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how to cut 90% off your electric heat bill in 2020 - with microheaters

 
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First, you can cut 100% off with a rocket mass heater, but this thread is for discussion of those circumstances where that isn't going to happen.  Further, these techniques can help with gas heat too.

The mission here is to be comfortable while saving huge coin.

The general recipe is simple:  heat the person instead of the whole house.   The full article is here although that was the results of several morphing experiments.  I think that if I could do it over again, I could probably get 90% or 93% savings.  

Here is the day-to-day experiements that led to the full article.  

I wish to have this thread focus on this technique: using microheaters to heat the person/people rather than heating the whole house.   In other words, radiant and conductive heat are far more efficient than convective heat - so let's use these.  

Rather than a heated keyboard and mouse, I now use a heat mat that goes under them



https://amzn.to/2s93Oaj

I now use a swinging arm lamp mounted high - just behind and above my monitor



https://amzn.to/2Q6R8bT

And the same dog bed heater



https://amzn.to/38Xur2J

Here is the grand, simple summary



 
paul wheaton
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In Chapter 13 of my new book "Building a Better World in your Backyard - instead of being angry at bad guys" I go into a lot more detail about this.  But I spell out how to do this with a couch scenario and I talk about how to do it with kids playing.   I think it doesn't take much imagination to figure out how to get all the different scenarios to work.



https://permies.com/bwb


 
paul wheaton
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I felt the need to create this thread because:

  - the original thread starts with the beginning of the experiment
  - the article has a lot of details, and some of those are old
  - some of the other stuff has brainstorming that goes a bit off topic
  - I wanted a thread that starts with the success of the experiment and moves forward from there
  - I wanted a thread that stays on topic
        (yes, put on a sweater is good advice, but it is off topic in this thread)
  - I keep seeing internet conversation about making do with electric heat that is full of terrible advice
         - I wanted a simple, up to date, thread to link to

I hope that this thread can be a rich discussion in variations of this strategy.  Different heat mats, different bathroom solutions, different lamp solutions, etc.  It can also be a showcase of people trying this out and posting pictures.   It can also be a place for troubleshooting.  

Oh!   And kotatsu solutions!  Lots of those would fit well in this thread!

And while the desk stuff in the video is 82.5 watts, maybe people can come up with solutions that have fewer watts.


 
paul wheaton
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I started the experiment in August of 2010.   I shot the video above in november of 2011 - after this stuff was well proven.  

I think I did a really good job of proving how well it worked.  And now would be a good time to build a body of evidence to support this strategy.   Please post pics, videos and stories of your attempts.  If a few hundred million people learn about this, a few million might implement it and it would not only save them money, but it would go a long ways to reduce a variety of pollutants.  
 
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I’m trying a few experiments reducing my electric heating load and this video is inspiring to try more. In Summer my hot water is 100% solar so that's a good start.
I found some heat mats that came from agricultural greenhouse flat heating. They can be cut at any length. I placed one above my bed that is 6’ long and 16” wide. It consumes 140 watts at 120 volt. I can notice a mild soothing warmth. I think it is too far from the bed to be effective as I’d like. I had this mat on the kitchen floor and it was noticeably comfortable for my feet but was getting damaged by traffic. They are not made to withstand heavy foot traffic.
Otherwise a “dish” parabolic electric heater uses 950 watts on medium and directs the infrared heat towards the object.
D6DEF630-F683-429E-A401-45BFBA4DA026.jpeg
[Thumbnail for D6DEF630-F683-429E-A401-45BFBA4DA026.jpeg]
 
paul wheaton
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Jeremy,

That is fascinating!

I wonder if there might be two things you can do to make this slightly more effective:

   - I wonder if there would be value in having some storage shelves created above your bed - so the heater would then be a bit closer.

   - I wonder if you might add some storage under your bed, so the bed would be higher and the heater would be a bit closer.

