Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Space Heating: A Proposal

Now that it’s warmer in the northern hemisphere, we are not hearing much about the expense of heating our homes. But now, when we have the opportunity and time, is the right moment to begin taking action in this area. One thing that is going to aggravate the coming space heating crisis is the practice of central heating, especially as implemented in the United States.

Americans have a sense of entitlement when it comes to consuming resources and energy, so it is going to be the hardest for them to give up heating their homes to shirt-sleeve temperatures in the middle of the winter. But it will have to be done, because such extravagance will be simply impossible as we begin to slide down the curve of declining energy production.

What I’d like to propose is a concept of heating which exponentially reduces the amount of energy needed. It’s what I call the Japanese model. Although space heating is now used in Japan, central heating is limited to public buildings, while residential space heating is achieved by heating individual rooms with small heaters, which are for the most part portable. Only rooms actually in use are heated.

This practice alone can save a lot of energy and expense, but in fact heating in Japan is traditionally not space heating. Stoves for space heating are new to Japan because the traditional idea is to heat the body, not the room or house. After all, if you yourself are warm, what is the sense in expending many times the energy to heat the room or the whole house? Thus Japan has used the kotatsu, the hibachi, the hot bath, and the irori to provide heat. Obviously, even the irori cannot heat the room or home, because one has to be sitting right next to it to keep warm.

Trying to maintain the practice of central heating with such high populations is going to lead straight down the road to disaster. But if people give up central heating and adopt the Japanese model of heating the body instead of spaces, they can stay warm with a far smaller amount of fuel.

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