This is a good time to do this post. We’ve had an unusual, but not uncommon, past month. It came in with a bang, a cold bang… Then it mellowed a bit, then it went cold, then it mellowed again. I think today (and the past few) have been mellow. I had to pack a mattress in the car this morning in my pyjamas – outside. I didn’t feel cold. Try that in Toronto in December. hah.
This is somewhat typical of most winters. Even though it’s not supposed to get cold until July, you get the odd cold spells lasting a day or two starting in May. I think it’s been down to 1 or 2 degrees a few nights. Practically speaking, that’s as low as it ever gets in July/August. I guess in July and August, there are more days like that. That’s what distinguishes the winter from the late fall.
Those of us from the north, have respect for the outside weather, but what we really take for granted, is the weather inside. My memory starts in Toronto in the early 1950’s and goes to the mid 2000’s. In houses or apartments, except for when the heating broke, it was never, ever cold. My parents set the winter thermostats at 22 degrees and that’s where the entire house stayed; kitchen, bathrooms, hallways, no exceptions. In the 50’s we had coal fired radiators. When we moved to the suburbs, we had oil fired central heating. When I moved out, I lived in older buildings with losa using oil fired boilers. The last apartments I lived in had forced electric, central heating and a/c. When I moved into houses, all were gas fired, forced air central heating/air conditioning. Again, there was never a single place anywhere in the house, including the basement, that varied by more than one degree from the thermostat setting.
The only time I was ever cold living in Canada was one year when I lived in a trailer, like Jim Rockford. It was forced air, gas fired heating. When it came on, you were warm within 60 seconds. When it went off, you were cold within 2 minutes. It was a constant cycle of cold and hot. The reason I bring this up is because some kinds of heating in Uruguay are like that. I notice that effect, (not as dramatic though) with split, forced air heating. It also depends on where you are in the room. If you are sitting in the path of the heater, you get warm, (and windblown) when it’s on. When it goes off, a few minutes before it comes back on, you cool off. The bad news, in a bigger room with a high ceiling, if you’re not in the path and near an exposed wall, you may never warm up. This is the case in our bedroom. If you sit near 2 exposed walls, with the split past you, like my wife, she needs an electric heater to heat her feet under the desk. Strange isn’t it? We’ve got rads in that room, a split in that room and she still needs an electric spot heater. Let’s go to rads next.
This house had a radiator system when we moved in. It had cast iron radiators, about 80 years old. We had them checked out before the renovation and they were in excellent condition so we kept them. There were parts of the house that were never heated. For instance, the kitchen, bathroom and service area. These were areas used by the help and in those days, possibly to this day, owners didn’t heat those areas of the house. Well, we’re north americans and we couldn’t conceive of not heating any room in the house, used by staff or not, (we dont have staff). So we added modern, aluminum radiators. Once we got the bugs out of this system, it works just fine. So why is my wife cold?
In Canada, we set the temp at 22, 24/7. I haven’t done that here, not yet anyway. Why? Because when I lived in an apartment, for the past year, the heat only ran from 7pm until 11pm and that kept us warm for the next 20 hours. Houses in Uruguay have high heat mass. Once you heat up all the bricks and mortar, it will radiate that heat for a long time. But I found out that doesn’t work here in the house. Because we use radiators, not losa, pipes buried in cement. With rads, most of the heat goes into the air. With losa, it heats the concrete which heats the air. With rads, you heat the air. Concrete doesn’t escape out through holes around doors and windows. Air does. So we double up the heating time. 8am til 12pm and 8pm until 12am. Iron rads take over an hour to come up to full heat (and they hold heat for 2 hours after the boiler shuts off). My wife’s desk sits next to an iron rad, 2 exposed walls with windows. It doesn’t warm up until 11pm. That’s why she uses the electric heater.
So here’s my advice to you, the newcomer or you the resident who is uncomfortable during the winter. If the house or apartment is without northern style insulation, with Uruguayan style windows, losa is your most cost effective option. If you’re going to buy or rent an apartment, pay the extra few bucks and buy one with losa (or subfloor electric resistance heating). If your building is more than 10 years old, have your architect inspect your piping. Buildings from 25-35 years ago have a practical losa lifetime of 40-50 years. That’s if the pipes are kept filled ALL THE TIME. I know of buildings that had their losas drained for various reasons during the offseason and those pipes will not last as long, nor are they likely as efficient as they used to be.
Your second best option is central boiler, radiator system. As I stated above, because it isn’t heating the struture, it’s heating the air, there will be swings in temperature because it goes on and off more frequently. Radiators aren’t everywhere like losa, so areas of the room will be colder than others. The idea of putting radiators under windows is a very effective moderator when used with insulated walls like back home, but here, they’re not insulated. So it’s cold near those uninsulated walls, farther from the radiators. If you’re going to be sitting somewhere or working somewhere, place it as far from a cold wall or window as possible. If you place it next to a rad, that’s fine when the rad is working, not so good when it’s not. Rads are frequently set into a wall, which measn when it’s not working, there’s less wall between the outside and the inside.
If you have or will use rads, I have a suggestion for you. I am putting reflective insulation between my rads and the outside walls–silver side facing inside. When a rad is placed on an outside wall, half the heat it produces heats the outside wall and makes it a nice place for a homeless person to lean against in July/August. If you put reflective insulation between it and the outside wall, more of the IR heat will radiate into the house and when it’s off, less heat will radiate away from the house. If your rads are totally exposed, this may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it will please your pocket book. In our case, all the rads on outside walls are inside wooden cabinets with screens on the room side, so it cant be seen. I expect this will put out a lot more heat than before. You dont need to do this for rads against an inside wall.
The next best option is a split heater/airconditioner. If it’s a heat pump, using reverse cooling for heating and not resistance (like a ceramic heater), it wont be as expensive to run. Uruguay is full of chinese units of questionable quality but it appears that they break under warranty, and when they’re fixed, they dont break again.
If you rely on spot heaters, like plug in electrical or wall installed gas heaters (like Mike has), you’re going to be miserable in the winter. I’m sure there are some exceptions to this rule, but I have yet to experience one. Most of our friends use spot heating.. Not a one of them is comfortable in the winter.
With losa in our apartment, we didn’t even notice the winter last year. With the radiators, I do feel a little chilly some mornings when it turns cold for more than a couple of days. Then, I’ll dress up scandinavian style, with turtle neck, shirt, sweater and vest.. 4 layers. And then I’m fine..