 
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What about an electric blanket?  Seems like that would put the heat even closer to where you'd want it.  And they have multiple levels of heat and timers to turn off after an hour (once you're warmed up and asleep)
 
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Something I've been looking for lately is a bed warmer.  In winter there's always a little dampness in the air.  There seem to be small electric blankets for feet or for pets that are not too expensive, could be put on a timer to just heat the bed up a bit before using.

In the olden days they used hot water bottles, or hot stones from the fireplace wrapped in several layers of newspaper.  
 
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Cristo: I have a heated mattress pad that does what you're looking for. I find that it works really well to heat the bed up about 30 minutes before I climb in, then I turn it off when I'm in the bed. You can theoretically keep it on all night if you want, but I've only ever wanted the extra warmth when I first climb in. It also lets me keep my bedroom cooler during the day since I know I'll have a warm bed to crawl into when it's time to sleep.

Here's an example of one
 
Jeremy Baker
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paul wheaton wrote:Jeremy,

That is fascinating!

I wonder if there might be two things you can do to make this slightly more effective:

   - I wonder if there would be value in having some storage shelves created above your bed - so the heater would then be a bit closer.

   - I wonder if you might add some storage under your bed, so the bed would be higher and the heater would be a bit closer.


Paul, I’ll consider building storage above the bed so the mat is closer.  That might work in this space. I already have two mattresses on the bed and can’t go much higher.
One thing Ive always sort of liked is tents indoors. Ive stayed for months in a tent in a unheated bunkhouse. The tent was 10 degrees warmer just from body heat. With a 100-200 watt heater it would be considerably warmer depending on various factors; how big the tent is, what the outside temperature is. There used to be small heaters, 200-300 watts, that thread into a light bulb socket. Ive been thinking of making a parabolic dish with a 200-300 watt heater and using it in my small bedroom or a tent.
The picture is of a 100 watt heater.
Ive wondered about electric blankets or a bed mat but it’s my arms and head I’m trying to keep warm.
7639B051-58AD-46C3-93ED-C4ED6189B56D.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 7639B051-58AD-46C3-93ED-C4ED6189B56D.jpeg]
 
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Jeremy Baker wrote:I’m trying a few experiments reducing my electric heating load and this video is inspiring to try more. In Summer my hot water is 100% solar so that's a good start.
I found some heat mats that came from agricultural greenhouse flat heating. They can be cut at any length. I placed one above my bed that is 6’ long and 16” wide. It consumes 140 watts at 120 volt. I can notice a mild soothing warmth. I think it is too far from the bed to be effective as I’d like. I had this mat on the kitchen floor and it was noticeably comfortable for my feet but was getting damaged by traffic. They are not made to withstand heavy foot traffic.
Otherwise a “dish” parabolic electric heater uses 950 watts on medium and directs the infrared heat towards the object.



A couple of thoughts . . ..

Put something reflective (and/or insulative) between the shelf and the heat mat.
Put the heat mat between you and your bed (and again consider something reflective or insulating)

You are basking in EMF's while you sleep.
 
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One of the things we've done the past two years is combine the chicken brooder with our plant nursery.  The heat from the brooder warms the seed trays in which I grow peppers.

Pepper seeds need to be kept warm or they don't want to germinate.  It's best to warm them from below, but that takes a lot of power if you use a heating blanket or somesuch.

The way our system works is that I've got a stainless steel rack on which I put the seed trays.  I built a new baby chick brooder to fit snugly under the lowest shelf of the rack.  I use a reptile bulb (like you'd use for a pet turtle, lizard or snake) to heat the brooder, and the pepper plants are directly above it (on old cafeteria trays, so that the water doesn't drip down on the chicken brooder).  As warm air rises from the brooder, it heats the pepper plants/seed trays above.  Then over the top of everything, I'll throw a heavy packing blanket.  It raises the temp inside that "tent" about 10 degrees, which is significant when you're trying to get seeds to germinate.

Once the birds are few weeks old, they don't like as much heat, but usually the peppers/tomatoes/cabbages/etc. have germinated by then and so it's not as critical to keep everything warm.

