Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Stack effect heat loss

You ever hear of the “stack effect” heat exchange?  In case you haven’t it’s the movement of air in and out of a house which essentially is creating large scale chimneys.  The rising warm air in a house will pull cool air from the outside through any crack or gap it can find which obviously cools the house.  Then the furnace must heat up that colder air which rises and the whole thing repeats over and over again.  This air exchange is magnified when you live in a taller house.  Its called a stack effect because more warm air rising higher means more cold air being pulled in.  During summer months this would be a benefit but during the cold winter months it means enormous heating bills.

In a typical single story house the furnace puts out warm air which rises to the ceiling, cools, then starts to fall.  A cold air return will pull that cooled air back into the furnace to be reheated.  My house, like a lot of older two story houses, doesn’t have a cold air return upstairs.  It doesn’t have a thermostat up there either.  The one thermostat on the ground floor is only measuring the temperature downstairs.


Inside temperature when I woke up yesterday

This means that since the heat will be rising, and there is nothing to bring it back down again, the upstairs is going to feel hot while the downstairs will be freezing.  The heat rising to the second floor will cause the thermostat to believe the house is cold so the furnace kicks on.  Yup, a stack effect for sure.  The house has been getting pretty cool at night.  I still don’t know how to use the furnace.  The guy who was supposed to explain it to me forgot and I didn’t see him leave after he finished working under the house.  I’ll be getting in touch with him this week.

Someday I really want to have the furnace replaced with mini-split individual room heating and cooling.   Those are like the kind you find in hotel or hospital rooms.  I could save a lot of money by heating or cooling only the rooms I’m using.  Its a dream though because that type of heating and cooling is way too expensive for my budget.  I just have to do everything I’m able to do to cut down the amount of heat going up to the second floor and out the window where there is an air conditioner.  I’ve already felt the movement of cold air even without having the heat on.  So I’ve been thinking about ways to stop the air flowing through the house.

The windows of the house are double pane type and reasonably tight.  Except for three windows that have air conditioners in them.  Two are downstairs and one upstairs.  That’s a chimney for sure.   Window air conditioners are terribly designed.  Its like having open windows.  Those paper wings do nothing to keep out cold or hot air.  All they do is give the appearance of a closed window and slow down a few insects.


So basically what I would be doing with the furnace on is trying to heat the house with three open windows.  I need to close those windows without removing the air conditioners.  I knew pieces of insulation board would help close the gaps.  The trouble is that I can’t find single sheets of insulation board being sold.  Only bundles.  I looked around my house to see what I could use to prevent as much air flow as possible.  I found the scraps of foam core board leftover from when I made my kitchen drawer organizers.


With a tiny sliver cut off one side and a bit of a push those pieces of cardboard were pressure fit perfectly.  I was surprised at how well that worked.  Next I looked around for something to block the air flow through the open ac vents.  I found the bubble wrap that had wrapped the electric part of my new mattress pad.  It was the perfect size with no trimming necessary.  How’s that for luck.  Taped it on and immediately could tell the difference.  I can’t forget about another gap that needs something to fill it.   There is an open gap, between the upper and lower halves, that needs something.  There is a one inch open space between and a sliver of open at the top.


It really needs foam insulation cording but what I have is too small.  I looked around for options.  Scrap quilt batting to the rescue.  Pushed some into that opening to fill the gap.


A piece of cardboard, plastic wrap, and scrap batting is not going to keep out the cold completely but it sure does help stop the rush of air flow.  I’m not done with the windows but its all I can do until after I get to the hardware store for more stuff.  I’ll need window plastic and tape and actual foam board insulation if the individual sheets can be found.  I’m going to the hardware this week.

12 comments on “Stack effect heat loss

  1. Linda in NE
    November 7, 2016

    Pipe insulation can come in handy to fill in that gap between the upper & lower windows. It comes in various sizes.

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Thanks Linda. What I call foam cording (rope) is the smaller version of pipe insulation. I have some but its too small for the opening. I’m planning to get some in a different size to replace the temporary scrap batting. Can’t get to the hardware for a couple more days though.

  2. Donna
    November 6, 2016

    How clever you are! Pays to keep scraps huh?

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Yes, we quilters know this frugal thing very well don’t we. Scraps turn out to be a wise investment.

  3. Pat
    November 6, 2016

    You might be able to get some individual sheets if a package was damaged. Sometimes there is a special area for odd sized pieces of wood etc that someone had a larger sheet cut down.

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Yes, I did ask one of the workers to call me if they had any damaged packs. He’s been there for years and knows me from frequent visits. I trust him to call. I also need some foam sheets to use as design walls.

    November 6, 2016

    I live in a 2 story condo (actually = only half of the floor space, since it is a loft). I use a fan 1-2 days as needed at a time during the winter months, to mix & stir the different layers of air. I also wear a sweater during the time downstairs when I’m home during the day…

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Good idea. I’m still thinking about the ceiling fans I have. I’m wondering if they would actually help or just create more air movement. I’ve been wearing long johns and sweaters. Also moving around alot during the day. So far, the cooler house temps haven’t caused me any discomfort.

  5. craftytadpole
    November 6, 2016

    Nice work.Creativity to the rescue again.

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Hee, hee, we crafty/quilting types know how to use scraps to our advantage.

  6. anita
    November 6, 2016

    Wouldn’t it be much more economical to hire someone to take out the AC units, store them, and then replace them in the summer?

    • Anita
      November 7, 2016

      Yes, that would work but I don’t have a place to store them. The small shed is full. My logic is that what keeps out the cold air will also keep out the hot air of summer. When its weather stripped correctly there should be no need to remove them. Weatherstripping around ac units should be mandatory when installed but few people understand this. Not all people think frugally either. That’s why so many crank the heat up then walk around in t-shirts and shorts all winter.

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