Winter Heating: How to save money on gas or electricity

snowflake symbol picture of a snowflakeWays to save money on gas or electricity for heating, reduce energy use, and get free energy

With winter again upon us it’s time to prepare for romantic visions of icy fun, and higher bills for heating with gas or electricity 


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose.  

Sounds great, right?

Time to get real.  

Have you ever eaten an open fire-roasted chestnut?  

If you live in New York City and have risked tasting one of those charred nuggets from a smoking cart, you know they taste like a mushy potato, not a nut.  

And that smell of smoke from a mystery fuel that might be just about anything found on the ground.  Blech!

Let’s get really real about roasting chestnuts: they no longer come from the beautiful American Chestnut tree which is struggling back from the brink of extinction caused by chestnut blight.  Chestnuts now come from the Chinese chestnut, the tree that brought the blight and is now being hybridized with the American chestnut to save it.  

Having tasted a roasted chestnut, I’m wondering why they’re bothering to save the American chestnut.*

* I’m joking – the book above is a tragic but hopeful tale of how we lost “the perfect tree” and how we might get it back.

But what about Jack Frost?  

Jack may provide a brief nasal tingle when you first step out the door.  A bracing moment of icy stimulation.

But Jack Frost doesn’t confine his nipping to your nose.  He gently slaps your cheeks, blows down your neck, chills your bones to the marrow.

Jack Frost is perfectly willing to freeze your butt off.

Jack Frost is also picking your pocket by getting you to waste gas or electricity.

When winter comes, home heating season begins.  Whether you use gas or electricity, heating your house means burning something.  In your case, it means burning money.

Heating with either gas or electricity also consumes precious natural resources, and messes with the atmosphere.

How can you foil Jack Frost, use less gas or electricity, and lower your heating bill?

1) Get a Programmable Thermostat

Program your thermostat’s clock to turn down the heat at night.

The program tells the thermostat to turn the heat back up when you get up, back down when the family leaves in the morning, and back up just before you return to a toasty warm home.

You save a bundle by letting Jack Frost do his thing when no one is home to experience his persistent nipping.  A thermostat that lets you program every minute of expensive heating keeps you warm only WHEN you need the heat.  

The rest of the time?  Free energy!

I use a programmable thermostat and love it.  For this article, I searched for the very best current model.  I like a 7-day model to change the program for weekends.

Cons: Programmable thermostats of every model seem to have disappointed somebody, sometime.  But this model has fewer detractors and lots of enthused fans.  Speaking of fans, not running your gas or electric furnace also saves the electricity by not blowing hot air around an empty house.  

“Programmable thermostat?  Sounds technical.”

A note on connecting thermostats.  It’s easy!  Pay attention to the wires as you disconnect your old thermostat and hook up the wires the same way.

Next heating tip to save gas or electricity:

2) Don’t heat empty rooms!

It’s dumb to heat space when no one is there (except Jack Frost, that theiving varmint).

Heat only the space where you spend time.  Chances are that’s your “den” or computer office.  Did you know that heating just the rooms where you live can save up to 27% on your heating bill?

How do I seal off unused or low-traffic rooms?

2. a. Close off vents in unused rooms or rooms of people you don’t like (just kidding, unless it’s Jack Frost, that hoary scum).  

Here’s a product that let’s you do that.

I use the magnetic vent covers and they work fine even though some reviewers claim they aren’t magnetic enough.  It’s possible to add booster magnets.  Vent covers work for me.  At this price, gamble on a stack of three and maybe win back your bankroll several times over.

Here’s a nifty vent cover for intake vents that takes dust out of circulation.  Doesn’t do jack to combat Jack Frost, though.

2.b. Heat just the rooms you want toasty with a space heater.  

Yes, instead of lowering your thermostat and suffering Jack’s incessant nipping, lower the thermostat even more but send Jack packing from WHERE you are.

What is the best space heater?  Let’s look at what “heating” means.  There are actually three ways that heat travels.  

