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What heat to use when supply chains break down?

 
pollinator
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As you may have heard there’s a fuel shortage in Germany and rationing is beginning. We are renting a new big house and want to move to a smaller house for the winter. The current house has a 3 year old natural gas boiler and radiant floor heat. But it’s much bigger than we need. If we rent a smaller house we dont know what type of heat is best. And a lot of the rentals are old and may be inefficient. What fuel might be most affordable and available this Winter? I’m wondering if a pellet stove might work well if we order pellets in bulk now. Seems like the supply of pellets might be stable. But I’m just guessing. thanks.
 
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I feel sad for the people there. It's a very difficult situation.

Pellet stoves are easier to install than wood stoves because they can use a through-the-wall vent. I'm sure it would still require permits and inspections from the municipality and insurance company. The landlord would have to agree.

Pellet stoves also require electricity to operate. If the electrical grid is subject to rolling blackouts, a model that can use a 12VDC emergency power source would be better.
 
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Perhaps this information can be useful to you....

https://www.npr.org/2022/08/23/1118813295/as-germany-struggles-in-energy-crisis-more-turn-to-solar-to-help-power-homes
 
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Your 100m2 (~1000sqft), radiant floor, super insulated R-60, passive solar gain, high-efficiency heater, with an ERV might actually use less energy that a regular leaky house that is half it's size. So make sure you are comparing not just the size but the total heat/energy loss per season. Look at actual bills to compare.

Lets assume that the 50% smaller house does in fact uses 50% less energy. The energy sources are limited to:
1) Renewable Electric (Solar/Wind/Hydro/etc)
2) Fossil Fuel Electric (Natural Gas, Coal, etc)
3) Fossil Fuel (Natural Gas, Oil, etc)
4) Renewable Biomass (Wood, Pellet, etc)
5) District Heating from waste heat derrived from industral plants/etc

Personally I wished if everyone uses radiant floor heating because the air has less burnt dust particulates, and the temp can lower due to the phycological warmer foot effect and less temp stratification.

Also we would tend have more option on how we heat the water in the radiant infloor pipes e.g pellet stove-boiler, heat pump, fossil fuel, electric.

If I was building a brand new home. I would go for a super insulated house with winter solar gain, topped off with radiant floor heating, with a heat pump powered by solar panels on the roof. No sun for 3days isn't a problem if you use the floor to store the thermal energy just like with a battery.  
 
Jeremy Baker
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Thanks Douglas, Debbie, S Bengi,……I’m just beginning to look into energy seriously because we might be stuck here for the Winter due to sick dog that cannot be moved. Amazing how expensive a sick loved one can become. I also neglected to mention the new house is very expensive rental at $3000/month while we see a small house rental for $1000/month. We are starting payments on our own place in USA but cannot move there yet due to the dog. I wish it was simpler. I’d like the rent payments to go towards our own place after 20 years of renting. The sick dog is preventing us from moving to our new place in USA and causing us to double our expenses. Ugh!! Might be $20000 in extra expense! I don’t want to be responsible for my fiancées dogs death so am gritting my teeth and in limbo. I had hoped to get out of here by now. We are not vested in the German community so am not very motivated to get involved (It’s a big empty nester house. Ex husband and kids moved out). And I only know a few words of German.  I just want to get on with homesteading and paying for our our new homestead after helping to pay for other people places for 20 years. It’s really trying my patience. And I too feel sad for the situation here…. I feel powerless often. Its testing my “there’s no problems but only solutions” mindset.
 Here is the positives: 1).I started build a camper van with 480 watts of solar. We already have the solar equipment I bought 6 months ago. I could finish installation and we could use the energy this winter. 2). We could rent out unused rooms and share the energy expense ( but there’s a LOT of red tape involved here) 3). We could only heat 1-2 rooms by turning off the zones to other parts of the big house (4 bedroom, 3 bathroom) 4). We could set up a army tent in the living room or bedroom and heat it with candles. And basically camp inside the expensive house. As long as I’m dry I dont mind cold that much. 5). We could apply for a energy subsidy. But I doubt we qualify. We are the shrinking struggling middle class bleeding money.  
I will ask the neighbor to explain how the German utility billing system works. I’m clueless at present. And the boiler instructions are all in German so I’ll ask him to explain them. The roof has solar hot water thermal panels which go to a heat exchanger in the natural gas system. It’s a very complex digital system and my experience is if complicated systems aren’t  programmed correctly they may not save much energy. Sometimes I feel like just turning off the natural gas boiler and valve to see what the solar will do. The other issue was other people coming along and turning the thermostat all the way up because they are not paying the bill. Another issue is if this heating system breaks down it can take weeks or months for a technician to arrive here. A woodstove sounds better and better.. Maybe a woodstove and a couple cords of wood just for the coldest winter storms makes sense ?? The landlord offered to install one but my fiancée hates to ask for anything. This will be a great test of our resolve.
Yes, I will ask for the complete energy bills and compare the big new house to the small older house. One thing I can attest to is I’m not impressed by the energy efficiency of most buildings here. Concrete buildings with a little bit of foam insulation on them. The high mass does reduce the air conditioning needed to almost nothing however. But once they get cold they take a long time to heat up again. Radiant floor heat has some advantages for this type of construction.  Thanks.
 