Everything is in a room with a big south-facing window, so the daytime temps are usually in the 70's or 80's, but the birds still need that extra heat until they begin to feather out.

I realize this thread is about keeping people warm, but in our household, all sorts of life forms share the space: people, chickens, seedlings.  Ultimately, everyone benefits -- people included.  Anything that I can do to heat everything more efficiently, I will.
 
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Marco Banks wrote:One of the things we've done the past two years is combine the chicken brooder with our plant nursery.  The heat from the brooder warms the seed trays in which I grow peppers.

Pepper seeds need to be kept warm or they don't want to germinate.  It's best to warm them from below, but that takes a lot of power if you use a heating blanket or somesuch.

The way our system works is that I've got a stainless steel rack on which I put the seed trays.  I built a new baby chick brooder to fit snugly under the lowest shelf of the rack.  I use a reptile bulb (like you'd use for a pet turtle, lizard or snake) to heat the brooder, and the pepper plants are directly above it (on old cafeteria trays, so that the water doesn't drip down on the chicken brooder).  As warm air rises from the brooder, it heats the pepper plants/seed trays above.  Then over the top of everything, I'll throw a heavy packing blanket.  It raises the temp inside that "tent" about 10 degrees, which is significant when you're trying to get seeds to germinate.

Once the birds are few weeks old, they don't like as much heat, but usually the peppers/tomatoes/cabbages/etc. have germinated by then and so it's not as critical to keep everything warm.

Everything is in a room with a big south-facing window, so the daytime temps are usually in the 70's or 80's, but the birds still need that extra heat until they begin to feather out.

I realize this thread is about keeping people warm, but in our household, all sorts of life forms share the space: people, chickens, seedlings.  Ultimately, everyone benefits -- people included.  Anything that I can do to heat everything more efficiently, I will.



You’re stacking functions. It makes sense to have the heater at the bottom of the tent. I think I’m going to put my mat back on the kitchen floor so my feet can enjoy it again. I’ll cover it with a thin protective cover.
 
paul wheaton
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I moved a bunch of stuff in this thread to another thread here.    I would like this thread to focus on the microheaters technigues (I updated the title of the thread to reflect this).  The other thread can focus on lots and lots of other excellent ideas.  
 
paul wheaton
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Many people are excited about this sort of heater as part of this general microheater approach:



I wish to strongly discourage this as a heating strategy.  I think if somebody enjoys candle light from time to time, this is fun little thing.  

My concern is primarily the idea of the candle burning the oxygen you are breathing.  My secondary concern is that the radiant heat from it is going in a lot of directions - so it isn't directed at a person.  
 
Mike Haasl
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To add another discouragement, I just read a report on indoor air quality for our church and one of the biggest recommendations was to stop burning the candle that we have lit during a service.  The smaller the space, the more concentrated the pollutants.  I don't recall the exact issues and they depend on the candle but they range from petroleum additives in the wax to lead in some wicks to smoke particulates.
 
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Switching from petroleum based candles to beeswax ones will make a HUGE difference. They're a little more expensive(unless someone has bees!), but they last MUCH longer, so it balances out. Ventilation, even in winter can almost eliminate the problem, too - unless everything is carpeted & upholstered, then the VOCs from that could be an issue.
 
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Ive noticed a thread on heated clothing. I’m hard on my clothing so not sure if it would work for very long or stand up to washing and drying.  
Ive never tried a Infrared sauna. A entire sauna is impractical, and expensive, for me but I noticed that “near infrared” bulbs (red light) used in near infrared saunas can be purchased for $25. I’m thinking about trying one in a tent. I like the soft curves of a tent. There’s a stigma of homelessness associated with tents these days sadly. But I’d rather look at the beautiful curves than the flat walls anyway. So I might try a near infrared bulb in a tent inside my space to keep the tent dry. Blankets can be draped over a dome tent for extra insulation.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/TheraBulb-NIR-A-Near-Infrared-Bulb-250-Watt-Therapy-Red-Light-CE-Certified-New/264568344327?hash=item3d99808f07:g:-j0AAOSwRqxd9ss-
 
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Hot water bottles are the best!

