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My guest today is Paul Wheaton, who is well-known in Permaculture circles. We did a such a great show about Compact Fluorescent Lights May Save Energy but Can Harm Your Health that I invited him back in the middle of cold winter to talk about how we can heat our homes. Will be talking about how a 40 watt incandescent light bulb helped him save $900 on electricity, plus an extremely efficient wood heater you can build yourself, and a type of building that doesn’t need heat at all. Paul believes, as I do, that we shouldn’t do something toxic to achieve some other goal, but rather find a solution that supports the entire ecosystem, including the humans. So today we’re going to talk about how conventional heating methods can be toxic, and what else you can do to heat your home and save energy (and lower your energy bill) that are toxic-free.,,




“How to Heat Your Home and Lower Your Energy Bill—Toxic Free”

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
GUEST: Paul Wheaton

DATE OF BROADCAST: January 7, 2014

DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world because there are lots of toxic chemicals out there and I hear about more everyday but there is also more and more toxic free alternatives consumer products that we can use; other things that we can do and the more we know about the subject, the more we will feel empowered to do something about it. It’s Tuesday, the 7th of January 2014 and it is cold today. It’s even cold here in Clearwater, Florida where I do my show; where I live and it’s really cold. When I tell you its fifty degrees, I’m sure many of you are going – Oh I wish it was fifty degrees but for here, for Florida where we walk around in our tank tops and shorts most of the year, fifty degrees is cold. My producer Todd is skyping to me saying “it’s minus two here in Philadelphia” where he lives so it’s really cold there.

Today we’re gonna be talking about how to heat your house in a way that saves you money and is less toxic than the normal heating. My guest today is Paul Wheaton who I had on before. We were taking about compact fluorescent lights may save energy but they can harm your health and now he’s back to help us learn how to heat our houses.

DEBRA: Hi Paul

PAUL WHEATON: Hi Debra. It’s twenty-one degrees here in Montana.

DEBRA: Ok good! So we have established it is colder every place on earth than here and I’m freezing.

PAUL WHEATON: And it’s actually warmer now. We were kinda thinking, boy its nice and its gonna warm up and in fact today it might even get above freezing later this afternoon. We had sixteen below a few weeks back.

DEBRA: So now is the time to talk about this but before we do I want to just tell you and our listeners something that I just heard this morning about compact florescent bulbs and I think you probably already know this but I wanna tell you that I was talking to somebody who is an electrician and he said that the EPA; one of the things he does is that he swaps out light bulbs for fluorescents in order to save energy on an EPA program. His words were “the EPA is all over me to recycle the old bulbs”. What he does, he takes them to a recycling centre and they throw them in the trash. I think he said that on the show when you were on before but he also told me that they don’t recycle the mercury, they recycle the glass. That glass goes into asphalt; it’s mixed with asphalt and it becomes our road paving with the mercury in it because the mercury doesn’t get recycled. That just so doesn’t make sense.

PAUL WHEATON: I’m getting all angry now because there are two things I gotta reply to before I just pop. One, you started off by saying how the CFL saves energy and I want to emphatically say “nuh uh!” and we’re gonna get to that as part of our stuff today and I’ve got at least one thing but I’ve got a list of things that show where you DO NOT save energy with CFL and it would take me a little bit of time but that’s a major point. The next thing is that you’re saying like this guy, it’s his job to go to people’s houses and take away their incandescent bulbs and replace them with the CFL. Suppose you are a company and you make CFL or you import CFL; and let’s suppose for a moment that the consumer price of the CFL is $3 but they actually arrive at our shores for $12 but it turns out that you work things out so that for every light bulb that people actually end up with in their homes, that you get $50. So you’ve hired a guy to go out and put like a dozen bulbs in every house he visits so you’re getting $600 every time this guy does this. Now, is it possible that it’s not a mission to save energy but really it’s the mission of this guy to get $50 for every bulb? The guy that’s doing the installing, he’s not getting $50 for every bulb, it’s some other guy; some other guy that’s like a middle man –a guy in a suit, I don’t know – we used to call them “fat cats”. I don’t know what to call them anymore. I refer to them as bad guys because they’ve worked a deal with the government. They’ve worked things out. They’ve got 87 different subsidies from 87 different directions and all adds up to a lot of money but each subsidy office doesn’t know about the other subsidy office. He’s got a rocket going and that’s why we’re getting the CFL pushed down our throats.

So it really has nothing to do with energy saving. If they really cared about energy saving they’d bring you a clothes line. That’s it, I’m done.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio, this is Debra Lynn Dadd and we’re back from our technical difficulties. I hope you can hear me now. Paul are you there?