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I know it sounds bad, but it sound like the better solution is to move to your new place in the USA.
Everything has to be considered, not just the dog. You are in a situation in which you are not happy.

I returned to Germany 3 weeks ago and already left again...
 
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Wow!  I really feel for those poor souls in Germany.

I have been thinking about what Germany will do for energy ever since 2011/Fukushima when Germany decided to transition away from nuclear back towards coal and more Russian natural gas.  Obviously this has only gotten more urgent as events of this last year have unfolded.  


As a personal anecdote, I have visited friends who heated with a kerosene heater.  Even running at the lowest setting it put out an enormous amount of heat and ran efficiently for a very long time.  This friend of mine built a huge, roughly 30’ x 40’ addition to his trailer home.  The addition was poorly insulated and had no heat other than that kerosene heater.  When I first saw the heater I thought there was no way it would possibly heat that space and certainly not for very long, but I was wrong.  Just running at the low level, it warmed that space very well, using its full, 1 gallon tank over the course of something like 10-12 hours.  I was impressed.  

I fully appreciate the dangers of having liquid fuel and a flame in the house, but this person was sensitive to cold and was none the less for wear.  This may not be ideal, but if one needs a lot of heat, this may be an option, though do be careful (but they generally are very safe).

The other alternative is to live with the cold.  Really insulate windows and doors.  Turn down the thermostat.  Dress in warm clothes and layers so that colder temperatures are still comfortable.

My last thought is to avoid becoming inactive.  I know this is both an obvious statement and a big ask at the same time but we tend to move less in winter as we get less light.  Staying active keeps us warmer from inside our bodies.  Again, I don’t want to sound pushy, just stating the obvious.

I really do wish you the best of luck over this upcoming winter and I hope you stay warm.

Eric
 
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Jeremy Baker wrote:As you may have heard there’s a fuel shortage in Germany and rationing is beginning. We are renting a new big house and want to move to a smaller house for the winter. The current house has a 3 year old natural gas boiler and radiant floor heat. But it’s much bigger than we need. If we rent a smaller house we dont know what type of heat is best. And a lot of the rentals are old and may be inefficient. What fuel might be most affordable and available this Winter? I’m wondering if a pellet stove might work well if we order pellets in bulk now. Seems like the supply of pellets might be stable. But I’m just guessing. thanks.


Jeremy if it's a rental you do not want to do any permanent upgrades but there are steps you can take. Evaluate the windows and doors and maybe seal some of them for the winter. Spot heat areas of the house as usage requires. One I've been thinking about for non permanent installations is through the windows heating and cooling heat pumps. It looks like a dehumidifier or floormount AC unit but can also heat with all the advantages that brings. Something like this one:https://m.costway.ca/12000-btu-portable-4-in-1-air-conditioner-with-smart-control.html?piid=9220100&fee=45&fep=19435&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&gclid=CjwKCAjwgaeYBhBAEiwAvMgp2o2uFSITDt_BmvzAVn1jNhV1nTNQhBxTAo7BC09gbNUdjVM1EKA4KRoC_qkQAvD_BwE
There are a whole class of these out there. A lot of older rentals use electricity space heaters here or inefficient fossil fuel furnaces. Heat pumps add efficiency and the portable ones are a easy install option. Anecdotally they are not great for the worst cold days but they can be supplemented with the more costly existing heating in the rental
 
