Winter Comfort in a High-Performance House


| 12/3/2014 3:00:00 PM


I've always had a love-hate relationship with the heating systems in my home. As the fall temperatures started to dip, I loathed turning on the furnace each year. If we programmed the thermostat to have lower nighttime temperatures, then we were greeted each morning with a blast of warm air. Even with a humidifier on our forced air furnace, our home would become drier when the furnace was turned on in the winter, and I would cringe when thinking of the fossil fuel use needed to keep our home warm.

Winter Comfort
Photo by Steve Chiasson

The Solution

All of this changed when we moved into a high-performance house at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine. Our new home uses 90 percent less energy for space heating and is largely heated by the sun. On clear winter days, our home heats up gradually from the sun's rays, as daylight streams in through our large triple-pane windows and doors. Our home is often several degrees warmer than the thermostat setting because generous amounts of insulation and air-sealing keep the elements out. Even on cold, windy winter nights, I can sit in front of the windows and feel no drafts, a luxury that isn't possible in many homes.

"We used to live in a home that was built in the 1860s," says Don Pan, a member of Belfast Ecovillage. "The house leaked like a sieve, especially around the window frames. We used to sit in the middle of the room because it was too drafty to sit in front of the windows. In our new [ecovillage] home, none of this is a consideration."

Because the homes at Belfast Ecovillage are so well-insulated, appliances and occupants help to heat the home. Cooking a meal and running the dishwasher make a noticeable difference. Even a few minutes of exercise with the kids can raise the indoor temperature a degree or two.



It has already snowed twice in Maine, but we have barely turned on the heat. Despite below-freezing temperatures at night, the bedrooms have recently reached 70 degrees in the morning, with no supplemental heat.



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