either system.
I have not tried those pumpkin delicacies of which you speak! I’m intrigued. I’ve actually been trying not to go to TJ’s too often because it’s a den of temptation for me. But, I need to go get more hot cocoa soon (priorities), so I might check out the seeds. And, agreed on pumpkin vs. pumpkin pie–there’s a whole lotta sugar involved in that flavor transmutation!
We do venture north every once in a while (though I’ve never technically been in New England), but it involves breaking out many wool scarves, long wool coats, silk long johns, corduroy pants, knee high socks, etc… it’s pretty amusing.
I’m loving this time of year without AC and heat – the air in the house is so fresh and crisp (not dry at all). But before I know it, it’ll be winter in Cleveland. I’m trying to enjoy it while I can! Have a great weekend, Frugalwoods 🙂
Fall really is the best season, I’m convinced! Hope you have a great weekend too, Natalie 🙂
A wood burning fireplace was a must have for my hubby when we purchased our home here in NY. We call him the fire whisperer because he is so good at building a fire. It has been too warm this fall thus far, though, so we haven’t gotten into the firewood yet but can’t wait for the time when we do. I love cozying up near the fire with a glass of wine.
How could I forget to mention the perfection that is wine by the fire! Yes! A fireplace was honestly a “must have” for us when we were house hunting too, but, our fireplace-less house was too good a deal to pass up. Plus, we were deluding ourselves into thinking we could install one. Next house for sure :)!!
Hi Frugalwoods! I have a special request for you, since you are (a) frugal (b) live in New England and (c) have a dog. Would you be willing to do a special post on how you keep your heating costs manageable during the winter? As a nosy, frugal, dog-loving, New Englander myself, I’d love to know what you set your heat at during day and night, your tricks for keeping costs low, and how Frugal Hound keeps warm when you’re at work. All the best to you! Your blog is wonderful 🙂
Hi Rebekah! Thank you so much for your request! I will be happy to write that up! I really appreciate you stopping by and letting me know what you’d like to read :). And, many thanks for your kind words. Take care!
We don’t control our heat in NYC, the landlords do, so we’re at their mercy. I have a tendency to get cold super easily though so I sometimes use an energy sucking blow dryer to warm myself up. Bad money move, I know. Thankfully,it’s been in the 70s here!
Bummer. We weren’t in control of our heat in our previous apartment in Cambridge and it felt like we were never quite the right temp. The fall has been so mild here too! It’s oddly warm, but hey, it lets us stretch out the no-heat thing longer!
I admit, we have the heat on a couple of nights already when it frosted. Mr. FP has to get up for work at about 5, and getting up in the pitch-dark when it still feels like night time is even harder when the house is icy. And I often spend the hour between 5:30 and 6:30 am popping in and out of bed to deal with toddlers. We do not have a programmable thermostat, more’s the pity. (We are renters. Not going to invest in things for our hopefully temporary townhouse.) I turn it off when the sun comes up.
I’m 100% with you on not investing in things when you’re renting! And, sounds like you’ve got a good system with turning it off when the sun arrives. We have a sliding glass back door that’s south-facing and so we open the curtains to soak in as much solar heat as possible!
Yes I agree during the fall most people can just wear a sweater indoors and stay nice and toasty. I live off the grid as well since we live in a building. Good Job on saving all those dollars in Sept.
Yes to sweaters! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I like having a fireplace as an emergency heat source. Our neighbors, who have lived next door since 1950, used their very similar fireplace as a sole heat source for some time. Their furnance broke at some point, so they spent a few winters sleeping in the living room with their then small children to take advantage of the fire.
That said, my sister and her husband heat their house with wood. They swear it saves them a lot of money, but we all keep joking that they need to take the ER costs into account. My brother in law has had a few wood-chopping related injuries. He also managed to melt their city garbage can with hot ashes.
Wood-chopping injuries, oh no! And a melted garbage can to boot! But hey, they get to smell woodsmoke 🙂
Sounds like your neighbors had a great system going on there.
We’re big season extenders too, and always are doing everything we can to keep the HVAC off as much as possible through all 4 seasons. After the unseasonably cold winter last year, we also tried to conceive everything possible way to install a wood stove in the house. Alas, it would essentially require tearing the whole house apart! Sigh… To add insult to injury, the house has a gas fireplace in it…only problem is we don’t get natural gas and I’m not gonna install a propane tank JUST for the fireplace! So it just sits there all winter…mocking us.
