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Our new heat pump forced-air heating system had its first real test last night of the coming winter season, when the temperature dropped from a mild day of 50°F to a freezing nighttime of 20°F. The heating system was on intermittently all night, and by 5 AM I was awake and didn’t go back to sleep. The constant whooshing sounds at the vents at the foot of my bed were so loud I couldn’t ignore them, even with a pillow over my head. I have a pair of shooter’s soundproof earmuffs, so I got up and put them on, and went back to bed. Those huge things cut the sound to inaudible, but I couldn’t sleep with them clamped to my head, and they forced me to lie flat on my back, and I couldn’t assume my favorite sleeping position on my left side. The intermittent wind from the flowing air on my face was bothering me too. The wind is cold because the blowers don’t come on until the air is cold; the air blowing out of the vent may be warm, but by the time it gets across a room it is room temperature, which converts the formerly warm breeze to a cold draft.

About 7 AM I got back up, having not slept another wink, and walked around the house searching for anyplace that might be relatively quiet and without a draft, but the only place was a walk-in closet. In there it was quiet and draft free, even with the door open, but the walk space is only wide enough to lie down in. I considered getting my camping air mattress out and a sleeping bag, but it was almost time to get up, and so I sat in the living room and grumpily watched the new morning dawning.

In the two years living here we have gone from having a house with electric baseboard heating, to having a wood stove replaced (now required by local law) with a more efficient wood pellet stove, to having this forced air system installed. The pellet stove is what we used for a while, and it did heat the whole house reasonably well with the use of three ceiling fans to circulate the air, but my computer desk is near the pellet stove and the ceiling fan blows directly on me. We thought the state-sponsored offer to have the heat-pump system installed made sense. The authorities claimed it was more efficient and used less electricity, and that it was more comfortable, so we did the upgrade along with an upgrade of the ceiling insulation too.

My personal experience, so far, is that the thermometer temperature may remain near the given setting but the draft created by the moving air is so annoying I am forced to wear a windproof jacket when the vents are blowing. A sweater lets the wind blow through too much, enough to be very annoying.

I anticipated these potential problems while the installation was in progress, and mentioned it to the installation crew. I said, that my childhood home had hot air vents at floor level, and that seemed the natural way to warm a house because warm air rises. They said the forced air coming down from the ceiling would blow down to the floor and not to worry. Well, my present experience is that it takes a strong wind to squirt the air down from the small louvered vents near the ceiling to floor level, and it blows at a fairly high velocity, and that creates a draft throughout the room.

When the heat-pump is off and the fans are not blowing the temperature is fine and without a draft the room is quite comfortable, but when it’s cold outdoors the fan is on more than half the time and a noisy cold breeze is blowing throughout the house, and it is unquestionably not comfortable anywhere in the house except in the walk-in closet. This adds a whole new spin on the idea of going into the closet.

— A day later.

Before going to bed tonight I tried turning off the output vent at the foot of my bed with the provided lever, but it made the vent whistle even louder, and blew the wind at higher velocity through the small holes. I had been told not to close the vents because it disturbed the flow of air throughout the whole house, but there comes a time when one must ignore the official recommendations, and I got some duct tape and totally covered over the bedroom vent. That silenced the noise from that vent, but all of the others are now louder than their already noisy selves, because of the increased flow being forced though them.

Modern houses are built on an open floor plan to give a spacious feeling, but that means overnight the entire structure must be kept warm. In the olden days people had four-poster beds with drapes around them and the only thing needed to be kept warm was the volume immediately around the bed. Old Dutch houses and Mongolian yurts have small enclosed spaces for sleeping, and are said to be warm and cozy. People living in apartment buildings have an advantage in winter as their residence is surrounded by other warmed residences on all but one side and are naturally more thermally stable.

Here in the high plateau of Bend, Oregon, at 3,600 feet we have people, known locally as snowbirds, who go south for the winter. The weather here is not all that cold, and on average is about 40°F in the day in winter, and I’m thinking these snowbirds might be responding to having forced air heating which functionally means living in a cold drafty house for several months every winter.

Progress these days means two steps forward and one expensive step back.  I may sound grumpy now, but I’m much happier than I’ve ever been.