BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 1.

March 27, 2009

Well, it’s not exactly winter or summer, but a recent cold snap has brought to light a particular topic: how to stay warm (or cool) without using large quantities of electricity.

It’s human nature, of course, that when we get too hot or too cold we try to fix it.  And it’s human nature to look for the easiest method possible, which generally amounts to cranking up the thermostat.

And there are, as usual, a few problems with that.  For one thing, a single temperature is rarely suitable for everyone; someone’s liable to be too hot or too cold.  For another thing, air conditioning uses power, which costs money and has environmental impacts.  While it isn’t often feasible to lay off the air conditioning entirely (especially here, where temperatures can reach >100 degrees in the summer), you can usually reduce its running time and still keep warm fairly well.

To that end, I present Part 1: Staying Warm.

The first step is a big, looming one, of the kind that might terrify casual greeners, but is fortunately a one-time procedure: removing any window drafts.  This is best done when the outside air is cold, since cold drafts are very easy to detect when the house is warm; it may also be possible when the air is hot.

You should first go through your house, turn off all fans, and close all windows.  Make sure that they are tightly sealed, with no visible cracks; any window that cannot close fully should be noted as faulty and replaced.  Once the windows are tight, check for invisible leaks: stand in front of the window and feel around for patches of cold air or cold breezes.  Move around if necessary, and consider asking another person to double-check.  Any windows with leaks should also be replaced.

(Note: It is possible that, no matter how thoroughly you check, some leaks may go undetected.  The only way to discover these is to sit in front of the window for long periods of time, employing whatever methods you usually use to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature, and note if you are unusually cold anywhere.  Cold feet are a sure leak detector.)

(Second note: All leaks may not be in the windows.  Floors, ceilings, skylights, and vents can all let in cold air.)

Once you’ve completed Step 1 – or if, for some reason, you are incapable of doing so at the moment, but would like to save on electricity anyway – you can tackle the remaining steps, which are mainly small things you can do to increase your personal heat without warming the entire house.

  1. Wear footwear.  If you’re like me, and are usually more concerned with keeping your feet cool than warm, this can be a problem.  If you don’t want to track dirt around your house on your shoes, it can also be a problem.  The best solution I’ve found is to keep a pair of fuzzy slippers on hand and wear them when I’m really cold.
  2. Wear enough clothes.  Sweaters, longjohns, and the like can all be extremely useful, though it can be time-consuming and annoying to pile on the layers.  A warm, fuzzy bathrobe makes a good quick fix, and withstands a considerable amount of cold.  Frigid hands benefit from gloves, though you’ll want to leave the fingers off when you type.
  3. Drink warm fluids.  A cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the cold can be very soothing.  If you have it in a ceramic or glass mug, keep the mug around; it stays warm well after the drink is gone and can used to warm cold fingers.
  4. Acclimate yourself to cooler temperatures.  Start reducing the thermostat setting a little bit at a time, allowing yourself to adjust to each setting before you move it down again.  You may never get to a point where you really feel warm in lower temperatures, but you should find it easier to get and stay that way without cranking up the heat.

Of course, staying warm at work or in bed is a slightly different matter than during the day in your own home.  Some of these tips can be carried over, but some situations will require improvisation.  You’ll need to employ your own ingenuity to deal with these situations as they arise.

Good luck!

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Staying Cool.)

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