How to Get More Heat for Your Fuel Dollar


80 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-88902-956-3




Reviewed by Joseph Jones

Joseph Jones is a reference librarian in the Koerner Library at the
University of British Columbia.


Harris Mitchell writes a syndicated weekly newspaper column on home maintenance and improvement. This book has grown out of an increasing number of questions from his readers about home heating and its cost.

Of the seventy pages of running text, ten deal with economics: the Canadian Oil Substitution Program (COSP), the availability and cost of fuels, and the finances of upgrading or converting an existing heating system. The remaining sixty pages cover more technical ground: furnace efficiency ratings, thermostats, hot-air and hot-water systems, heating with different energy sources (oil, natural gas, electricity, wood, sunlight), humidity, and chimney problems.

As might be expected from the author’s background, the strength of this book lies in technical explanation. Clearly written descriptions are accompanied by equally clear illustration in diagram or photograph. There are many practical suggestions for both the do-it-yourselfer and the person dealing with furnace servicing. (The serviceman for my oil furnace approved and implemented two ideas, through which I expect to save 10 per cent.)

The information is probably as up to date as can be found in any book. The chapter on heating with gas, for example, covers super-efficient condensing and pulse combustion furnaces, and a postscript on downsizing gas furnaces shows how close Mitchell is to new developments. The only omission I noticed on the technical side was air-to-air heat exchanges, which would have fitted well into the chapter on humidity.

Unfortunately, the economics of home heating are not nearly as well presented as the technicalities. Most of the financial considerations are embodied in tables that accompany the chapters (4 and 14) on fuel cost and heating system changes. To use the first table, I had to convert a quotation for natural gas in gigajoules to the table’s pricing in cubic metres, and then the price arrived at was outside the table. All that exercise really showed was that gas is considerably cheaper than oil. The reader is told (p.69) that this table will show how much a change in fuel will reduce heating costs; being a break-even table, of course it does not. Twelve notes to the table provide the data that generated it and enable calculation of useful figures. A formula on equation would have been much better. Taken all together, the tables are interdependent, separated by 54 pages, and difficult to translate into clear and comparable figures.

A note and a comment: the prominence given to COSP, which now expires in six months rather than six years, will make the book seem far more dated than it is; the index is a disgrace.

There is a great deal of useful information in this book. It is too bad that using the data on cost comparison is so difficult.


Mitchell, Harris, “How to Get More Heat for Your Fuel Dollar,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,