24 - 2007

Eco-quandary: Staying warm and saving energy

Last weekend, we in Denver had our first snow of the season. Sunday and Monday were downright chilly (although Saturday was in the 70s, and we’re expected to get there again today).

Our home is a 1950 brick bungalow-style. Despite new windows and a hearty layer of insulation in the attic, that old brick gets very cold. The walls are frigid in winter, and the cool seeps through the house.

I work at home, and I’m one of those stereotypical women with seemingly no circulation to my outer extremities. As I type this, it is 72 degrees outside. The inside thermostat is set at 68. And my toes are numb and my fingernails are literally blue. (I’m not in shorts and sandals, either — I’m wearing socks and sneakers, chinos, a t-shirt, a light wool sweater and a jean jacket.)

So, keeping warm is a challenge. All the more so when I take energy efficiency into consideration.

Crunchy Chicken has set up a “Freeze Yer Buns” challenge for those inclined to join with others in turning down the thermostat. There’s no way I can top her group, just because of my physical nature. But this fall, I’ve been spending some money and time coming up with a game plan for this winter:

  1. Personal warmth. Last year, I bought a long-underwear top. This fall, I invested in some silk-blend long-underwear — another top and two pairs of pants that can fit under my regular pants.

  2. Fingerpicking. Remember the spinning-wheel hobby? I am spinning some baby alpaca yarn (super soft — if you’re a texture buff like me, find some to touch!) and plan to knit myself some fingerless gloves that I can wear even while working on the computer. Problem is, this might not happen until after I finish my Christmas-gift knitting.

  3. Program the temperature. We have a programmable thermostat. It’s set to 60 at night, and I am thinking about moving it to 55. During the evening, it’s set to 68. During weekend days, it shoots for 66.

  4. Default to low. Our thermostat is set to keep daytime temperatures at 60 degrees. Is this comfortable for me? Absolutely not. Therefore, most days I wind up pushing it up to 68 or so. But I like keeping it set low in case I’m not home — I don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it down.

  5. Heat what you use. Last year we used space heaters in our bedrooms at night to cut the chill. They have two benefits: You heat only the area you sleep in, avoiding the furnace coming on; and our wind-power electricity is a “cleaner” energy than our natural-gas furnace. We did use less gas than the year before in December, January, March and April. But our electricity use skyrocketed compared to the previous year — by 17 percent in December and a whopping 92 percent in March! Ouch!

  6. Cut the watts. This year, I hit a buy one-get one sale at JCPenney, where I also had a 20 percent off coupon for the day, and bought electric blankets for our bed and Little Cheap’s bed. Our plan is to primarily use them to preheat our beds (because I have been known to climb between the sheets, wearing two layers of clothes and socks, and start shivering pitiably). When it’s really cold, we’ll leave them on low. I hope the added, immediate warmth will make it easier to turn down the heat further. The energy advantage? Our space heaters use 600 kilowatts per hour on low, or 1,200 kilowatts for two. The electric blankets use around 100 and 200 kilowatts per hour respectively — a 75 percent cut in our energy use.

  7. Work out. This was a reliable strategy for me last year, and it has health benefits to boot. If I hit the gym in the morning for a good aerobic workout, my body temperature is raised enough to keep me warm until 1 p.m. or later. At last, a good use for the heat that turns my face an unattractive red every time I exercise!

How low do you go? What are your heat-conserving strategies?

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