Jeremy Baker
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Sebastian, Eric, and David…..Thanks for the well wishes. I’m taking notes. Comically, we are discussing setting up a large tent in the living room haha. Then a small tent inside the large tent for a bedroom. Body heat and a candle can be enough to “take the chill off”.
However if there is a extra cold snap there should be a back up heater. A heat pump would not work well during the coldest storms. A catalytic kerosene heater might? All of Germany would be turning on the heat at the same time so I assume they are stockpiling fuel for this event? This is where having a personal stockpile of pellets would be good. Is there a small inexpensive gravity fed pellet burner that I could run the vent out a window from the tent? I prefer a vented heater as I get a headache from unvented heaters. I watched one YT video by Mr Potatohead where he uses a DIY pellet burner in a popup trailer. It looked good but then I saw a year later he wasn’t using it so maybe it had issues. It’s probably against German laws to have a DIY stove in a rental anyway. Turning lemons into lemonade in Germany isn’t always easy. This is one reason why I am eager to return to USA where there is a little more freedom for innovation. So Sebastian’s suggestion to “get out of Dodge City” is noted. If I was German or invested here I would be tempted to dig in my heels and say “Eff you Putin and other warmonger’s, we don't want or need your blood energy”. I don’t want to sound like a sour grape but I have a hunch the USA isn’t far behind on the energy curve so get ready.
 
Sebastian Köln
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From my knowledge of German law, you can pretty much forget installing anything that uses oxygen and emits combustion products within the house yourself.
There may be loopholes by moving an oven outside the house and transferring the heat via water pipes.
 
Eric Hanson
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Ok, I remembered an old conversation with a friend who has a homestead and would like to be fully independent/off grid.  He introduced me to the corn burner, essentially a specially modified pellet stove designed to burn dried corn.  Where a pellet stove gives off 40,000 BTU’s, a corn stove will give off an impressive 60,000 BTU’s.  Apparently it is a very low emission fuel and fairly easy to acquire.  Maybe it is worth a look?

Eric

https://www.buildwithrise.com/stories/amp/benefits-and-costs-of-a-corn-stove
 
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Not just Germany, there will be a few shivering Brits this winter as well...

LONDON -- A cost-of-living crisis in Britain is about to get worse, with millions of people paying about 80% more a year on their household energy bills starting in October.

The U.K. energy regulator on Friday announced the latest price cap, which is the maximum amount that gas suppliers can charge customers per unit of energy. It means people will pay 3,549 pounds ($4,188) a year for heating and electricity.

Scores are already struggling to make ends meet as inflation soared to 10.1% last month — the highest in 40 years — and the rapidly spiraling costs of energy and food are certain to hit the poorest the hardest.

The government is facing widespread calls to do more to offer relief, but no new measures are expected before the Conservative Party chooses a new prime minister to replace Boris Johnson.

Here's a look at the rising energy costs in the United Kingdom:


HOW STEEP IS THE RISE?

Annual energy bills for the average household paying by direct debit have already risen by a record 54% so far this year. Bills had been capped at 1,971 pounds ($2,320) a year, compared with about 1,200 pounds last winter.

Under the revised price cap announced Friday, average household energy bills will jump to 3,549 pounds a year starting Oct. 1. They will go still higher when the price cap is updated again in January, expected to exceed 4,000 pounds.

U.S. bank Citi forecast that the huge energy cost increases could drive U.K. inflation to 18% next year. The Bank of England predicts a recession starting later this year.

Charities and public health leaders warn that the rocketing bills will be a “catastrophe" for poorer people heading into winter, as growing numbers are forced to make impossible choices between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

By SYLVIA HUI Associated Press
August 26, 2022, 1:55 AM
 
Jeremy Baker
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Sebastian and Eric……thanks for the insight and suggestions. There is vast amount of corn grown in Germany I have noticed. I assume it’s feed corn. Perhaps it is a underutilized fuel. I hesitate to support commercial agribusiness but it would be a temporary measure. A outside boiler fed by corn would be a fun project. I saw a outside boiler for hot tubs for sale in Munich. So perhaps they are legal.
 In my Motorhome I used a 300 watt electric heater in the bedroom. The same small heater would “take the chill off” in a large tent. Last winter was very gray weather so I have low expectations for solar. I would not be suprised if the power plants will burn corn as well as other fuels. I read that diesel is being imported increasingly as emergency fuel. What I would hope is consumers learn how to economize rather than simply pay more.
 Yes, the inflation is hitting everyone but hitting the poorest the hardest. We are fortunate to be middle income and can afford a homestead. A person blessed with health can survive a cold winter and save the fuel for those whose health is challenged.
 After reading the article on corn stoves I wonder if I could grow enough corn on about 1/4 acre to warm our house?. Our homestead in the desert has no trees for wood but has a cold winter. The indigenous people grew the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
 
