Free Heat for Your House in Winter

Repurposing Is the Road to Free

The old saying is “the best things in life are free”. However, the reality is that very few things are free anymore.  When it comes to heat, this is especially true this winter season as people cut down thermostats and look to trim expenses.  This year heating prices across the world have gone up dramatically, especially in places like Europe.  For a lot of reasons, there’s compelling reasons for finding alternative ways to heat.  Now before you start thinking this is an article about creating “cold fusion” in your backyard, it’s not.

On our little homestead, one of the things we try to do is find ways to repurpose items we’ve already purchased.  Whether it’s reusing feed bags as tarps to keep the wind off our outdoor rabbit hutches during winter or if it’s using the bones from last night’s chicken dinner to make bone broth for soup, there’s tons of ways to get multiple uses out of daily items.  By the way, if you’re interested in our homemade bone broth recipe, you can find it here.  People call it different things like reusing, recycling, or even upcycling, but it’s all about doing more with what you already have.

This concept got us thinking, could we apply this to other things and that’s when the idea of upcycling heat came from.

How Can You Reuse Heat?

As a kid growing up in the Southeastern US, I remember walking into my grandparents’ house on cold winter mornings to wait for the school bus.  Quite often my grandmother would be pulling out some homemade biscuits that smelled amazing.  They heated their house using little propane wall heaters in a couple of key rooms and the kitchen was one of them.

I was always perplexed as a kid wondering why they had the heater off in the kitchen on these cold winter mornings.  When I asked my grandmother about it, she shared something insightful.  She pointed over to the oven that was cracked open about a third of the way.  Then she said “I had the heat the oven to make breakfast this morning, so it’s already several hundred degrees and will take a while to fully cool back down.  Why would we burn propane to heat the kitchen when we can open the oven and heat it for free?”

Now, laws of thermodynamics aside for a moment, my grandmother was a child of The Great Depression.  She knew a little something about stretching food, money, heat, and just about anything else she needed.  It was obvious to her that it was a waste to burn perfectly good propane to “overheat” a space that she could make comfortable for a few hours with heat from the oven.  In a sense, that heat from the oven was “free” in so much that they had already paid for it once to cook the biscuits.  Now they were repurposing it for something else.  The residual heat could heat their kitchen for several hours before she would need to turn the wall heater back on.  As a kid, it seemed ingenious to me, and it stuck with me years later.

What Else Can We Reuse Around Our House?

To this day, in our house we still leave the oven cracked after using it just to warm up the kitchen a little during the winter and we started thinking about other things we could do.  Then one day when I was walking outside to feed the chickens, I saw snow and ice all over the ground except where the dryer vent was.  We have an electric dryer (that’s an important distinction) and we were doing laundry that day and a constant stream of hot moist air was pumping out as we dried a load of clothes.  That was hot air that we had paid for and were just venting into the cold frozen atmosphere. 

It just kind of hit me, my grandmother would be so disappointed in me.  Here we are spending money to heat our house and at the same time we’re pumping all this by-product hot air right out the window.  Not to mention that because we use propane to heat, we have numerous humidifiers in the house because of how dry the air gets during the winter.  Both the heat and the moisture were things we were paying to produce.

Later that day, I started doing some research.  I didn’t want to vent the hot moist air in all year long, just during the winter, so I needed some type of diverter.  We looked online and found several and settled on this one from Amazon.  Then I checked all over at local big box home improvement stores and couldn’t find anything like it.  I did find the same basic model online at Walmart though and you can find it here.  I know that some people are passionately for and against using Amazon. Depending on your preferred shopping location, hopefully that gives you some options for where you can get this diverter from (affiliate disclosure here).

Since you’re reusing heat that was already purchased for another purpose, you are in essence, heating your house for free with something that you were previously wasting.

If you’d like to see exactly how this all works, check out the video below that goes into more detail about the diverter setup and you can see how it works in action.

There Are Some Caveats

We have been using this little diverter for years now with wonderful results, but there are a few things to keep in mind.  This won’t work in every situation or home, so we’ve provided a few scenarios below to keep in mind or where you simply shouldn’t use this product.

  1. Do not use with gas dryers – This whole process is predicated upon using an electric dryer.  These types of dryers use heating elements to create the hot air that’s circulated so it’s completely safe in that sense.  Gas dryers are typically using natural gas or propane to create the heat.  These dryers need to be vented outside because they create dangerous gases like carbon monoxide that should not be vented into your home.  So only use a diverter if you have an electric dryer.
  2. Do not use in unconditioned basements or spaces – This one may be a bit less obvious, but it’s important.  If you dryer is in your unfinished basement where it’s cold and not heated, this isn’t a good location.  While you might want the extra heat in that space, your basement acts like a cold glass on a hot and humid summer day.  The hot moist air will condense on everything in your basement because it’s so much colder and that can cause mildew and mold to develop.  Those are both bad for your home and your health, so while you can absolutely use this in a basement setup, it needs to be a conditioned basement.
  3. Keep your laundry room open with air circulation – This gadget works extremely well with air circulation.  In our case, we have a small laundry room but we keep the door open with the vent pointed out the door.  This allows the air to then circulate all around the house and the humidity is evenly distributed.  Just like you’d want to leave the door open to your bathroom when you’re taking a shower so the moisture doesn’t build up, you’ll want to make sure your laundry area is open and well ventilated.
  4. Monitor humidity – This is true whether you’re using a standard humidifier or this diverter.  Too much humidity in your house can cause problems.  Most newer thermostats monitor humidity, or you can get a standalone temp and humidity monitor also.  Whatever method you prefer, it’s always good to monitor the levels of humidity in your home.

The Benefits are Significant

Even with those few considerations above, there’s a lot of reasons to use this diverter.  If you’re already paying for the electricity to dry your clothes, why not leverage the wasted heat and moisture.  In our house, we’re always filling up humidifiers all winter long because the house is simply too dry to be comfortable.  When we are drying clothes, the house is warmer because there’s dryer heat pumping in (obviously) but it also feels warmer because the extra humidity makes it feel warmer.  Just like humidity makes life miserable during the summer by making it “feel” hotter, it helps us fee more comfortable during the winter by making us feel warmer.

These benefits are significant, but there’s one more that we haven’t talked about and that’s how it makes the house smell.  I know, this isn’t technically a energy saving benefit, but man does the house smell good when the dryer is running.  It’s like your entire house has been washed and now smells like the fabric softener your family likes best.  Don’t underestimate how great it is when your whole house smells like fresh laundry.  Seriously.

Happy Homesteading and Stay Warm!

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