Oh sad times! Sounds like you went on a similar fireplace expedition as us! We were so hopeful that we’d be able to install one somewhere. Oh well, someday…
We’ve had our heat on for a few weeks now : ( It isn’t running super often yet, but our house is definitely older and not terribly well insulated. We did come up with a great heating solution though.. the heated blanket. Why heat up a whole house when all you need is a warm place to sleep?
I feel your pain on the poorly insulated house. Our place in DC was atrociously insulated (you could feel air rushing in around every window and door). We’re thankful that this house is better insulated, even though it’s 120 years old! So true on warm sleeping–absolutely key!
Could you roast chestnuts in the oven? Juuuust kidding!
We turned the heat on once, but it’s back off now! Have a nice weekend!
I’m sure we could roast them in the oven, but it wouldn’t be the same :)!!!! Way to go on de-heating!
Our house has two fireplaces, but we were told by our home inspector that if you have a fireplace and want to burn a fire in the winter, it can actually make your house colder if you have your thermostat nearby. Lets say you keep your house at 65 in the dead of winter. If you light a fire, often times the thermostat will note the increase in temperature and shut off the furnace. So while you’re cozying up by the fire, the rest of the house is getting colder. Once the fire is out, the house will recognize it’s fallen quite a bit in temp and work harder to get back to that 65. Of course, if the thermostat is off, not really a problem haha.
Ideally, you would burn a fire when the outside temp is in the low 60’s to mid 50’s.
Great point about open fireplaces–they’re not really the best for heating a home. Gorgeous and cozy, yes, but not ideal for actual heating. We’re planning on a woodstove for the homestead–it’s a proper little heater.
Funny story: we had our Christmas tree near our thermostat one year and couldn’t figure out why the heat was never turning on. And then we realized… the Christmas lights were putting off so much warmth that the thermostat kept turning off!
There are usually only a couple of weeks a year when we really feel the need for AC, a wonderful thing about Colorado! We did have to break down last week and use the heat. If our house gets below 60, I will turn it on. It has been a very pleasant October, so the bills should be really low again this month.
It might be a good thing not to have a fireplace if you plan to rent your house. I can’t remember exactly, but I do remember being asked about that when we insured our rental house. I believe insurance costs are elevated if you have renters and fire. Go figure!
That’s a very good point about our future renters & a fireplace. It’s definitely one of the few pros to not having one!
First fall/winter season of living of NYC and I am not liking not being able to control the heat. I also didn’t install A/C this summer since DH and I aren’t too keen on it or the resulting bills.
That’s too bad you can’t control your heat–I wasn’t a fan of that either when we lived in an apartment. I’m impressed you made it through the whole summer without any AC! Nice!
I think I’ve mentioned it before that we don’t open our windows due to allergies, so we run the heat and AC quite a bit. It’s surprisingly inexpensive, except for the Winter when it gets pretty dang cold here in Minnesota. We don’t have a fireplace either and won’t pay to have one installed in our current house. The next home WILL have one – or two – though. I can dream.
I feel the same way about our next home! Winter heating bills get us too–there’s just nothing you can do about it when it’s 0 degrees outside 🙂
We made it through September without having to turn on the heat and I was pretty proud of us! It’s on auto now so when it gets cold the heat will come on. Right now it’s a beautiful day so I’ve got the windows open with the fall breeze coming through and it’s so nice to not be all shut up (as you can tell I’m not really looking forward to winter).
Our house has a gas furnace (with an electric blower) and an electric fireplace/tv stand thing. So, when the power is out, we’re out of luck for heat.
I love opening all the windows and doors too! It’s so nice to get fresh air circulating through the whole house.
Ahhh I love that you stretch out the amount of time you can go without heating and air conditioning! We just moved to NC from AZ, and I was shocked at how low our electric bill was out here!! In AZ, summer bills are typically $300-$400 a month…and in 115 degree heat, there’s really no way around that. We just got our bill here and it was $110!! I’m also so happy that this month we’ve been able to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air (plus save a buck or two!). Thanks for the great post. Hope you both have a wonderful weekend!!
That’s a great reduction in bills! Mr. FW’s parents live in NC and their weather is pretty mild most of the time, especially in the winter. Hope you have a great weekend too!
I love Frugal Hound’s little sweater, and the pictures of the fall trees. Leaves are still mostly green here, so I will live vicariously through you. =) I was just complaining last night that our apartment is still 78ish degrees, and I woke up today to 74! Yay. I’m really hoping we can get by without heat until next year. The winter we endured last year in NY should have prepped us well for this, but I’ve been getting too acclimated to the southern weather now. I’m just happy to have an excuse to finally wear a hoodie around. Also, I really wish we had a fireplace as well. I’ve never had one and they look so lovely and romantic.
