Heating a very cold art studio
October 12, 2010 2:35 AM   Subscribe

I have an art studo that is going to get extremely cold during this winter but I need to keep using it. It's in an old factory, concrete walls and floor, relatively high ceilings (great in summer, not so in winter). I know that I will need to insulate as much as possible - windows, stop drafts etc - but I'm unsure about the best way to heat it once it is suitably closed up.

Electricty is not an option as we did this last year and it is too expensive.

I have several parts to this question...

Firstly any general ideas for heating, cheaply??

Secondly, my studio mates are quite worried about heating with gas (propane/butane) considering that we are trying to close everything up as much as possible, but how dangerous is it really using these portable gas heaters? All the information I can find out is 'Use in a well ventalated area', which doesn't tell me much, and opening the window of my freezing cold studio kind of defeats the purpose of heating in the first place!

Does anyone know anything about the specifics of this. For instance, there are 2 rooms, one about 16sq metre (180sq feet), another about 10sq metres (110sq feet), both with about 3 metre (10 feet) high ceilings. How long could I heat in there without harming myself with carbon dioxide/ carbon monoxide? We are sealing it up pretty good but is that really going to make it that air tight? I should say I know about carbon monoxide detectors that I would consider getting if we went this route.

The last part is about wood fires. Small ones of these seem quite affordable, however the only chimney going out of the building is adjacent to the rooms, about 10 meters (30 feet) away. Obviously smoke wants to go up, but will it go 'across' if forced to? We are considering running a chimney along the ceiling to the chimney that goes through the roof, but I have serious concerns that the smoke will just blow back down. What kind of incline must it be at to allow the smoke to escape?

The other option for this would be to put the chimney out the window by removing a pane of glass - any ideas as to how or if this would work?

I should say now that unfortunately getting a professional in is not an option. We need to do this ourselves, but want to do it safely. Any feedback welcomed!
posted by halcorp to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dealing with air leakage is job 1. If the windows are leaky, look for ways to stop those leaks. If the doors to your rooms open onto unheated areas, install weather stripping on the tops and sides, and sweeps to seal the bottoms. Drafts both remove heat quickly and make a space feel colder than it is.

No, you can't run your chimney horizontally for 30' You also can't just stick it out the window and have it end there, because a chimney needs to go up several feet above the roof line.

Portable "gas" (by which I assume you mean kerosene) heaters are expensive to operate. You'd be trading a low initial cost for high ongoing costs. Also, they really are dangerous in unventilated areas.

It would be useful to know where you are located (so we guess the climate), what's your budget for heat and related insulation, whether you own or rent the space, and how much time you spend working there.
posted by jon1270 at 2:55 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: It's located in Berlin, Germany, and we're renting, however we are fairly free to do what we wish with the rooms. Amounts of time spent there varies, anything from 2 - 6 hours, 3 to 5 days per week.

As mentioned above, sealing windows and stopping drafts is a given - I'm particularly interested in finding out how to safelty heat once it is sealed up - and the gas would be propane/butane, which is LPG, not kerosene.

This may be my last winter in the space so I'm not terribly keen to spend a huge amount, maybe a maximum of 200euro (275USD), but interested in hearing options.

Clearly the chimney would not just be able to end just outside the window, but could it go out and up above the roof line?
posted by halcorp at 3:35 AM on October 12, 2010

What kind of art do you do? Do you need a large space, or could you throw together some smaller "room" made with something like heavy fabric over a PVC frame? If you could do that, then using a space heater becomes much more feasible.
posted by that girl at 3:54 AM on October 12, 2010

Unless your concern actually is heating the whole space, I think once you insulate and seal up any gaps - and maybe throw something down on the floor (it made a big difference in the comfort of our basement when we put 1/2 inch thick mats on the floor, and kept our feet off the cold finished concrete), what you should focus on is keeping you, or the other artists comfortable. A small space heater that you keep directed toward you so that you're comfortable seems like your best bet to me.
posted by lemniskate at 4:29 AM on October 12, 2010