DEBRA: Ok, good. I understand I’m the one that disappeared. It must have been your forceful comments.

PAUL WHEATON: I thought, oh no I’ve made everyone angry.

DEBRA: No, this is live radio so occasionally we have technical difficulties but we usually manage to solve them. So Paul, I started off talking about fluorescent bulbs and we didn’t introduce you properly so why don’t you tell us what you do and tell us about Permaculture.

PAUL WHEATON: I spend all my days being passionate about Permaculture. I’m trying to be less angry. The thing that I try to do rather than being angry at bad guys, I’m trying very hard instead to build or convey a good thing and so I spend a lot of time making videos, writing articles; I now have 225 acres in Montana where I’m conducting a variety of experiments in order to try and build a better world.

DEBRA: It’s very great that you’re doing that and there’s a lot of information on Paul’s website which is: or would you want to give a different one

PAUL WHEATON: So is where I put my personal rants and also my articles and then we’ve got which is a site where I’m trying to be less ranty and nurture a community. So when people have questions for permacultures, now the largest permaculture site on the internet and a lot people go there to get their questions answered.

DEBRA: Oh great, that’s great. Let me say that the things that we’re talking about today; you have some articles that you have written and if you go to, I have the links to those specific articles and you can get them there.

Tell us a one paragraph definition of what permaculture is.

PAUL WHEATON: Permaculture is a symbiotic relationship with nature so that I can be even lazier.

DEBRA: That’s a great definition; I like that one… we’ll take that one. Let’s talk about heat.

PAUL WHEATON: So today’s topic is heat. When we consider all the different pollution in the world that so much of it is tied to energy and here in Montana, three-quarters of our energy consumption is used for heat. So when they came and talk to us and say “the best way for you to save energy is by using these light bulbs”; I don’t think that that’s true. I think that when you’re really gonna make a dent in energy consumption, it’s gonna be with heat.

I’ve got three points to cover and I’ve got them documented as articles at The first article is about a few years ago how I cut eighty-seven percent off my electric heat bill. My life is perpetual experimentation and so this particular winter, I did a collection of experiments to see how much I could cut off my electric heat bill while still feeling like I’m living in luxuriant warmth. There are people there who will turn off the heat and suffer for it and endure it and I very specifically did not want to travel that path. That’s the first article.

DEBRA: Give us an overview.

PAUL WHEATON: So the good, better and best. Now that’s good – cutting eighty-seven percent off my electric heat bill. The second one eliminates it in a conventional home and that’s using something called a rocket moss heater; it heats your home with one-tenth the wood and produces one-one thousandth of the smoke as a conventional wood heater. The third article is called a wofati and this is where we use the heat from the summer to heat your home in the winter and down in Florida, you might be interested in the inverse where you can use – and I know as a physicist you’re gonna be upset but I’m gonna say it anyway – and that is where you would use the cool from the winter to cool your home in the summer.

DEBRA: Wow! I want that.

PAUL WHEATON: We’re gonna start off with how I cut eighty-seven percent off my electric heat bill. I could spend six hours talking about this but I’m gonna try to skip past it. In general, the idea was turn the thermostat from seventy-two down to fifty and that’s too cold; fifty is just way too cold.

DEBRA: I know. It’s fifty degrees right where I’m sitting; I’m looking at the thermometer.

PAUL WHEATON: If you did not put on a coat and you went and tried to do your work outside, you would feel real cold really fast; within a minute and a half you would be too cold to work. Your fingers would turn numb – if you work and a computer and type stuff up, you wouldn’t be able to type. Granted, here in Montana I think people are a little more tolerable to the cold but I still think clothes should be perfectly comfortable without adding layers. Those are techniques also – to add extra layers of clothes but what we focused on was, turn the thermostat down to fifty and rather than trying to heat the whole house, heat the people. Keep in mind there are three kinds of heat and the least efficient form of heat is convective heat and this is where you heat the air and the air heats you. That’s the least efficient and the most dominant form of heat in American homes today. The second type of heat which is relatively efficient is radiant heat and this is what the sun uses. So if it’s a cold day but it’s a sunny day and you go out and turn your face to the sun and your face will feel warmed by the sun even though outside is very cold – radiant heat. You can also get this heat from lots of other sources like if you’re standing near a wood stove, you will feel the radiant heat from the stove directly to you. At the same time you can feel some of the heat going around the room which is the convective heat but the most efficient kind of heat is conductive heat and that’s where there’s like a warm rock and you hold the warm rock in your hand in your feeling that warm thing. Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re married and you have a spouse and your spouse is in the bed with you and now it’s much warmer – that’s conductive heat. They’re not putting out as much heat as a heater, it’s actually a little bit of heat; but because you’re getting it through conductive heat, you feel a lot warmer. Another one would be, someone has sat in a chair and the chair is warm and you go and you sit in that warm chair then you feel warm – conductive heat. There’s very little heat there but since you’re getting it through the most efficient kind of heat possible – conductive heat – then it’s much better. It’s like, we’re going to try and save money on electricity and the first thought is, when you’re gonna heat just yourself instead of heating the entire house, you get one of those little heaters; personal heaters. They are like 1500 watts.