My in-laws live vicariously through our seasonal weather too–ya’ll just have mild temps down there in NC! Yay to hoodies, hound sweaters, and fireplaces (wherever they may be!).
Wood stove heat is awesome. It makes the house more cozy. We haven’t turned on our heat yet either and probably won’t for a few more weeks. It’s certainly getting colder here in Vancouver.
It’s pretty easy to keep yourself warm inside, just wear a sweater. 🙂
Agreed on the sweaters. We’ve been known to wear hats inside during the depths of winter 🙂
One day we’re going to live somewhere where we can have an open fire or a wood burning stove – it’s on my wish list for a house. I love the fact that you’ve not got the heating on, we have had it a bit in the mornings recently as it’s so cold when I get up for work.
It’s definitely on our wish list too! Cold mornings are tough, I agree. I usually bolt out of bed and into my sweats as quickly as possible 🙂
I love fall, I really miss the colors and the smells here in the tropics. Wish it ever got cold enough to need a fireplace! On the pro side, no heater needed, ever, and AC is needed like 2 months a year.
You really do live in a tropical paradise :)! I’ve loved our vacations in the tropics, but, I do love the changing of the seasons too. But, nothing beats getting out of Boston and going somewhere warm in January/February… divine!
Thankfully, we probably won’t be needing heat for a few more weeks. I love when we can keep the windows and doors open. Being cooped in the AC during heat waves drives me nuts.
Agreed–I much prefer the feel, smell, and temperature of the house with all the doors and windows open.
Our home doesn’t have AC. It’s actually fairly common among homes near the beach and it normally not a huge deal. There are a few rough days where I miss it. We do have heaters though because it can get very chilly here at night, which surprises people who assume we stay toasty warm at night. Have a great weekend!
My brother lives in LA and they don’t have AC either, but it really can get cold at night! My parents and sister down in San Diego don’t use their heat or AC very often at all–it’s a real advantage for you west coasters :)!
That’s one area I lucked out in here in LA. I don’t have (or really need) AC, and my heat (gas) is paid by my landlord, which is good because when it turns 65….brrrrrrrr!!! Freezing! 🙂 What can we say? In LA we are weather wimps. 🙂 Although I do admire the idea of homesteading and naturally heating your home, it’s probably one area I’ll never venture into. I’m still a city girl at heart.
65 degrees! Bring out the parkas ;)!! You sound exactly like my So Cal family. They crack me up with their weather woes, even though their weather only fluctuates about 30 degrees all year long :)!
I stretch the seasons too. Well here in newfoundland air conditioning isn’t very common in households. Although I think I’d have a unit if I didn’t always live in basements. My last and current apartments include utilities but I’m still conscious of his much I use. I’ve always been a grab a sweater/blanket type. I hate dry heat. I find I get congested if I turn the heat up passed 17 degree celcius.
I’m bad with the air conditioning in my car though. It’s on from the first signs of a temp increase after the winter and I’ve still got it on now. But that is because I’m almost always congested in the car. We’ll blame my sinuses for this behaviour.
I’ve never lived anywhere with a fireplace. Dad had a wood stove in the cabin. I hate it. Again it’s just too much for my sinuses.
I totally agree on the sweater and a blanket method! We’d much rather bundle up than pay to heat the whole house.
My husband works at home, and his office gets so hot with all of the equipment running, he ends up cranking the AC in the summer months – so that the rest of the house is too cold. In the winter, on the other hand, the equipment-heated office translates into lower heating bills – and the rest of us shivering in our sweaters. But I won’t complain! I’ll consider it an advantage to our finances as we keep heating costs down : )
Oh funny! But, hey, you’re right about the bright side of keeping costs low :)!
I’m in favour of waiting as long as possible for turning on the heat but I can’t seem to convince the other inhabitants of this household. I’ve threatened mandatory reading of Frugalwoods so if you gain some new commenters you’ll know where they came from. Ha ha.
Hahaha! I like that you’re threatening them with Frugalwoods. “You must look at these greyhound photos! Now!” 🙂
I hear you on climate control, especially during the summer months. It’s almost silly, because we as a species obviously lived just fine without it for centuries. And of course there are plenty of people around the world that still live without it.
We almost never turn on the heat down here in SW Florida. Extremely rare, and only when it drops below freezing. We generally keep our A/C at 77 or so. We live in an apartment, and are surrounded by others who crank their A/C constantly which kind of insulates us a little. I could actually keep it above 80 without a problem, but my significant other would kill me.
The apartment insulation factor is a good one! When we lived in a townhouse in DC, we were insulated on both sides by people who kept their heat on high during the winter, which was a great boon for us.