(guys, a small space heater is not that effective when the space has no electricity)
posted by brainmouse at 4:54 AM on October 12, 2010

It's not that it has no electricity... it's that they can't heat it all with electricity.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:43 AM on October 12, 2010

For $275US, can you even afford a woodburner? That sounds challenging even on the secondhand market. But, then, you could sell it when you move out and recoup most of the cost. Chimney pipe is expensive, too. How tall is the building? Is your ceiling the roof of the building, or are there more stories above? Do you have a source for firewood? Also, low-end woodburning stoves tend to be okay radiant heaters, but also suck a lot of cold air into the space to replace the air being sent up the chimney. It's like drinking beer -- quenches your thirst while making you have to pee. Better woodburners have a separate duct to bring combustion air from the outdoors directly into the stove.

If your ceiling is the roof, is it insulated?

that girl's question about the sort of art you do is significant. Some materials (like the wood and glues in my workshop) can take hours to warm up to usable temperature if they're allowed to get cold, so I have to keep my space at a minimum of 50F or so all day every day, whether I'm there or not.

If you intend to heat the space only when someone is there, then you should look into radiant heaters, which heat people & objects rather than the air.

In the end, I think you'll have to scavenge most materials. Aside from plastic for the windows, few newly-bought insulation products have any hope of paying for themselves in one winter.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2010

We used an LPG heater one winter and found that it did indeed make us drowsy if the room was too sealed, but we are still alive to tell the tale. The other concern would be the water vapor it dumps into the air. It may damage your canvases or other materials as mold was a problem when we used LPG.
posted by arruns at 5:48 AM on October 12, 2010

posted by the_blizz at 5:55 AM on October 12, 2010

As well as making sure the windows are completely sealed and aren't letting any air in, can you cover them with transparent plastic to make imitation double glazing? This might adversely affect the light quality seeing as it is a studio but is worth considering.
posted by ninebelow at 6:24 AM on October 12, 2010

If your work is done without much moving around you could just use individual heat lamps at your work stations.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on October 12, 2010

When I worked in a large and very cold garage, we used something called a salamander. That kept things at a level that was tolerable, despite the fact that the old wooden garage doors had big gaps and none of the windows had any kind of insulation. We did leave one of the windows near the ceiling tilted out for ventilation.

Our heater was an older model and not as prettied up as the one in the link, plus this new one is probably more efficient. It's around $165-200 here, so hopefully they have something similar in Germany.
posted by HopperFan at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2010

I had almost the same situation. My old studio was on the 5th floor of a old warehouse. I made the space as small as I could and still be functional. It ended up being 30'x40'. I put plastic over most of the windows although some I made insulated foamboard inserts. I went the wood stove route. I was able to scavenge a used Jotul stove and it was more than able to heat the space. I also was able to scavenge the wood needed for fuel, but every morning I was chopping and splitting wood. So you get a good workout.
That being said, you budget is going to make it difficult to buy the stove and pipe necessary. 12" pieces of insulated stove pipe run about $40 or so each.
You can run the stove pipe out a window by removing a pane of glass and replacing with a piece of 1/2" or 3/4" plywood. You pipe diam. is most likely going to be 8" so you will need to cut a 10 or so inch hole in the wood. You will also need 2 pieces of sheet metal of some sort with 8" holes cut to accept the pipe on the inside and outside of the plywood. Center the pipe in the hole and affix the metal to the plywood. I would then insulate the gap around the pipe then attach the other piece of metal.
posted by Buckshot at 7:27 AM on October 12, 2010

Have you thought about Rugs? Layer the floor with rugs that you dont care about! Wear fingerless gloves if you can! If you do not move around a lot, do jumping jacks every once in a while.
In my studio, I use a personal electric radiant heater, which has not shown any significant effect on my bill. I am often making small things so I am sitting with the heat on my back.
I used to sit on a heating pad.
good luck!
posted by bdoop21 at 8:44 AM on October 12, 2010

I, personally, would not mess around with anything that creates a carbon monoxide risk. If you decide to burn any kind of fuel in your working space, definitely get CO detectors as you mentioned, install them properly, and do not disregard their warnings.

