Everyone wants to know about heating and cooling the school in Brule. The ceilings range from 10’ to 13’ high and it’s a large space. How could we afford to heat it and cool it? It’s an important question for prospective buyers and we’re going to be honest with you about it. If you’re living there and you don’t close off areas of the school during the winter months, your heating costs will be astronomical. But the school is designed to be energy efficient and affordable. Let me explain:
Cooling the building was never a problem. The first floor of the school is located partially underground so it stays cool year round. We would simply open the big windows and the air would flow through the whole bottom level of the school without a problem. Upstairs, in the living room, we would use a fan to keep ourselves cool.
In the apartment, there’s an air conditioner to keep things cool for guests since there’s only one window in there.
John and I both work from home and Lydian was homeschooled, so during the winter months, when it was cold, we heated our spaces all day to about 70 degrees. We did this using a combination of wood stoves, propane heaters, and radiant electric space heaters.
When we were at home (which was most of the time), we would turn on one or two wood stoves, depending on how cold it was outside. We each had a propane heater that we could also turn on during the day to heat the spaces we were sitting in if we were still feeling cold. Radiant electric heaters kept the bedrooms warm enough that they could be heated up to a comfortable temperature by the time we went to bed at night, but during the day, those areas were kept at about 60 degrees. A door on the bottom level of the building was shut during the winter and we used only the basement family room rather than using the large 2nd floor living room with the big TV during the winter months. Our heating bill was about $300-500/month in the winter (January through March) when we were using our wood stoves, but again, remember…we work at home so we were there ALL DAY, every day. Wood can be chopped from the lake to eliminate the heating costs from the stoves. We never used propane stoves at night even though the wood stoves would go out over night. The wood stoves did a good job heating the building by themselves. A 3rd wood stove was installed beneath the stairs leading to the living room. This wood stove was going to be ducted into the family room on 1st floor so that it could be stoked easily during the night and so it would feed two of the bedrooms. The stove was successfully installed and it currently heats the 2nd floor living room, but ductwork would allow the new owners to direct the heat wherever they’d like. But when it gets really cold in January and February, and it’s time to move down to just the basement family room, some ductwork from that wood stove would lower electrical costs considerably because the nighttime electrical bill would be much lower.
The other floors of the building can be heated with the various wood stoves which push heat out into all the floors. The only rooms that don’t have access to any heat from a wood stove are the two northern-most 3rd floor rooms and the boiler room. The room with the wood floors could receive ductwork from the stove directly underneath it on 1st floor, however and the other room could be ducted from a stove on the 2nd/3rd floor landing.
So, your heating and cooling bills for the building will really be about how you use the space. Specifically, using the wood stoves will help you lower your energy costs considerably. There’s lots of wood available at the lake for free that can be chopped and stored for winter. Or, you can buy wood from several suppliers. We would generally use about 3 truckloads of wood each winter to heat the building all day every day, but not at night while we were sleeping.
We also had heating blankets on our beds. This kept us all warm at night. And we often turned on small space heaters in the bathrooms at night too. These didn’t usually need to be on during the day.
While the new owners of the building will have to give some thought to how they want to go about heating the building, it’s not hard to implement the plan. All the stoves are in place. There’s a place to stack wood right outside the pantry door on first floor. And there’s a wood storage closet indoors under the stairs on 1st floor as well. The reward is that you get to live in/use a giant building with tons of character and potential. In the dead of winter, even when it was below zero outside, the school rarely got below 30 degrees F, even in completely unheated areas on 3rd floor. Our daughter would often go upstairs on these cold days and play sit in one of the heated 2nd or 3rd floor rooms (the rooms where the wood stoves are located). She was able to “get out of the house” without having to go out in the frigid weather and do her own thing in a completely private space of her own.
And while the winter heating bills may be higher than they are for piece of Ogallala real estate. In the summer, the energy costs are generally very low because the school doesn’t really need air conditioning, but normal stick-built small houses do! Averaging our energy costs over the year, we spent about $350/month, but again…we were there every day, all day! So your costs could be lower if you’re just keeping things “warm enough” during the day and returning at night to fire up the stoves and the propane heaters in the afternoon/evenings.