The weather here in Sydney is just average, today is 24 C. We don’t have to heat up at the house to keep us warm. We spend Christmas in summer (December – February), average maximum temperatures are around 26°C. So basically, it is humid at this time.
That’s great that you don’t need to use heat right now! Ideal for sure.
I am LOVING the weather we have right now! Our windows are open, our home smells fresh and the temperature is nice and cool. It feels like summer never ended up here in the northeast until tonight!
YES! We had the windows and doors open all day yesterday (until that evening rain/cold front came through). It hasn’t gotten below 60 in our house yet this season, so we are happy campers!
We have our thermostat set to stay a certain temperature but I was just thinking today … why not just open windows when the weather is so mild. Seems silly to be using electricity. Convincing the hubster of that might be a different story.
We have a gas fireplace which is just so easy and lovely but not the same as a real wood fire that heats you to the bone!
Great point about the thermostat–try out the windows and see! I love having the windows open, it makes the house feel so fresh and clean. Oh gas fireplaces–so deceiving :)!
I’m so glad you guys mention climate control! Why does it make sense to so many people to heat their house to a million degrees when they can just put on an additional sweater? The same thing goes for AC units, even though we don’t really have those in Belgium.
Turning your heater down by just one degree can make so much difference, both financially and environmentally, without losing out on any comfort whatsoever.
Because the weather has been so nice the past few weeks, we haven’t turned on our central heating on just yet!
Have a great weekend,
Totally agree, NMW! It’s something people do automatically I think, without even considering how much it’s costing them. Glad to hear you’re getting away without heat too!
I love the smell of woodsmoke but there’s no great place for a stove or fireplace without doing an expensive addition. Pretty much anywhere we’d stick one would throw off our feng shui.
We had such a cool summer here that July was actually a record low utility month, but September just beat that record. I think we used the AC for all of 2 days this year (tolerating up to high 80s indoors). The heat has yet to kick on but it’s inevitable.
I with you, high 80s/90s indoors is too hot. We hit a point in July when we couldn’t sleep at night because of the heat and then we knew it was time for the AC.
Hopefully you and I will both have woodstoves in our future homesteads :)!
I’d caution against relying only on a wood stove to heat up your home. I’m an anesthetist and I work in a rural region where a lot of patients use wood burning stoves to heat their homes and over the course of many years it makes their lungs and airways extremely irritable. Maybe there are some wood systems that have better ventilation. It’s def worth looking into for the sake of your lungs.
Definitely a good point. I take particulate matter inhalation really seriously, and woodstoves are a common culprit. Modern stoves are a lot better than the old ones though, and burn much cleaner due to a two-part combustion system that burns the smoke as well as the wood. The seals are much better on new stove as well, so you don’t have the smoke coming into the house nearly as much as the old styles.
We’d also want to install a house ventilation system that would keep fresh air flowing through the house while recovering the heat from the exhaust air. These are called Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) and are pretty neat!
As a total aside, lots of folks around here heat their homes with wood fireplaces. My spouse goes along with a good friend to help get firewood. It is fantastic exercise. For this, I love the wood-stove-using neighbours! (I’m in a condo, natural gas for us!).
Natural gas is better than no fireplace! At least you get the ambiance. And you can pretend it’s warm 🙂
I hope this doesn’t show up twice (chrome ate the first time I tried to post I think), but this is great! We still haven’t turned our heat on since even though there was one night in the 30’s. We moved in July so we still don’t know how it holds up in the winter. We do keep a space heater for our daughter’s room since she’s not even 2… Still cheaper than having the furnace on!
Way to go on toughing it out furnace-free! A space heater sounds like a good option too. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Here in CA . I am happy that we have not used our AC all summer.
Its amazing because people here use both AC and Heat! if it drops to 60 degrees people are running heaters. Its so sad because our weather is so “mild” in the sense that it doesn’t have crazy shifts.
Mrs or Mr. FW. I like the look of your new email link. out of curiosity what plug in or service do you use?
Thanks! We’re using Get Response for the actual email system, but the signup is something I through together using the CSS styles from the theme we use for the blog (hueman). Of course, Frugal Hound was integral to the entire process…
I don’t have a fireplace or wood stove either, but in my apt in Manhattan I had a fireplace. Unfortunately I never got to use it because I didn’t have control of the thermostat, the apartment next door had it for hers and mine. That old lady kept it so hot in the winter I had to keep my front door open and let the winter air in the screen door to keep from roasting to death. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay for utilities in that place or I’d have been POed about it… 🙂
The little apple :)! Seriously a good thing you weren’t paying for utilities!