I doubt that you can install a chimney SAFELY and cheaply on your own, but if you decide to do it, read up on the topic. Here are a few links that I pulled with a modicum of googling:

Installing a Woodstove

Through the Wall Chimney Installation

Flue Pipe Installation Rules

Chimney Installation Instructions

You say that "Small ones of these [wood fires] seem quite affordable"—are you basing your estimate on the initial cost of the device, or are you factoring in fuel costs as well? How much does seasoned firewood cost in Berlin? Who is going to supply it to you?

How vigorous is the code enforcement in your part of town? Would you get your chimney inspected? Can you be fined for evading inspection or installing something that's not up to code?

You say that you used electric heat last year—can you tell us more specifically what kind of heater you were using? Did you use a fan to keep the warmed air circulating at floor level?
posted by Orinda at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2010

This is not heating your studio, but subdividing into small spaces might make it a lot easier to keep them warm - here's a pretty lovely extreme.
posted by carbide at 8:51 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

in japan, we would put a small electric heater under a big table, drape heavy blankets over it, and work on top of the table. our legs would be underneath and would stay pretty warm. when my hands froze I would put them under the table for a minute and warm them up again.
last year I got a hot water bottle and tucked it under my sweater. it kept me pretty warm.
when camping, I have used a small space heater. its powered by white gas and safe to use in a tent.
posted by saragoodman3 at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm from the US but live in New Zealand, where most homes don't have central air/heating. LPG radiant heaters are very common here, and the rate of fires or accidents in the home isn't any higher than the US (after some searching on the net, I wasn't able to find directly comparable statistics, but info from here and here shows that the ratio of fire occurences to overall population is roughly the same (0.004) in both countries). I'm talking about a portable metal cabinet on roller wheels, about 3' tall, which houses a typical propane tank with the radiant heater on top. People are more worried here about the safety of electric radiant heaters, which are also very common.

You should absolutely take all measures you can to insulate the spaces and stop drafts. This will make your heating of the spaces more efficient. Given the constraints you've mentioned, I'd recommend getting a couple of LPG radiant heaters to heat the spaces. You could probably find them at places like Home Depot or Costco/Sam's.
posted by hootenatty at 2:39 PM on October 12, 2010

When I lived in a warehouse, we basically created tents inside our rooms by making curtain walls and a drop ceiling out of cheap, wide cotton fabric. It made electric space heaters work fairly well. We would bundle up to walk between fabric "rooms". A double wall of fabric traps more heat.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:25 PM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Small wood ovens here go for around 140 euro new, I also had some flu piping lying around, they burn these small briket things which I think are compressed wood or coal, they're pretty cheap. But after reading this and talking to some other people yesterday, I don't think anything with a chimney is going to work - apparently because we're close to a road, we'd very likely get a visit from the ordnungsamt, which you really do not want! We need an existing chimney, which makes sense.

The ceiling is not the roof, however it is not really insulated. Last year we were using just small electric fan heaters and oil heaters, without a roof fan - what are the most energy efficient electric heaters?

There are some good ideas there - hot water bottle for one, and room within in a room looks great. I'm going to get plastic today for the windows, that seems like a sensible idea. We do need to move around quite a bit, but if we go electric perhaps we can lower the height of the ceiling with some kind of plastic setup instead of making the smaller rooms. I see there are LPG radient heaters that have a saftey shut off, maybe thats the safe gas option - I've lived in NZ aswell and never heard of any problems with LPG heaters.
posted by halcorp at 1:54 AM on October 13, 2010

what are the most energy efficient electric heaters?

They're all the same. The inefficiencies in electric heat happen at the power plant and in the transmission lines. Once the electricity arrives at your building and you plug in a heater, virtually all of the energy gets converted to heat (except for the tiny amount that escapes as light from the glowing elements).

If the space above you is not heated, is it perhaps unoccupied? Do you have access there? Could you pile a bunch of insulation-like materials (carpeting, old newspapers, etc) on top of the floor above you?
posted by jon1270 at 5:00 AM on October 13, 2010

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