DEBRA: I’m sitting on one right now and it keeps my feet warm but my head is cold.

PAUL WHEATON: Your head is cold? That’s a very good point. Your head is cold and your feet might be a little too warm.

DEBRA: No, but my head is cold.

PAUL WHEATON: First of all let’s point out, this uses 1500 watts specifically. There are others that but for the most part, 1500 watts and then it shoots the heat by your legs and then it heats the room – not necessarily the whole house – but its heating the room. In the meantime while you’re waiting for the room to heat up, then yes, your fingers and your face are cold. Now what we did is, we counted that as a fail. It was an improvement; you’re using less heat but you’re not comfortable and really you kinda have to get the whole room to warm up and then you feel comfortable. So what we did, where we ended up, we tried lots and lots of experiments and I’ve got a video on YouTube now that shows a young woman where she’s wearing a regular layer of clothes; not an excessive Montana bunch of layers but a regular layer of clothes and she’s sitting in what we call a heat bubble and it’s not really a bubble of any kind. She’s just sitting at a desk and we have 82 watts of micro heaters so she has a heater at her feet which is just simply a dog bed heater. They make those keep your pets warm and it’s about 15 watts. And then the keyboard and the mouse where she’s sitting are both heated.

DEBRA: I didn’t know you could heat those.

PAUL WHEATON: Yes. It’s a novelty item and before we got to these we tried some other things that would put heat on your hand but the most important piece, the star of the show…

DEBRA: Before you tell us, we have to go to a break; this was a perfect time. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. We’re here with Paul Wheaton and we’re talking about lowering your energy bills and having less toxic heat and we’ll be right back…


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and Toxic Free Talk Radio is at; you can go there to get more information about this show, other shows all the hundred or more shows we’ve already done at Anyways, Paul’s website is and today we’re talking about heating your home, saving energy and being less toxic about it and Paul you’re gonna tell us the star of the home heating show.

PAUL WHEATON: So the mission is to cut eighty-seven percent off of electric heat bill and this a thing that I did a few years ago and so instead of heating the whole house, we’re gonna heat a person. So we’ve got the dog bed heater at your feet, we have a heated keyboard and a heated mouse and then the star of the show has been banned; the star of the show is no longer to be manufactured or imported to the United States. The star of the show that saves me $900 in electric heating cost one winter is an incandescent light bulb; a 40 watt incandescent light bulb. So, in order to heat the person we had the light bulb was positioned so that it was shining radiant heat on to my head, my face, my arms, my hands, my chest; so the front part of me was being heated by this light bulb – and it was 40 watt – and between all the devices that added up to 82 and a half watt. So compare that to your 1500 watt meter and you’re still not feeling warm; your legs are warm but your face and hands are not warm.

DEBRA: I totally agree with you and I wish I could just go get a swing arm lamp as you recommend and put an incandescent light bulb in it but we can’t do that anymore, they’re banned now; I can’t run down to the store and get this.

PAUL WHEATON: The ban started on January 2014 for these light bulbs. My understanding at this point in time is that they’re no longer allowed to be manufactured or imported in the United States so there might be some stores who are allowed to sell out their inventory and it’s possible that halogen lights…

DEBRA: Let’s talk about some of the other types of light bulbs that might be able to do the same thing; like immediately I thought of those red heat lamps but you don’t want to be sitting under a red heat lamp all day long but halogens are very hot. So could you do this with the halogens?

PAUL WHEATON: Well, that’s part of what they’re trying to do though, they’re declaring that they need to be more efficient in lumen per watt used. Here’s a great thing in Montana is that we get light and heat and not only do we get heat from these lights but it’s a far more efficient kind of heat than convective heat which is what non-electric heat is so this an extremely effective kind of heat for human being if you work with it, if you consider how it’s used and a big benefit is keep it relatively; point it close to the person who needs to be heated and you’ll get that heat. The next thing is, I think we talked about this the last time I was on your show – and it’s light quality and I just don’t think that any of the other light bulbs has the light quality that you can get from an incandescent.

