Monday, 13 January 2014

Experimenting with Candle Heat

My Frugal Adventure Into Candle Power

So many people have posted (or shared or commented or reposted) about the ability to heat a room for 8p per day using a simple candle heater that it was beginning to annoy me - mainly because the information is so outdated and so few people were reading the full story concerning the tiny dimensions of the original room in the article. I remember trying this heating method many years ago, possibly while attending Girl Guides, so it isn't anything new.
 
Inflation has to count for something and I expect current candle prices and room sizes will negate any possible financial benefits, but I do have a good stock of candles and will happily number-crunch my way to the 2014 prices.

 

My Candle Experiments

Our bathroom is, I believe, a conversion from an old stable and, as such, has 3 external walls. We haven't fully refurbished it yet, other than having to fix the immediate problems when we first bought the house - roof, window, floor, water pipes and some plasterboard on one wall. There is sheep wool insulation in the roof and the one re-lined wall, but the place gets very cold without heating.
 
I lit an 8-hour taper candle and left it burning overnight with no other heat source. We had a touch of frost overnight, temperatures dropped to around freezing, but the candle was still burning and the bathroom was 3 Degrees C the following morning.
  1. A bit of online research showed me the cheapest 8-hour candles I could buy would cost about 10p each, if bought in bulk. (I can't use tea lights through the night because I do like to sleep then, not stay awake to relight candles every couple of hours!)
  2. Subsequent searching showed me that these taper candles can produce about 80-100w, whereas a small tea-light is, at most 30w, presumably because of much shorter burning times. I'm not too hot with watts, so I won't go into this part any further and I can't guarantee the facts, only say that's what I read when researching.
  3. To calculate how much energy you need to heat a room 'comfortably' (whatever that means), you measure the length x width x height in metres and then multiply it by 0.07 My bathroom requires 637w to heat it.
Based on all of the above, 1 + 2 + 3 = 8 taper candles per 8 hours x 3 = 24 candles per day to heat the smallest room in the Frugaldom household. £2.40 per day - not 8p per day, as per the grossly over-shared, long out of date, candle heater articles.
 
I am currently paying approximately 17p per kWh for electricity (after factoring in the standing charge), so heating the bathroom with an electric heater would cost about £2.60 per day
 
Interesting stuff, but a few words of caution - sufficient ventilation needs to be maintained to ensure there's no risk of poisoning from any potentially hazardous fumes. And if you're trying this in the house do NOT try it anywhere you are likely to spray flammables such as hairspray!
 
Having raked out all my old candles, there was one major flaw in this experiment - lack of candle sticks! Many years ago, households possessed candelabras for holding the multiple candles but none have come my way recently. I'd to use an empty wine bottle and a big jar - it did not work!
 
Yes, the bathroom felt warmer while the candles were lit - it had to, there were 8 naked flames dancing in my shower cubicle! As soon as they got to jar height, one by one they melted until all were extinguished. This morning, I had a cold bathroom and a jar of candle wax sitting inside my shower. The room thermometer was ready 4 Degrees C.
 
Undeterred, I did the experiment again using tea lights placed inside an old stock pot, for added safety. The bathroom temperature was 4C when I lit them. They are the cheap, bulk-bought ones, so I'd need many more of them to generate the near 700w necessary to heat the room. I burned 8. Even at 2p each or 16p per hour, that's still cheaper than electricity, right? 
 
Did this raise the room temperature to a comfortable level?
 
No!
 
By the time all 8 candles had burned out, the thermometer was reading just 6 Degrees C and I could still see my breath.
 
Meanwhile, I wanted to devise some sort of contraption for concentrating the heat to try and radiate more of it outwards, rather than upwards... cue the 3-tier, stove top steamer! I am currently burning only 2 tea light candles inside this and it is already too hot to touch. It's sitting on the stovetop, reminding me of the Christmas tin can lanterns we were making not so long ago, albeit on a much grander scale. And this, frugal readers, brings my right back to the beginning of the experiment -
 
Can you heat a room for 8p a day?
 
In a nutshell - NO!
 
Candle power may be sufficient to prevent a tiny space from freezing if you have no other source of heating, but it is neither economically viable nor safe to heat a room with candles for any prolonged period of time. In a well-insulated and draught-proofed house, the condensation, soot and fumes generated just cannot be healthy, so perhaps buy a pet canary and keep it in the same room as the candles if you must use them, just to be on the safe side. Again, not very frugal - perhaps best just buy a carbon monoxide sensor and an extra smoke alarm.
 
