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Down here in Sarasota, FL, it has been below freezing for several days now as many of you have probably read. Most of our homes are heated by reverse cycle AC/Heat electrical systems. Mine is new and 13,500 SEER rated. It's struggling to keep up at night with the air temperature below 32 degrees. I certainly can hit the emergency button which turns on the electric heating coils but then drives the electric bill into orbit. My question is what are you doing in areas like Tennessee and other "mild" winter states where this system is prevalent. Are you using fireplaces, wood stoves, etc to suppliment the heating systems where you don't have gas or propane heat?

Also we read a lot about the "thermal mass" of the logs helping to make up for their lower insulation value. Have you found this to be true?

Have you owners who have spent the extra money to put in the floor, hot water heating systems finding this to be really beneficial in the extreme colds we are all experiencing this year?


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Joe: Since we don't have access to natural gas and I did not want to install LP tanks (buried or otherwise) I went with a properly sized heat pump for my log home and we have a small wood burning stove. In the past when the electric went out, I can keep the stove going (we can cook on it as well) and it never gets below 68 degrees in the house. I have a full 6" thick log so I really believe in the thermal mass. We have an all electric 2000 sq ft log home with cathedral ceilings and my average bill is around $112/month. For any heat pump, no matter what the efficiency or rating, when it gets below 35 degrees (or there about) the heat pump will pretty much run all the time. Friends of ours in a log home close by have a "gas-pack". When the temps fall to a certain degree (usually between 35 and 40 degrees) the electric heat pump turns off and the gas furnace kicks in. Where we live in South Carolina, the type of weather we are experiencing this week is unusual (we've lived here in our log home now for 18 years) so "most" of the time the heat pump is ok. The wood burning stove really helps out during the 2-3 months it gets cold enough to light fire. Depending on where you are building and the average temps there during the year will help you decide on whether to make the investment in a different type of heating system. The wood stove was a minimum investment, needs no major maintenance, puts out a tremendous amount of heat, has the catalytic converter so it actually burns the smoke/exhaust so it is very "clean" and very hot. Not only does it heat well, it's great to sit and watch the fire burn and enjoy a nice beverage in the evening with my lovely wife after a long day at work. Cheers - Donald
Thanks Don
I hope to hear from others as this cold snap is a real test of heating systems. I couldn't think of the proper name but what we use is a heat pump like yours. It would be interesting to hear from the owners using heat pumps with underground coils to pickup the heat from the ground. What I noticed is that the first few days the house stayed comfortable as even the block walls were acting in the form of thermal mass. By the 4th day that was gone and you felt chilly even though the house air temperature was 71. As you realize at that point the heat from our bodies was radiating towards the windows and walls. We noticed this all the time when we lived in Detroit.

I have been watching the Knoxville, TN., area temperatures very closely and they got down in the low teens which is unusual for them. I was pretty sure that as you said, once you get into the low 30's the heat pump is really working hard to blow warm air.

Do you use ceiling fans to bring the heat down from the cathedral ceilings? I once stayed in a loft cabin heated strickly by wood stove and we roasted in the loft but it was cool on the main floor. If you are using ceiling fans are you able to avoid a drafty feeling by possibly running them blowing upwards to bring the air down the outer walls?

Thanks again,
Joe: Our master bedroom is located on the 2nd floor and is totally walled in (not open to below). I have a "split" HVAC system in my home. A small unit for the 2nd floor (master bedroom/bath) and a larger unit for the 1st floor. With two thermostats (one on each floor), and keeping the master bedroom door closed, the heating/cooling is pretty even. We do have ceiling fans in each room but use them mostly in the summertime. I don't reverse the fans in the winter but have read that is suggested in order to help circulate the warmer air downward. Cheers - Donald
Joe, I live in Knoxville, Tn. It's not been above freezing for about 11 or 12 days now and I normally use 125 Gallons of propane a month. We've used 225 gallons in the last 30 days, Our log home is 3600 sq. ft. and we heat all of it. Before we moved to this log home we owned regular homes and they were heated by heat pumps. I never had to turn the emergency on manually. The unit did that when it got down cold enough. Our unit in each house had a 10 KW and a 5 KW heating coil on them. When it got down to where the unit thermostat (outside) switched the heat pump off and turned on the electric coils inside. The first coil to come on would be the 10 KW coil and if it started losing ground as far as heat the second coil 5 KW would kick on and there would be 15 KW of electric coils going which was always sufficient to keep the home warm. Yes, the electric bill was high. I don't know how Florida heat pumps are set up. Maybe you have only a 5 KW coil and it may not be big enough to keep up. I've heard that we are going to have this type of weather for the next 2 decades. If so I agree with Donald you might want to upgrade to a larger heat pump. Hey you might want to put in a wood stove and enjoy the heat of a cozy wood stove. You can pick up a nice one at Lowes for around $ 400 to $ 700 dollars which would be a lot cheaper than a new heat pump.
We use a Delonghi electric oil heater purchased at Lowes for $ 39.00. They have a larger one for about $ 79.00. At bedtime we turn the house thermostat down to 62 degrees and shut the bedroom door. The electric heater does great on the low 1500 setting, keeps the room at 70 degress setting on no. 2 setting.
Our neighbors shut their thermostat down to 55 degrees and have 2 of these heaters and take them from room to room keeping the doors shut. They cut their bill down by half. Of course this wouldn't work too good in a large open type home. Good Luck! Lee
Thanks Lee,

Our heat pump system held the house at 71 without my using the emergency heat, as they call it, but it was running continously to handle the night time temperatures of 26 degrees. This has been the longest and record setting coldspell in Florida in a long, long time. This length is what finally caused the house to feel chilly at 71 since the block walls lost their residual heat. I asked about the thermal mass theory of logs since this was a good test. Your area is exactly where I'm trying to convince my wife to move to once the real estate comes back a little down here. The unusual cold spell in TN did not encourage her as we moved from Detroit to get away from it and I know you normally average about 25 at night.