As Cristo mentioned, they're traditional low energy heat sources. My partner and I live on a boat, year-round (yes, winter too) in Canada. Our bedsheets in the v-berth get stuck (as in, iced onto) to the hull, even through the insulation. We use two hot water bottles, filled and thrown into the bed a couple minutes before we climb in - three if it's particularly cold (-15 deg C). They keep us toasty all night - no further energy required. It can actually get too hot, although admittedly not once it's -15dC...  We also use them sitting at desks or tables - anywhere where we're stationary.

We've been doing this for 7 years and counting. It works.
 
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K Rawlings wrote:Hot water bottles are the best!


They are also my strategy. In bed at night, at my feet, and during the winter when my office is freezing, one on my lap (under the slanket!!).

I have tried the flowerpot candle thing and didn't find it effective. Interesting, but not effective (plus if you need to crack the window for air quality, you're defeating the purpose).

We seal everything as much as possible, close off rooms and try to conserve the heat we do have (we can always add more blankets at night, so before bedtime I will try to capture heat from cooking in our living space, closing off the bedrooms, for example).
The big challenge for me is working a desk job in a very cold house. I use a heated USB "mouse blanket" that goes over the mouse and my hand- works better than the pad. I also have grain-filled wrist rests that can be thrown in the oven or microwave and keep my hands warm, which are the hardest part. But the best thing for office work in winter is walking on the treadmill while working- I run warmer and worry less about staying warm. It helps that my office is tiny and I have a big dog that shares it with me....
 
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Here in USA I haven’t seen a hot water bottle since I was a kid in England. That’s unAmerican lol. Im joking. I’m curious how you heat the hot water bottles?  Have you found a convenient way to do it?
 
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lol. I think I put myself squarely in the oldest-old category with my love of hot water bottles. I have seen them in the pharmacy when I'm up in the US visiting-- generally near the orthopedic stuff.
I heat up the water in the teakettle (almost boiling, but not quite), and use a funnel to fill up the bottles. I also have fleece covers for all of them, so nobody gets burnt.
 
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Ditto here. Don't put boiling water in them. If the kettle boils, let it cool down for a couple minutes, then pour the water in til it's maybe 2/3rds or 3/4rs full, then give it a tiny squeeze to evacuate most of the air - careful though, or it'll spurt out the top and burn you! The bottles will eventually wear out. You'll discover this when you find yourself suddenly ensconced in a water-bed. Try not to fold them much. Like most things, the material can handle being bent only so many times.
If you knit, you can knit some terrific covers for them. They're usually found in pharmacies and will last for years. I've used the same one for around four years. My parents have one that's multiple decades old, but don't think I'd chance snuggling up to that one in bed!

Also, wearing thin fingerless gloves help to keep the hands / wrists warm while at the computer. Also knittable, for the crafty types.
 
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K Rawlings wrote: The bottles will eventually wear out. You'll discover this when you find yourself suddenly ensconced in a water-bed. Try not to fold them much. Like most things, the material can handle being bent only so many times.


"Did you pee the bed?"
"Are you kidding me? Did you?"

The bright side is that these bottles, even after they become incontinent, make great gaskets. I have a few tiny mason jars that require really thick rubber rings that I can't find, and I don't have to explain to a bunch of Permies about keeping a nice piece of thick soft rubber for whatever wacky project that might pop up. We use our hot water bottles every single day in the winter (I have 3) and I usually get 3 or 4 years out of them.
 
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We are heating our house differently this year, and incorporating micro-heaters.

Our main part of the house (a great room that measures 24 x 40 feet) is heated via a wood pellet stove, but the bedrooms are heated by electric heaters. We figure we will save about $1000 with this dual-approach over that of using propane to heat the whole house, all winter.