What have I learned?
 
A simple candle heater, such as my converted steamer, makes a great experiment for both small space warming and attempting to heat a meal during an emergency power cut. It would most certainly prevent a tiny room from freezing, perhaps even a little greenhouse, but I couldn't recommend it for any modern-day, well-insulated household and it most certainly wouldn't be cost-effective to heat an entire room - there are just too many cheaper alternatives to stockpiling a candle mountain.
 
As an example of the above, I'll use my own sitting room.
 
The calculations of L x W x H x 0.07 would suggest I need 2565w to heat this room 'comfortably', which equates to 32 quality 8-hour candles - that's £3.20 per 8 hours, or £9.60 for a full day. (Cheap tea lights may burn for only 1-2 hours, so that's over 100 per day needed for my sitting room alone, plus someone there to keep relighting them while ensuring the house doesn't catch fire.)
 
Need I continue? I think I will...
 
£9.60 x 7 days = £67.20 for a week and this is just to 'comfortably' heat one room in the house. It really doesn't take a number-crunching, moneysaving, frugal living genius to see the flaw in this plan, does it? Candle heating is not about frugal living or money-saving. Apart from anything else, can you imagine the colour of your ceilings from all that sooty residue?
 
I know my figures are not scientifically accurate, but they do reflect real costs associated with modern lifestyles. We need to march boldly on, shoulder to shoulder with progress, and just do our best to be prepared for any hiccups along the way.
 
Now I'm off to light my 6kw multi-fuel stove for a bit of instant heat and a hot cuppa. It costs about £10 per week to run, call it £15 to cover a shovel of slow-burning coal to keep it alight overnight. although it hasn't got cold enough to do that, yet.. I can boil the kettle and cook dinner on it and there's sufficient heat radiated to send some out into the hall and up the stairs to the bedrooms. :)
 
I'll keep my candles for genuine emergencies, if you don't mind.
 
NYK, Frugaldom

28 comments:

  1. Gosh, you did get into that! True enough, I was just interested by it. Although lighting a wood stove (or multi-fuel) can be a problem, if we were beginning again, we would also have had one fitted in our dining room. That would keep 2 bedrooms, diner and kitchen warm, then the front room one would do that, plus the connecting hallway, bathroom and 3rd bedroom. The one in our front room could boil a shallow camping kettle but the lintel above it isn't high enough for anything else (if only we had known at the time!

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    1. FC, I've been getting mailed about the 8p per day heater for months - it resurfaced on Facebook and in the space of a week, I had 11 copies of it shared to my timeline and not one of those sharing it had taken the time to read it in its entirety. This is another effort to debunk the myth, although I know very few of those who sent me it on Facebook will even click through to read this. They're more 'likers and sharers' on there than actual readers.

      One of my regrets for this place is that there's no way of having a stove fitted into the kitchen (no place for a chimney), hence the reason we'd to add on a couple more radiators while replacing the backboiler on the open fire in living room. With a limitless amount of cash, I'd have converted the open fire to a stove system with back boiler, but the costs of doing all of that while also creating space upstairs to house the water tanks were phenomenal (in my frugal book).

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    2. We have the same problem in our dining room - hence no log burner in there although I do know a chimney can be fitted to the wall with breeze blocks things but like you say, too much money or not enough room.

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  2. Very interesting, and thank you for taking the time to do all the calculations needed, you have my brain reeling just reading them.

    Candle light I find is very good for making you feel warmer, whilst watching tele, although I feel that being snuggled in layers of jumpers, wrapped in a fleecy blanket and having one snoozing cat and three snoozing dogs draped around me may be the actual reason for my warmth.

    The idea of using the steamer and a few nightlights to prevent a tiny space from freezing completely is a very good one though.

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    1. If I could get the cat and rabbits to lie on my lap and feet it would be great. LOL I'd probably be as well using the steamer and candles under the desk but what's the point of that when you can get USB slippers for keeping feet warm while sitting at computers? I also have a usb mug warmer - when I remember about it! :D

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  3. Replies
    1. Sorry if it's through boredom - I love number crunching. :)

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    2. No not boredom- just amazement at all that working out!