All the stores down here were completely sold out of electrical heaters and the power company was shutting off pool pumps and heat pumps for 2 hours if you were using the cheaper interruptable service. They closed some schools in order to conserve electricity in the grid. Tampa had snow flurries and we in Sarasota had ice on our cars. Not good for tourism.

The only good thing that came out of the cold snap was the Iguanas that we wanted to get rid of were literally falling out of the trees as they couldn't hold on anymore. They have also been able to capture the pythons in the everglades more easily as they have to lay in the sun to warm up.

I had seen a news report on the pythons and hadn't heard of that before. They were going out at night spotting for them ( I think they said they were nocturnal or more active at night) and catching them when they found one. I thought wow. Gators, pythons, hurricanes. Tornadoes don't seem so bad anymore.....It used to be years ago that heat pumps efficiency dropped off at around 45 degrees and then another heat source would kick in for temps below that like the staged heat coils that 1SG Street talked about. They could still run below that temp but weren't very efficient. They have improved a lot since I used to install them so I don't know what temps they are rated for now but a backup heat source would be a good idea. The electric coils were less expensive to include in the air handler heat pump system as per say a gas furnace, but spins that electric meter fast when they kick in. In some areas electric companies used to give lower rates to all electric homes.
Joe, I saw some big snakes in Vietnam and some other places that I served in while in the army, but I never would of thought of being eaten by a python in Florida. I know by the news that there's a big problem with them down there. Just hope that you don't get the brown tree snake. They will eat every bird, lizard and even styrofoam cups. They will bite with out being provoked also.
Yes, there are a lot of new heating units out now and are very high tech. I believe we will see something different in the very near future. All the high tech. stuff that's out there now was designed for the old electrical grids. I think we will see some things or lot's of things that will run off a different type of energy due to the energy shortage and the prices. Lee
glen & Marshall,

Thanks for responding. It would be interesting to hear from someone who has put in the full blown heat pump with the coils in the ground. Is the extra investment paying off? This is all part of my wishfull researching of the log home potential.

Down here in Sarasota, Fl. our county looked closely at putting in solar hot water in the houses and billing monthly for it. No matter how they ran the numbers it just didn't work out financially even with tax credits. The same problem exists with solar power. Even with the tax credits they don't come close to making any kind of financial sense. I sure don't mind people being environmentally conscious but I don't think we should being subsidizing someone elses electrical bill. More development is needed at the moment.

Snake wise, we live on Siesta Key which supposedly has no serious snakes until I found a 7 ft boa constrictor in my garage. It could have easily killed my dog. It was obviously someone's pet that got loose but no one ever claimed it. In talking about larger snakes 12 footers are not uncommon as they suspect pet let loose again. The hurricanes in the past tore apart peoples houses and trailers and "pet" snakes got loose including cobras and a mamba. The conservation officers are praying they don't find a mate and also weren't already pregnant. They have caught one of each so far. There are claims of 10,000 pythons now in the glades but who knows for sure. The more dangerous lizard now out there is the monitor lizard that definitely eats meat including peoples pets. An island community south of us hired trappers two years ago and they captured 16,000 lizards. Our county is now going to hire these trappers as the perception is that our bird population is disappearing.

I had a look at the geothermal program that you are talking about. I did the math on putting one in my log home, The cost was $18,000 and it was going to take 15 years to pay back the cost of the system. That was a couple of years ago, at the time I couldn't see it doing much for us. But with what's going on now with the Government, I'm thinking about looking at it again, it will be for my son and his family. I'm 63 years of age and I would never see a return for myself, So now I'm thinking of my Son and Grand kids. They could all live in this house if they had to. It has 3600 SQ. Ft. in it and is on 5 acres. About half of it is wooded and the rest is clear and would make a good place to grow lot's of food.
We don't have but a couple of snakes that can hurt you in East Tn. The copper head is around the low and high areas and the rattle snake is in the higher elevations. I keep an eye out for them but never see any and I used to do a lot of hiking in the surrounding area.
Log houses are expensive but they are alot of fun to live in. Right now is the best time to buy a log home in the smokies. I've looked at some nice ones for as low as 51 dollars a SQ FT. $ 80.000 to $125.000 for a house that would have cost you $280.000 2 years ago. We have lots of foreclosures up here. Cheers Lee


The whole idea behind the heat pump is that it actually removes latent heat from the outside air and "dumps" it inside. Depending on exact conditions a heat pump's low point is generally in the low 30's (they do manufacture very expensive cold weather heat pumps) A geothermal or "ground source" heat pump is not affected by ambient weather conditions because it uses the constant temp of the earth. Here in New England heat pumps are making a comeback due to high fuel prices and we have been installing many on fossil fuel burning furnaces as a first stage of heat when outside conditions allow. ( I'm an HVAC tech.) When outside conditions prevent the heat pump for operating efficiently it should make the transition to electric automaticlly. I like to use one of the better thermostats (Robertshaw 9725i) with an outdoor sensor that shuts the outdoor unit down and switches to the backup at 32 degrees. If the outdoor unit continues to run in cold weather it's just wasting power. 7



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