DEBRA: I totally agree, incandescent are my favorites… I wanna make sure that we talk about all of three your options here before the show is over so we don’t have to give thirty seconds each to the other two subjects so let’s move on to the rocket stove moss heater.

PAUL WHEATON: A lot of people are heating their homes with nothing but the twigs that naturally fall off the trees in their yards and they burn so cleanly that people have built these and are using them in places where wood burning devices are not allowed and it effectively looks like they have a drier vent coming out of their living room. The idea is, rather than having a conventional wood stove and there’s a bunch of smoke that goes out your chimney, that is leaving your house at three hundred to six hundred degrees that instead you burn it far more completely and then what goes out of your house is usually steam and fuel too, out the wall, at a temperature of seventy to a hundred degrees so you’ve captured far more of the heat and you’ve burned the material far more completely. It’s a strange contraption; it is something of a DIY sort of a thing and we’re working on making it so that people don’t have to have as much DIY ability – we’re coming up with solutions. Over the last year we’ve done a huge amount of work in the space of like being able to have something that’s shippable that somebody could buy it and have it shipped to them; all the hard parts are taken care of and then it’s much easier to have but the people who are building them now – we estimate that there’s probably two hundred thousand of these in existence today that people are heating their homes with a rocket moss heater today and they built it themselves – entirely themselves – they didn’t buy any special components or anything like that.

It’s got two major parts – one is where the fire is burned in a very different way. When you look at it, even starting the fire is different than how you would start a fire with a conventional wood stove; and then it has a large thermo moss and then you heat the moss as well as heat the room. It has a radiant heat component as well as a convective heat component and then there’s the thermo moss that will give off heat for days after the fire has gone out. People who have a conventional wood stove are used to the idea of like – you gotta set your fire up at nights so that it will burn all night long so that when you get up in the morning it’s not freezing cold in your house but a rocket moss heater solves that because you’ll burn your fire at nights and then the fire goes out – you burn a very fast, hot, efficient fire and then you’re done and the thermo moss has been heated and it continues to give off heat through the night even though there’s no fire burning, you just use your thermo moss.

DEBRA: That’s wonderful. That’s a really great idea. I lived in a little cabin out in the woods for twelve years and I had to get up every winter morning in the freezing cold and build my fire and that was not an easy thing to do but that was the only heat in the house and I love having that heat and I was once in a house that had a big, big stove and it had a lot of mass and the heat was the best heat that I’ve ever experienced because it just radiated up that house.

We have to go to a break again but when we come back, you can tell us about how we’re gonna heat our houses in the winter with the heat from the summer and cool down in the summer with the cold from the winter… This is Toxic Free Talk Radio, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest is Paul Wheaton; we’re talking about warming our houses – stay with us.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and today we’re talking about heating our homes, saving money and doing it with less toxic pollution and chemicals. My guest today is Paul Wheaton, permaculture expert and we’re going to now talk about the building that doesn’t need any heat. Let me just ask because I need to know the answer for this question – can this technique be done in retrofit?

PAUL WHEATON: I would have to say that you might be able to do a little bit of retrofit but probably not much. That would require a lot of research.

DEBRA: But people could if they wanted to start building houses – this is the house to build?

PAUL WHEATON: Yea, true.

DEBRA: Tell us about it.

PAUL WHEATON: This is combining the works of Mike Haler and John Hay. They’re both people from around this area and we’re really cold but this is a building that from the inside looks like a log cabin with a lot of glass designed to be built on sloped woodland so that way you use the trees that are growing on the land and these are trees that normally would be bent or taken out as part of good, healthy forest management but instead of burning them – which is the most common practice in Montana – you build a structure, this home with them. There will be an aboveground structure – not an underground structure – and aboveground structure and it would have a thick urban roof and it would be integrated in the wood side so from the outside, its pretty much invisible; it’s so well integrated into the earth it just simply looks like part of the hillside. You might see some of the glass; again – an aboveground structure. The amazing thing about it is that it will hold a temperature of seventy-two degrees year round and this is something that’s been proven by John Hay in his book “Passive Annual Heat Storage” so we took those designs and modified them to be something that’s a less expensive structure. Last year we went to work on building the first wofati; it didn’t get completed by the time winter hit however it was completed enough that a family did move in and they’re just gonna have to supplement with heat until we can finish the building next summer and then we’ll be able to do the official test on this exact design. John Hay’s previous work demonstrated the technique do work. What else can I tell you about it?