The savings comes in because we can turn off the individual bedroom heaters when no one is in those rooms.

(The bathrooms, utility rooms, and closets get enough residual heat to take care of themselves with no added heat needed for them individually.)
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Our main part of the house (a great room that measures 24 x 40 feet) is heated via a wood pellet stove, but the bedrooms are heated by electric heaters. We figure we will save about $1000 with this dual-approach over that of using propane to heat the whole house, all winter.

The savings comes in because we can turn off the individual bedroom heaters when no one is in those



We use a pellet stove to power  underfloor heating which is controlled room by room. We keep unused bedrooms around 6 degrees, our bedroom around 14 and the living room/kitchen diner around 18. It makes so much sense to heat only the rooms used.
Saving $1000 is a big wow! Well done!
Our pellet stove  is in the bodega where I do my canning and other food prep for a steady background temperature and our hot water heater which uses residual air temp to heat water is housed next to it.
 
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in researching heat pads for plant propagation i came across some heated blankets which use heated water so that you are less exposed to EMF while sleeping
they are fairly expensive
one thing i was looking at possibly trying is putting water in an air mattress and a small pump to circulate the water and also a  fish tank heater
in such a way.. if you can seal the entrance for the cords to go inside.. you could make a similar thing although the water would have a tendency to go to the sides and not be on top of you
or to mimick the less EMF model have an insulated bucket with pump and fishtank heater and a insulated hoses/blanket over hoses leading to the air mattress
one hose being longer than the other so it can be fed to the far side
the biggest hurdle being sealing that junction properly without an icky product
food grade air mattress equivalent
just throwing thoughts out there i have no practical experience
 
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Wow, my parent's water bed is going to come back into fashion.  
 
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One experiment I want to try is building an insulated box around my bed with just enough room to sit up in.  I think body heat alone would keep it comfortable.  You would need some kind of air exchange that wouldn't allow your body heat to escape too rapidly, but that shouldn't be too hard.
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:One experiment I want to try is building an insulated box around my bed with just enough room to sit up in.  I think body heat alone would keep it comfortable.  You would need some kind of air exchange that wouldn't allow your body heat to escape too rapidly, but that shouldn't be too hard.



This is what I had set up to try last winter but right after finished I got 'called out' and spent the winter not even living at my house. See my other reply, if they post it up. I was going to wrap it with R60 all 6 sides and try to use only body heat and the heat from the light for the room and the heat from the laptop computer. I keep trying to get something which will require no outside heat source at all and like you I see the way of doing it is to build only what you livein and not any bigger. I do everything from a hammock, eat, sleep, cook use the laptop, etc all from the hammock. I just need to figure the way how to get the 10 foot hammock hang length so I have a nice comfort hammock setup. The 5 foot long room caused the hammock to not lay comfortably like 8-10 foot spread does.
 
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I very much appreciate all the microheating resources on here. I am trying to figure out the best approach to make our house more comfortable and to heat more affordably this winter. We primarily heat with a propane ventless furnace—which is not performing the Full Wheaton, I know, but for now it is what I have. I hope to go much more fully Permie in the future, but with three little kids in this phase of life we make do with what we have.

If we can make it through the whole cold season on one tank of propane, without turning on the electric furnace, it is pretty affordable heating. Last year, we did not quite make it, and we had areas in our house that were fairly uncomfortable even as we ran the furnace pretty hot. I want to be more comfortable and to avoid turning on the electric furnace at all this year.

Our bedrooms (one for parents and two for our three kids) and master bath are the primary areas that don't get enough heat, so I am exploring my options to add heat to those areas and to improve distribution of the heat through the house. I'm thinking heated mattress pads for all beds is the first step, but we use those rooms quite a bit during the day too, and our kids (7YO, 5YO, 2YO) are obviously quite active. Stocking up each room with 3-4 different heating devices would probably bust my budget; anybody have an idea for a best bet for a single purchase for each room? Are there dog bed warmers or other floor heaters that are safe for use on hardwood?