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OMG I am an expat of this country and I am really happy not to be there. On the bright side you can run a brilliant business sewing warm clothes if you are good at sewing. There is a huge section here about rocket mass heaters.   In Spain they used to have bowls with glowing coal under the table and then a tablecloth on top, probably dangerous and unhealthy. Stay warm! I would leave but really in every country there's something else in store.
 
Eric Hanson
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Jeremy,

Just as a Gee-Whiz/FYI; when I was introduced to the corn burner it seemed pretty weird/exotic to me.  Frankly I thought there were better sources for heat.  My friend explained that one advantage was that while high quality corn was best, one could still get good heat from iffy quality corn that might well be rejected by a farmer as a source of feed for animals.  I thought that particular application was great--eliminating a waste stream.  

As I understand, the burner fed by poor-quality corn gives off a little bit less heat and there is definitely more ash (high quality corn apparently burns almost entirely ash-free), but my friend was planning on using rejected corn as a feedstock (note: it will also run on wheat, barley, and other small grains, though not as well at corn).  Also, he was planning on mounting his inside in place of a wood stove.  The burner was designed to fit in a standard wood/pellet stove setting.  It did need a little electricity as it had a hopper that needed a little auger to drag the corn into the burn chamber.  Again, if I am remembering correctly, the burner needs to be started with a tiny amount of kindling (really, it was just a few shavings of dried wood--paper or cardboard might also do).  

And again, just as another FYI--the corn burner I saw dumped practically all of its heat into the room it was located.  An outdoor boiler unit certainly is intriguing.  I have absolutely no idea how it would work.  It might work just fine, or wood might be better in that application, I just don't know.  In my example I was simply thinking about how much heat one could get from a relatively small amount of feedstock and internally mounted corn burner might be a real contender.  I know that with the grain shortage, corn also might be difficult to obtain.  Normally I would balk at the idea of burning a foodstuff, but if we are talking about burning rejected or spoiled grains, I would see this as a great resource.  Maybe this is not something that could be implemented on a mass scale (hopefully we don't waste *that* much grain!), but perhaps some of the winter chill could be lifted from this otherwise unutilized resource.

Now if we wanted to really Permie this idea up, maybe we could make some sort of Corn-Burner-Rocket-Mass-Heater!  I don't know how this would even work, but if it could, maybe that it would be a real boon for shivering Germans (and others) this winter!

I know that I have aimed this and previous responses at Germany, but there is no reason why it would not work out in England (which has its own energy crises coming) or many other European countries that are facing fuel shortages this winter.  Best of luck to you all and I hope you all find some source of heat and energy to tide you over till the warmer months.

Eric




 
Jeremy Baker
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Eric,
I’d like a rocket mass heater that can be adapted to burn corn, pellets, or firewood. I’m inspired enough to ask around the area to see if anyone supplies low grade corn. I learned that xylitol is extracted from the corn cobs. But they don’t have as much oil energy as kernels for burning?
 Thanks for the suggestions. Typhoon neighbor came over to help explain our bill from the utility. His job is brokering biogas as a alternative to natural gas and he seems calm. Not looking for backup heat. But it would be great to see more appropriate technology. I have seen a few Swedish, Russian, and German Mass stoves in homes. Not sure how they compare to a rocket mass heater in efficiency.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I have been watching the news. If you have the money and the storage space, I think that stockpiling a large amount of wood pellets or other stable fuels would be a rational and practical approach. Having options makes for better sleep.
 
Jeremy Baker
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Douglas……that’s the direction I’m leaning. Solid fuel stove. My partner is intending to have a shipping container of her possessions shipped back to America. So I could use a nice pellet stove here temporarily then ship it in the shipping container. Otherwise we are stuck in the powerless position of being renters and I’m done improving properties for my landlords then walking away holding the empty bag. The house we rented had no kitchen. My partner spent $7000 for a simple kitchen and may have to walk away from it after only using it for 2 years. Because rentals are often very long term in Germany no kitchen is common on new constructed rental houses.
 