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    3. LOL I find it fun and, as an eternal sceptic and cynic, I always feel the need to do my own research in order to draw my own conclusions :)

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  4. I am glad you did that as i kept thinking the same-although i never got around to testing it out.

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    1. It's a long way out in costs, especially as many of the comments I read mentioned dashing out to buy terracotta pots and candles, which is far from frugal if you are in a desperate financial situation at the time. It's good as a fun, affordable experiment for others, though. :)

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  5. Interesting reading, thanks for doing the number crunching for us. I was intrigued by the claims although I did know they were out of date.

    On a similar theme (kinda!) I've been thinking about taking out my fireplace and fitting a modern efficient electric fire. I'm wondering if it would be cheaper/safer/quicker to put an electric fire on for an hour at night to warm the living room than burning coal and logs to warm it up. That's a number crunching exercise for me sometime soon!

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    1. When you're out working and come home to a cold house, I would always opt for the simplest, most cost-effective method of generating fast heat and there's no getting away from the fact that an electric fire does just that. When you are out, cover over the fireplace so you aren't losing too much heat up the chimney. Likewise when you light the electric fire. Just my thoughts on the matter, having been fighting to drive down the price of heating old houses for so long. :)

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    2. I filled a carrier bag with lots of other carrier bags and shoved them up the chimney to stop the draughts. Makes a huge difference! You can buy a chimney balloon but think it's £20 so my method is free. I don't think candles around our house with 2 nutty dogs and their constant strong wagging tails would be a good idea!

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    3. Don't forget to remove the bags before lighting the fire if you choose this method - I forgot once. Smooooookeeeeee! LOL

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    4. I leave the tied end of the external bag sticking downwards so I can see it to remind me!

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    5. Sue, have you got any cats? LOL Mine has a huge fascination for chimneys - attempting to go up them, never come down them. Years ago, I also lost my chinchillas that way. I know it isn't very relevant to the carrier bags but was reminded of that and thought I'd best add it in - few people consider chimneys as escape routes for climbing pets. :)

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    6. No cats, just two dogs. My younger sister lost her hamster years ago. It went under the gas fire and hid at the bottom of the chimney! Another time it went missing for several days. It was found by the old lady in the downstairs flat screaming that there was a rat running round her home!! Where are you in Galloway?

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    7. See 'contact' tab at top of this blog. :)

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  6. Great info NYK! I have been out today and bought 100 tea lights for £2.00 and I'm just going to light a couple each night to put on the windowsill in the ex suite so see if it helps the window frame stay a bit drier.
    Rw

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    1. RW, you might find the candle causes more condensation instead of less, as burning practically anything creates carbon dioxide and water, among other things.

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  7. I agree a great post. Thank you.

    Sft x

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  8. Thank you - someone had to do the math, common sense says you cannot heat a room with a candle alone. Well done, nice scientific results!

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    1. The sums will differ depending on room size, availability & cost of candles and current costs of electricity, gas or oil but, on the whole, the idea isn't really anything more than a fun experiment unless, like one of the original writers, you're heating a 6' cabin room on a boat or whatever it was.. :)

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  9. Thank you for working it all out for us. I was dubious to start with, lets face it if it was that cheap and worked we would all be doing it! Thick socks, blanket and a hot water bottle is cheaper and much better, in fact I am besotted with my hoggie, as we call it. Off to google usb slippers, am liking the sound of them....

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    1. I bought one of the big USB slippers a few years ago and it's still going strong. I see you can now buy actual pairs nowadays and was almost tempted by some fluffy bunny ones on eBay. LOL

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  10. My friend has a downstairs bathroom tacked on to the back of her house and it is usually freezing cold. I emailed her the link to a youtube video about heating with candles. She did it properly according to the video, using a bread tin and two clay pots and 4 tea lights. She reported back to me that during the daytime (didn't use candles when she was upstairs at night) the temperature in the bathroom became much more bearable. The video that we saw did not promise to heat the room to "comfortable" temperatures but merely to render it a bit more acceptable. My friend also had a big pack of inexpensive tea lights that she had bought in Ikea. She will be trying this again.

    Just thought I'd tell you about one success story : )

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    1. Thanks for sharing. Can you get back to us with room size, room temperature pre and post experiment, plus number of tea light candles your friend used to raise the temperature? No matter what way I look at the figures, I can't get them to stack up against 'normal' sources of energy for heating. It did, as I explained, raise the bathroom temperature above freezing.

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