The furnace is in the basement, at the foot of the stairs that open up into our main room, which has a lofted ceiling. That is one problem—we do have a ceiling fan there, so this year I need to actually clean it so I can leave it running essentially all the time. There is always plenty of heat near the furnace, so another piece of this will probably be improving heat distribution throughout the house with fans.
 
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Mandy Launchbury-Rainey wrote  "our hot water heater which uses residual air temp to heat water".
Can you load a link so I can see what you're talking about please?
 
Mike Haasl
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Mandy might be talking about a "tempering" tank.  When you turn on the hot water, cold water enters the water heater to replace the hot.  That water is often quite cold in the winter (40F?).  If you had a tank before the water heater that the cold water enters first and sits in for a while, it would come up to the temperature of its surroundings (60-70F) before going into the water heater.  Then the water heater only has to raise the temperature 80 degrees instead of 100 which is a 20% savings.

Or she's talking about something else entirely
 
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Micro-heating is a term I never heard before, but the concept makes sense.

Just adding to the cold bedroom (I think I mentioned it elsewhere already):
We (parents) sleep in the former attic under the roof. We added four windows but the room has no heating. We get cold winters here in Germany, sometimes you can't open the inclined windows without getting loads of snow into the room.

We do have an electric heater with a fan in the room but I don't like using it. It is noisy and uses electricity.
When the winter is mild I only need two things:
Hot water bottle and my down duvet. However cold you might feel, several minutes under the downs and you are warm.

I have to add that the house is insulated very well. So much so that you have to take care to ventilate properly or you might risk mold. That is why I would be careful with "using" hot and humid air from cooking or showering to heat the house. On the cold walls you will get condensation - inevitably - and risk mold.

That is why I do heat the attic from time to time, otherwise the warm air rises from the basement and first floor and condensates in the attic.
 
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I'm one of those people, if I get under cold covers, my feet just clam up, and don't warm up, so I won't fall asleep till about 2 or 3. When I lived at our school with only solar electricity for 20+ years, I used a hot water bottle or two. Now that I'm in a house that has mains power, I've used an electric mattress pad for two winters.

My tips for hot water bottles: Yes, fill it with boiling water! In fact in the coldest part of winter, I preheat it like a teacup: fill it with boiling water, wait a few seconds, then pour the water back into the pot and reboil it! I wear socks to bed in winter anyway, so it doesn't burn my feet. I lay the rubber bag-like part flat on the counter and bend the neck upright to fill it, to reduce "burping" up of boiling water, air pockets, and spillage. Then push it gently to get the air out before closing. Don't overfill: two floppy hot water bags are more comfortable than one overfilled one. One for the knees, one for the feet, in January. Mmmmm....

My tips for electric mattress warmers (called electric blankets in India): The instructions on the ones sold here say put it under your bottom sheet, and I like that. If you're concerned about synthetic materials next to your body, that helps. If you're concerned about an electromagnetic field around your body, then use it to preheat the bed and then turn it off when you get in it. If you have good enough covers (and good enough circulation to your feet) that should be enough to keep you warm all night. This winter, I'm planning to put a foam camping mattress under my mattress, because in previous winters I felt like heat leaked away downwards overnight. (BTW it's not "heat rises" but only "hot air rises" -- Heat can conduct away equally up or down).

The electric mattress pad uses only about 150W (adjustable for high, medium, low heat, but I use mine on high, 140W for the coldest part of winter). If you use it to preheat the bed before getting in, it's a very small amount of electricity each night. Less than 1/10 of what any kind of stand alone electric heater would use, such as a blower or a parabolic thingy, especially if those have to be left on for longer than the mattress pad.
 
denise ra
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Rebecca Norman, if you can find something that is reflective like a silver emergency blanket and put that under the heating pad also the maybe won't lose so much heat. Of course it might sound a little crinkly at first.
 
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