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Let's take it at worst case scenario: no fuel or electricity.

What matters is to keep people warm, not buildings. People need three layers to combat cold:
1. Tight underwear. It's a bit uncomfortable for those of us who are hairy.
2. An insulating and breathable clothe, thick wool is best.
3. A weathering layer that stops wind and rain, usually leather.
Cover every part of your body that you can, not only the parts that you feel cold.

Then, you can work at individual rooms. As long as one of your rooms is not freezing, you can survive. The strategies for climatizing the room might diverge depending on the heat source. If it is direct fire, like a hearth, you need to evacuate the smoke, which means cold breeze inside the house. In Spain it is common to use embers under a table with clothing. There's a risk of intoxication if there's no good ventilation in the room (indeed, every year we hear of deaths by carbon monoxide), but under the table clothing it is very comfortable. A safer option is to bring in hot stones instead of the embers.

Without an external heat source, the strategy is the same as with the human body: keep people tight together in the smaller room you can handle, insulate them from the exterior temperature with rugs, blankets or even insulating foam and have a protective layer against water and wind (check for wind leaks in doors and windows).
 
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Looking at the variety of grains that heater can burn... are there other plants that aren't considered edible that could also work? As an example, seed from coneflower or wild sunflowers are considered too high in oil for regular chicken feed and though they may technically be edible humans don't really eat them.  I think they're the size of some small grains.  I don't know what common wild or garden plants would have similar characteristics in Europe but I wonder if anything else has potential.
 
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Even better would be things that are truly inedible, bit I suspect most of those would have a risk of toxic fumes.  I cringe a the thought of someone trying this with something like poison ivy berries because they don't know that the rash causing oil would become an equally toxic vapor.  Most other problems would probably be fine if the smoke was vented outside
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Jeremy Baker wrote:Douglas……that’s the direction I’m leaning. Solid fuel stove. My partner is intending to have a shipping container of her possessions shipped back to America. So I could use a nice pellet stove here temporarily then ship it in the shipping container.


Just a heads up -- a pellet stove designed for the European electric grid won't be compatible with the North American grid.
 
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Jeremy Baker wrote:Thanks Douglas, Debbie, S Bengi,……I’m just beginning to look into energy seriously because we might be stuck here for the Winter due to sick dog that cannot be moved. Amazing how expensive a sick loved one can become. I also neglected to mention the new house is very expensive rental at $3000/month while we see a small house rental for $1000/month. We are starting payments on our own place in USA but cannot move there yet due to the dog. I wish it was simpler.


It seems that you are short of ideal options.  Obviously the best case scenario would be to get the hell out of Dodge before winter arrives, especially since you are already cultivating plans for a move to USA.  But I understand why that might not be an option.  Some people get extremely emotional about their pets.  If that is the limiting factor, then I guess you just have to deal with it.

Otherwise, it seems to me that any ideas for somehow getting by in the current, larger house rental are misguided.  If you can save 2/3 of a $3000 monthly rent check by temporarily moving to the smaller house, then do it!  $2000/month saved will buy an awful lot of heating fuel of whatever type you end up needing, no matter how inflated prices there become this winter, and no matter how efficient that smaller house may or may not be.

If you do end up moving into the smaller house rental, then the question becomes what type of heat.  I understand that you are reluctant to make capital improvements to a property that you do not own.  But if the choice is between doing that and freezing, then you really have no choice, so there's no point getting upset about it.

I don't know too much about pellet heaters, and even less about pellet heaters that burn corn.  Could be an interesting option.  Ideally, I would recommend a rocket mass heater, as some above have mentioned.  But that is not an option you should consider in your current situation, for several reasons: 1) now is not the time to start from scratch learning about and planning for such a major DIY project, not with the clock ticking as it is; 2) that is a major improvement to a rental property that you cannot take with you, that you cannot resell, and with which your landlord might not appreciate being left; 3) it will almost certainly be illegal for you, and while that wouldn't stop me from building one in my own home (which I do plan on building), I don't have a landlord who could decide to cause trouble; and 4) if you were to install an RMH and then run afoul of the law, it isn't something you could then easily un-install, and you'd recover 0% of its value if you did.

For that reason, I suspect the best options left to you would be...

#1 Use one or more portable, plug-in, oil-filled electric radiators in the smaller rental house.