  • A. convection, in air currents like the ones that your heater fan blows out of your vents 
  • B. conduction, through solids, like a silver tea spoon that burns your hand
  • C. radiation, through anything, including empty space.  Radiation is how the Sun warms us through the vacuum of space and how a radiator transmits heat across a room.
Radiator heat is especially toasty because there is no moving air.  That makes a radiator more efficient, too, because heat doesn’t go blowing away.  An oil-filled radiator uses electricity to heat and circulate oil inside a metal housing that “glows” in infrared (heat) radiation.  Very comfy.

Here’s a good oil-filled radiator.

Again, some reviewers have complaints about every oil-filled radiator, some due to breakage during shipping.  We bought one and it has been terrific.  Saved enough in heating bills to pay for itself in a few months!

2.c. Heat Your Feet

I don’t know about you but a sweater works quite well.  Except for my feet!  Blogging away in the winter makes me feel like Bob Cratchit.   

This little number puts out enough heat for your feet.

Why “ceramic” heater?  Remember the part above about radiative heat?  There WILL be a pop quiz later.  But if you buy a heater you can have a “hands-on” learning experience instead of taking the quiz.

Heated up by the electric current the ceramic gets hot and starts to radiate.  That means it glows in infrared radiation (heat) and also the color orange, just to remind you it’s on.  

The fan also carries some heat forward but you also have a mini radiator aimed right at the body part Jack Frost is nipping the hardest.

Con:  Any electric heater releases more carbon than gas because of conversion losses.  But by heating only a small space, you avoid wasting a lot of gas or electricity heating unused spaces.

In time all these tips and equipment pay for themselves by saving gas or electricity. After that break-even point, the programmable thermostat, vent covers, mini radiator, and ceramic space heater begin generating free energy.  

And that’s good for the Earth.

It turns out Jack Frost is losing on the global scale.  

Let him have his way when and where you aren’t, and he might stick around to nip at your nose every once and awhile.

How do you feel about Jack Frost, chestnuts or saving energy?  Leave a comment!


Bestselling Heater on Amazon

Now that you’ve heated your house’s air, keep it inside!

Rapidograph Pen

Photo of a Rapidograph pen and inkThe Rapidigraph remains a favorite pen of artists, designers, architects, and even cartoonists.

Rapidograph fine technical pens offer unmatched detail, creative control and precision artistry. 


Even after centuries, the advent of photography and computer aided design, the classic pen-and-ink “look” continues to please the eye, 

From Leonardo to modern artists, fine ink drawing still says “precision.”

See below what a talented Rapidograph architectural artist can accomplish.

Drawing of a house using a Rapidograph

Credit: Jack Waller Design 

The feel of the Rapidograph technical pen in your hand is a simple pleasure: a precision instrument with a power for unmatched detail.  

This will sound odd.  That precision makes any piece of paper seem bigger.  You get the expansive feeling that you can add any detail or text notation you wish.

Rapidograph pens offer a range of tips (technically known as “nibs”) with increasing precision, from to 1.2 mm (size 4) down to 0.13 mm (size 6×0).  I like the .5 mm.

Need some more inspiration?  Check out the use of pen and ink stippling in these incredible Ink Art drawings at the site of professional fishing and nature artist Terry G. Yes, some are still available for purchase.

Created by the hand and mind of a human, a pen and ink drawing can offer artistic and instructive detail not possible with a photograph.

Among the brands of technical pens for ink art and design, the Rapidograph remains a favorite despite some of its well known quirks.

Cons of the Rapidograph:

Higher maintenance.  You fill this fine instrument from a bottle of ink.

Leave a Rapidograph in a drawer for months?  Don’t expect to pick it up and start drawing or writing, although Terry G. says his pens can sit unused for well over a month. 

The Rapidograph can use special waterproof ink.  Since the nib is so fine, it requires more muss and fuss than a ballpoint.  

The tough steel nib is like a hypodermic needle, delivering a super fine line of ink.  That makes it more prone to clogging as the nib becomes more precise.  

Pros of the Rapidograph:

  • Incredible detail
  • Ability to write tiny letters, including notes in the margins of books
  • A different relationship with paper — hard to believe until you try one
  • Comparatively inexpensive for a high-end technical pen 

My experience:  I started using a Rapidograph in class to take very fine notes and make small, detailed drawings.  Although I used the waterproof ink, I learned to keep my nib clean and the ink flowing.  I took copious notes on a single page and wrote neatly in book margins.