DEBRA: Well, I’m just wondering if…so I get the fact that it’s an aboveground house but it has a green roof on it so there’s a lot of thermo moss on the top so I’m just thinking of pushing up a little square…like taking the trees off, rearranging them and so from the outside it just looks like there’s a house there but the green part is still there and there’s obviously some techniques that are being applied for those of you who are very interested and wanna get all the details – there’s a whole article that Paul has written with pictures and videos and everything on his website and you can go to and there’s a link to this. I’m just wondering, how can some of these techniques – can any of these techniques be applied to an existing house? I know I asked this before but I’m gonna ask it differently. My cooling bill is $300 per month.

PAUL WHEATON: There are several similar techniques along these lines that are being used in different parts of the country in different ways but it depends on the house. Let’s talk about how this works and then we will see if it helps to answer your question. Wherever you are in the world, if you dig twenty feet down into the ground, you’ll find subsoil or rock or clay or something and it will stay at a fixed temperature all year long. So here in Montana, if you dig twenty feet down and you put a thermometer down there, you’ll find that it reads fifty-four degrees all day long, everyday, all year long. So it’s like, wow that’s a convenient thing to know; however, fifty-four degrees is not very comfortable so it’s like, what if we could change that and that’s where John Hay’s work. Basically, he wanted to create a large enough thermo moss that’s insulated and to be able to set the temperature and he came up with his mass show that you need at least twenty feet of it to be able to define what the fixed temperature is gonna be so that’s what he did. He put an insulated for twenty feet in every direction around the house and then he kept all the soil under the house, within twenty feet of the house, dry and insulated. We refer to this as the thermal umbrella and Hay’s work further went to build a structure thicker than roof and that the umbrella would actually go over the house.

DEBRA: What are we talking about, a twenty foot roof?

PAUL WHEATON: Thicker than roof. The umbrella we’re talking about in John Hay’s work would actually go over the house. I think that there’s a guy, Don Stephens, in the Washington area and he’s got something that is a little bit closer to what you’re asking about. In which case, he has something that resembles a conventional home but the umbrella is actually under the home and then he’ll install vents that will go under the home and in the summertime when it’s really, really hot and the temperature under a steel roof can get to be a hundred and forty degrees and so then he’ll pump that down into the thermo moss under the house and then also pump what’s currently under the house back up to the roof. The area under the roof is kept cool. So this a the technique and when winter comes and the inside of the house is getting kinda cool then he will pump that stuff from under the house into the house so that way you will get that one hundred and forty degrees air, captured from last summer into the house during the coldest part of winter. Now, the stuff that we’re trying to do with wofati is more of a passive solution. We’re trying to come up with something that does not require pumps but we’re currently in the phases of experimentation. As much as these works have been completed by several different people, we’re continuing to try to refine it and make it less expensive. We hope to have a structure that will cost less than $200; we’re hoping to build a shell of a small home for less than $200 and we’re also hoping that using some of the work from Mike Haler to be able to create something that is very fast to build. Most of buildings that are eco buildings that are healthy buildings tend to be far more expensive whether it’s because of labor or it’s because of material so we’re trying to come up with something that is a tiny fraction of the cost in labor as well as material.

DEBRA: This is fascinating to me because we will in industrial age; we were all born in a world where everything is defined by industrialism and so all the building material that we have for our houses are made in factories and they’re installed by people who have been trained and licensed and all these things and yet in looking to be less polluting and less toxic and more resource efficient and everything, people like you and me…how did people live? How were things constructed? How did we live our daily life before all this industrialization was there? But also looking beyond and applying our creativity in making something new and there was a time when people built their houses with their own hands with the materials that were available – until about two hundred years ago, that’s the way everybody built their houses – we don’t even have that concept as part of our reality because we’re so industrial oriented.

PAUL WHEATON: In a lot of places, building that way is against the law.

DEBRA: That’s exactly right and I’m just gonna have to cut you short on this because I know you have probably a ton to say about this because we have less than a minute so I’m going to stop right there and we’ll have you back and we can talk about a lot more things and thank you so much for being with us Paul. Again the website is; we’ve been talking about how to heat your home and there’s lots of information there and you’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio and you can go to I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and we’ll be back tomorrow to talk more about how you can identify toxic chemicals in your life, your home, your body and how you can live with them.


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