This is the one I use, but there are many many models available: DeLonghi TRN0812T

PROS:
- Compared to whole-house heating systems, the upfront cost is negligible!
- There is essentially no investment/installation cost here, and what you do purchase is designed to be portable.
- Heating only the room you're in is a well-established strategy for surviving winter on a budget.
- I have found these extremely convenient, safe, comfortable, and affordable to operate.
- Zero exhaust to concern yourself with.

CONS:
- I have only found mine so extremely affordable because my cost of residential electricity is low, even by USA standards.  I imagine that German electricity is much pricier, and that it will only become more so this winter.  You will have to estimate the costs for yourself.

#2 Use one or more portable kerosine heaters in the smaller rental house.

This is very similar to the one I grew up using, but there are many many models available: Sengoku KeroHeat

PROS:
- Compared to whole-house heating systems, the upfront cost is negligible!
- There is essentially no investment/installation cost here, and what you do purchase is designed to be portable.
- Heating only the room you're in is a well-established strategy for surviving winter on a budget.
- While not as safe as the electric radiator - kerosene burners feature open combustion and much hotter surfaces - these are nonetheless very safe, comfortable, and affordable to operate.
- If you remove the top guard and set a kettle atop the heater, you might be able to boil water on it.

CONS:
- Where I grew up, fuel kerosene was easily available and inexpensive.  No idea about Germany.  You will have to research availability and estimate the costs for yourself.

#3 Install a conventional wood-burning stove into the smaller rental house.

PROS:
- Compared to other whole-house heating systems, the upfront cost is reasonable, though this is an investment.
- Compared to electrified heating systems, including pellet stoves, you can uninstall and take it with you and it will work anywhere.
- Even should you not choose to take it with you, it could be uninstalled and easily re-sold.  I imagine wood stoves - and any other heating device that doesn't burn natural gas - will sell for a premium in Germany for the next few years!
- All the literature agrees that wood heat is the most affordable heat per BTU you can buy.
- Once you have a simple wood-burning device installed - and in concept a wood stove is very simple: an iron box with vents attached - you can in theory burn just about anything in it.  Including trash if it came to that.  Bad for the environment, but better than freezing to death.
- You could totally boil water and even cook atop it.

CONS:
- I said all the literature agrees wood heat is cheapest... which is true in areas where firewood is plentiful.  That description includes the vast majority of rural North America, where I live.  I have no idea about where you are.  But even if firewood is widely available in your corner of Germany, I'd stock up now.  Prices will doubtless increase, if they've not already begun rising.
- If there is no existing chimney to tie into, things will get complicated.  Fortunately, you can easily exhaust a woodstove out of a window.  This is cheap and effective, and there are many resources online to help you do so.  Unfortunately, doing so might be illegal where you live.  You would have to research that and, if it is verboten, decide on the risk level involved with that decision.

Jeremy Baker wrote:...We could rent out unused rooms and share the energy expense (but there’s a LOT of red tape involved here)...


I'm sorry, but I just have to laugh!  I guess there is truth to the stereotype.

But back on topic... some pics of window-vented wood stoves:



 
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Hi from Northern Germany!

I'll be brief.

1. Anything with a chimney needs approval and annual inspection and cleaning. The guy (Schornsteinfegermeister) will just turn up on his own. You don't get to dodge this. It costs about €100.

2. Utility bills are annual. You pay monthly a fixed bill based on what your consumption was LAST year. You can get a better / lower deal by switching suppliers. It doesn't really help THIS year to be frugal this year.

3. Kerosene is expensive.

4. Wood heating stoves are common, older places might still have one or more Kachelofen - a kind of big wood fired storage heater.

5. You could rent a country place up north for €4-500 a month. Maybe less.

I think your very best place for a "wait it out" strategy is honestly a small city apartment in the middle of its block so you get heat from all sides. Some small unpopular city where it's cheap.
 
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Matthew, that is a detailed answer!

I would like to add some points:
Rocket mass heaters of that kind cannot be installed in Germany. We have regular building inspections on heating systems for all buildings by law, so the landlord would get into trouble.
Wood heaters are available, with good ones in the range of a couple of thousands of Euro (those that are legal - some have little filtering or are so low in efficiency that they are mostly decorative and had to be uninstalled). But wood is very scarce. It started over a year ago when internal demand went up and China (plus 300%), US (plus 5%) and other nations got into the German market for construction wood and triggered a dramatic rise in prices.
We haven't used our wood stove for years, but recently bought some (quite expensive) wood to be on the safe side.