Frankly, I found the Rapidograph just more fun to use than a regular pen!  

Recommendation:  Start out with a single Rapidograph pen (the .50 mm (size 1) is popular).  See how you like it.  Get to know the feel and the peculiarities of the superfine nib.  You can use either the special waterproof ink (works on mylar but more prone to clogging) or any ink you like.

photo of a Rapidograph internal parts

Manufactured by Koh-I-Noor, a company named for the famous diamondliterally “Mountain of Light” in Persian, these amazing technical pens are true gems of engineering.  

As mentioned, the Koh-I-Noor fine nib is higher maintenance than a rough and tumble ballpoint.  Ever have a fountain pen?  Similar but with a super narrow tip, the finer the tip, the greater need for cleaning, especially with the waterproof ink.  

Sooner or later, you will want to clean your Rapidograph by investing two bucks in cleaning solution, Koh-I-Noor Rapido-Eze Pen Cleaner 2 oz. jar

Once you’ve tried a Rapidograph, is a whole set for you?  Some architectural drawing classes require that each student own a set.

Equipped with (or just considering) a technical ink pen, get started with some reader-acclaimed pen and ink drawing lessons.

The book’s author Claudia Nice says, “Of all the styles and brands of technical pens available, my favorite is the Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph.” (p.10, First Steps Drawing in Pen & Ink)

Don’t just doodle, see what you can do in technical pen and ink!

Not ready for a full set?  Consider a 3-pen slim pack set of Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph technical pens.

Have you ever used one of these amazing technical pens?  What was your impression?

Zippo Lighter

Zippo lighter

The Zippo lighter, invented in 1933, earned fame around the globe during World War II for its reliability and, in some cases, its bullet stopping power.

In fact a vest composed entirely of Zippo lighters was proposed to the War Department in 1943. Okay, I made that last part up.  

Zippo was NOT one of the Marx Brothers. But the Zippo lighter is just as classic as Harpo, Groucho, Chico, Gummo, Moe, Larry and Curly.

During World War II, the Zippo lighter became famous around the world as the American lighter that could light and stay lit in the wind.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Zippo lighter,  “The Zippo at that time was made of brass, but as this commodity was unobtainable due to the war, Zippo used steel during the war years.”  Wikipedia should have said “since” not “as” but this is a quotation.

“While the Zippo Manufacturing Company never had an official contract with the military, soldiers and armed forces personnel insisted that Base exchange (BX) and Post exchange (PX) stores carry this sought-after lighter.”

“The basic mechanism of the Zippo lighter has remained unchanged.”

Why would the Zippo lighter mechanism remain unchanged after more than 70 years?

Why?  Perhaps because, like the Coleman Lantern, the Zippo lighter works!

The Zippo lighter makes a distinctive sound when it opens.  In fact, it has been documented that 97% of former opponents of the U.S. military actually poop their pants when they hear the Zippo lighter sound.  Okay, again, I made this up.  But is that so implausible?

The point of this text build-up, here are some interesting Zippo lighter designs.


Zippo Variations

Candy Apple Zippo

Zippo Lighter Classic, Crown Stamp, High Polish Chrome

Zippo Military Pocket Lighter

New Zippo Lighter Where Eagles Dare Emblem, Brushed Brass

World War II “Nose Art” and Pin-up Girl Zippos

What is nose art?  Take a gander.

See a longer film on nose art stills here.arrow point to nose art video

Now you know what nose art is, these Zippos recall an era when the world counted on young men flying brightly painted airplanes.

The Zippo lighter is a classic and recognizable symbol of American technology, a constant companion of members the U.S, military, and a rugged source of fire that lights and stays lit in the wind.  

Zippo Lighter


Zippo keeps adding new models, like this pretty one.

Zippo Hand Warmer

These really work and operate on a few pennies worth of fuel.  You carry the Zippo hand warmer in your pocket.

Have you ever owned a Zippo or know someone who does?  Did it ever fail?  Leave a comment!