May 5, 2011

Ode to a Warm House (and Soup)

Not until moving to NZ did I realize that "home-heating" could be such a robust,varied and complex conversation topic.  Sometimes I like to see how many minutes pass before my husband mentions 'heat pumps' in a new conversation with a third party.  It's never long.  And then if you throw in things like insulation, underfloor heating, solar panels and double-glazed (double-paned) windows - well there's hours of conversation in that!  Not to mention the wonders of thermal curtains, electric blankets, wet-backs (a fire that heats your hot water tank while warming your house) and debating the warmth that comes from a wood-burning vs coal-burning stove.  And don't forget! - there's different TYPES of insulation, different ways to install and mount your heat pump, and dehumidifiers come with all sorts of options too. And that's not even mentioning the huge array of space heaters you can plug in and turn on. Get the picture? 'Cause that's just the very beginning. Home-heating is discussed at great length and in great detail here in NZ.  And though I myself can't get too excited about the topic, I decided to make a blog posting in honor of my warm house - and my husband who did most of the work to get it this way - because I'm generally pretty warm and toasty as we enter winter - and that, I've learned - is not to be taken for granted in NZ. Otherwise, they wouldn't talk about home-heating so much. So here you go James, a blog entry for you, about our home-heating. My take on it will undoubtedly involve more soup and less variables of technological efficiency than yours.

Our main source of heat is this fire. It's such a lovely, toasty, atmospheric sort of heat. Takes a bit to get it going, but it is nice.  Though I questioned James' sanity as he jack-hammered through our cement foundation, I now say it was genius.  He installed a little fan under the fire that essentially propels warmed, fresh air out into the room.  It's fantastic!

James installed a heat pump too. The genius of the heat pump is that it can be put on a timer to start up about half an hour before we get up in the morning, meaning we can shuffle out of the cold back bedrooms into a warm kitchen. (It's typical to only heat your kitchen and lounge (living room) in NZ). Hopefully this explains why I get dressed in the kitchen before opening the blinds in the mornings! 
The heat pump over the kitchen door.
My favorite common NZ heating element is the electric blanket - not a blanket at all, this goes UNDER your sheet and mattress cover - so it warms up (and dries out) your mattress, which would otherwise be cold in your unheated bedroom, and possibly damp too, over time.  If I ever live with central heating again, I will still keep my electric blanket. It's WONDERFUL. Just feel the muscles in your back relax!

Having quickly learned the value of thick curtains over the single-paned windows, but unimpressed with the unattractive selections at outrageous prices, I made these thick roman blinds for our 2 picture windows in our living room.

And this summer, we finally took the plunge and replaced the who-knows-how-old carpet with some new, wool carpet. Complete with a thick underlay (carpet pad underneath) - we easily agreed to the additional charge for 1 mm of extra foam.

It's not just what's under our carpet either, it's what's behind our walls! In 2008, James ripped the wall lining down and put in some "pink bats" - aka, insulation. Here's our friend Dave who graciously helped with the nasty, fiber-glass filled chore of putting in insulation.

And last, but not least, there's another heating device that uses a large amount of power but also serves to feed us... the oven.  Nothing like a bowl of soup to go with our fire, insulation, heat pump, carpet and curtains until it's time to lie down on our electric blanket.  Tonight it was my sister's famous roasted red-pepper soup.

ready for roasting.
roasted and skinned
Add the peppers and some carrots to onions, butter, milk, flour and veggie broth.

Good night!


  1. Ahhhh, the electric blanket (or what we called a "bed warmer" back in the Midwest). I love ours! We don't heat our bedrooms, either - just the lounge/kitchen area - but sometimes we'll roll the oil heater just outside of the bathroom when bathing (it gets pretty cold in there)!

    And when I first heard of a "wet back", I thought they were talking about some kind of animal, ha ha!

  2. You have insulation??!? You're going to lose your Kiwi props.

  3. Oh how I love your warm and cozy house Molly! Good to see the results of all the construction projects James has undertaken! Nick and I were talking last night about how we can get our hands on an electric mattress blanket when we're back stateside. It really is just so nice on the ole back muscles :)

  4. This post was so funny to me. Your introduction made me laugh. We are on the quest for a warm NZ house, too, having lived in Pennsylvania and Colorado where it gets much colder outside but not nearly as cold inside! We've also insulted top and bottom and tore out the walls in the lounge and the master bedroom to put in pink batts. DD's bedroom is next and then the dining room. We have an amazing wood burner and are getting a heat transfer system later this week to warm the bedrooms at night with the heat from the fire. We also got a DVS to dry the place out. Then... on to the heat pumps! All in the quest to stay warm!