Burning other stuff (than pellets or aged wood) is not possible for private individuals. A lot of the corn grown here in Germany is in fact not fodder but material for biogas power plants (biofuel and heating). Other organic material is sometimes added (food waste and miscanthus grass). I am opposed to the massive federal subsidies as the mono-cultured corn fields "eat" a lot of land and impact bio-diversity. We should rather invest more in solar fields and wind energy, a sensitive topic here in Bavaria.

Plug-in solar panels are in very high demand right now. Finally my husband decided to get one and we are teaming up with a neighbour for purchase (market is basically sold-out) and installation. ROI is in the four year range currently. Husband and neighbour are working together on this as there are some legal and technical aspects they will have to tackle as engineers.

All in all, I would certainly opt for the smaller house. Go low on heating, but without allowing the house to cool down completely. As Jeremy had observed, the mass of bricks (or sometimes concrete) has built-in inertia which makes a great long-term temperature regulation (and it is in fact very well insulated if he checks on the building's "energy pass", I assume) but for that reason you should maintain a certain minimum.

We have started to put up thermal/black-out curtains in our living room because of the extreme heat in Europe this summer and they will serve as insulation in winter (in addition to the double-glaze windows we already have). Let's see how we will get through winter. Many Germans are so demanding and pampered that we are already seeing a lot of complaining but when we compare ourselves with others (or the generation of our parents and grandparents) we still live in paradise.
 
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I believe if your feet feel warm you are half way there to keeping your whole body warm.
Problem fir me I have trouble getting my feet warm. I know it’s probably a circulation issue , but any advice on what you do or take would be appreciated.
dAZ
 
Abraham Palma
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Darren Halloran wrote:I believe if your feet feel warm you are half way there to keeping your whole body warm.
Problem fir me I have trouble getting my feet warm. I know it’s probably a circulation issue , but any advice on what you do or take would be appreciated.
dAZ



Hi, Darren.

Two advices, actually.
1. Keep your whole body covered, not just your feet. Including head and hands when you are not using them. Please, read my post about proper body heating above.
2. Use thick carpets and proper winter slippers for floor isolation (they have a thick layer 'under' your feet soles).
 
Jeremy Baker
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Thanks for the helpful and practical suggestions…A very interesting situation is developing. Reminds me of the Chinese curse…”may your life be interesting”. . Maybe this new urgent energy crisis will be a wake up call. But it might just be hard on the poor while the wealthy continue living wastefully. .…We are continuing the discussion about moving to a smaller house but I fear we are running out of time to prepare. So we will do short term solutions. Heating only the room we are using. I insulated my van and can shelter inside if needed. Hopefully it will be a mild winter for everyone and a new approach to energy will emerge.
 
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If you have the motorhome, why don't you pack up and move out of the house  and you, your fiancée, and the dog get in the motorhome and head south for the winter? There are competent veterinarians everywhere.
 
Kirsty Pollock
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Please remember that you will have to keep the whole house above dew point to prevent mould. If you damage the landlord's property by letting it get mouldy they will make you meet the repair costs, by court case if necessary. Ventilation helps. 10 mins of the window open only loses about 1°C so make sure to do this regularly. Most Germans do this as a matter of course usually, they are very down on "stale air". So you will definitely be expected to know that you have to air all rooms regularly.

Never put furniture against an outside wall! Leave a good air gap.
 
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We moved into a fixed upper farmhous in Winter,  two days before the pandemic hit.  Our fixing-up plans changed daily.  We stopped when we got the house sealed from weather and pests.  We started work with our heat source, formerly a wood stove, which had been pulled out to be replaced by a certified one.

If I'd known about rocket mass heaters, this would be a different story.   I'll still shift our design that way when I can.

In the meantime, here what we did:

Found a used, certified, cast iron stove and installed it.   Burned a mountain of wood trying to heat the house the first Winter.   Note the word "trying."  We were exhausted by the 24/7 of wood cutting, splitting, hauling, stacking...

I used those electric heat mats that are sold for seed starting under my feet at my desk.   Best idea ever.   I had tried a version of this in Alaska with heat mats designed for boot drying, one under the kitchen table and one in the bathroom, each covered by a small rug.   Highly effective.   Potentially dangerous.   Not recommended over vinyl flooring.

When the next Winter in the farmhouse rolled around, I decided to try hybridization of the wood stove with pellet burning.   I put a fine mesh metal basket in the center, started a small wood fire, and then manually scooped pellets on top.  It has worked like a charm.   The basket is needed not only for pellet containment but airflow.

The hybrid fuel works because of the design of this particular stove, which has a top feed access as well as two front doors which we can crack open for a draft.  Since our electricity can cease for several days where we live now,  having a manual feed is ideal.

As renovating progressed, we put under floor heat in one little strip in the bathroom and one in the kitchen where we stand.  

I still use the seed starter heat mat under my desk so that the air in the room can stay cooler while I feel toasty warm.

Next iteration will definitely be a RMH.
 
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As I see it Kirsty and Anita gave the best advice here. They know the German situation from experience.

I think it's about the same as here in the Netherlands. When you're renting a house there's almost nothing you can do yourself. And even the house-owner (a landlord or a housing corporation) is restricted by laws. These western European countries are not at all comparable to the USA!

Years ago I followed a course on energy advice. One of the most important things I learned: do NEVER let the house get cold! You can lower the heating (in all of the house or only in the rooms you don't use), f.e. to 15 degrees Celsius. But do not turn out the heating. The reason is not only because pipes will freeze or it will get mouldy, but also all of that cold concrete (or stone or whatever building material) will lower the temperature inside more than you can imagine. Funny idea to have a tent inside the house, but even inside the tent it will be freezing cold!
 
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Not clear what is your time frame/for how long you'd be renting and are you in a situation where you can pick and choose the source of heat, install own, etc.
I'd ditch big house for sure, I won't touch them with a 100-foot pole and I'm in the US where fuels are more plentiful.
Ductless mini-split heat pumps are very efficient heating and cooling machines if using electricity, quick/easy to install.
If you have access to a wooded property where you'd be allowed to cut some firewood for yourself, a place with a wood stove might be the best good option for energy independence.
 
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1. Wear long underwear.
2. At night, and on cold days, fill a hot water bottle with very hot water, wrap it in a towel and put your feet on it.
3. For people with respiratory issues an unvented kerosene heater will increase their susceptibility to colds and other respiratory ailments.
4. The Germans, a generation ago, would only heat one room in the house.
5. Think camping out indoors. The tent in the living room works well if you have several blankets under you with hot water bottles near your feet.
6. With all the regulations you may not be able to do much with wood stoves, pellet stoves and the like. An electric oil filled radiator style heater would be quite effective in a tent. Outside the tent use lap blankets, hot water bottles, and long underwear.
 
Alice Fast
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John Hume wrote:
6. With all the regulations you may not be able to do much with wood stoves, pellet stoves and the like. An electric oil filled radiator style heater would be quite effective in a tent. Outside the tent use lap blankets, hot water bottles, and long underwear.



What do you mean?
Are they really banning the use of existing wood stoves in Germany?
This being permies forum I assumed the question was not about in-town location where they have no-burn days, but rural.
If that's the case and they're banning woodstoves in rural areas, I'd say the problem isn't the big house but the country itself and relocation is in order.
 
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I am looking forward to wearing these indoor boots this winter.  Our very own Yuri sells them here.  
https://ecominded.net/indoor-felt-shoes
 
Anita Martin
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Alice Fast wrote:
What do you mean?
Are they really banning the use of existing wood stoves in Germany?
This being permies forum I assumed the question was not about in-town location where they have no-burn days, but rural.
If that's the case and they're banning woodstoves in rural areas, I'd say the problem isn't the big house but the country itself and relocation is in order.


No, only old-generation wood stoves are banned that release high amounts of particulate matter - for a detailed explanation, read here: https://www.dw.com/en/wood-burning-stoves-ruining-germanys-air/a-17100192
Here is another article on rising demand of wood and pellets:
https://www.dw.com/en/germany-stockpiling-wood-in-fear-of-gas-shortage/a-62601419
Note that you are only allowed to burn wood that has dried for at least one year. So having a forest (only common here if you have well-off farmer ancestors or are of noble lineage) it would be of no use for this winter.

And in Germany (and I'd say most other central European countries) there are no such things as burn-days. You are not allowed to burn residue, whether in your yard or on a farm.
 
There's a city wide manhunt for this tiny ad:
Work Trade for the 2023 Garden Master Course
https://permies.com/wiki/190487/permaculture-projects/Work-Trade-Garden-Master
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