Stay Warm, Save Energy, Cut Spending

Stay Warm, Save Energy, Cut Spending
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With winter in full swing and gas prices failing to drop in spite of reserves, it is time to think about ways to stay warm even when the thermostat is turned down and the wind is shrieking like a cartoon housewife facing down a spider.

You can be gloomy about winter, or you can have fun staying warm. Try camping out in your living room for example; bring old-fashioned kerosene lanterns and put them out of reach of toddlers and young children. Get (or make) a small, smokeless camping stove and cook weenies and beans, one serving at a time. Have ice cream for dessert: after all, what’s a little chill if you’re wrapped in blankets?

If you dare, throw all the breakers in your electrical panel that run electronics and 21st century devices and see if you and your loved ones can spend a “Little House on the Prairie” evening with cards, games and conversations (and even ghost stories, if that is still PC). If you and your family are willing to go all the way, break out the sleeping bags as well, and see how warm you can stay even with the heat kicked down to mid-Canada (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit). If you have a fireplace, use it. If you have an authentic wood stove, even better.

In Laura Ingalls’s time, they used to go to bed with a hot brick below their feet, on the (since proven) theory that, if your head and feet are warm, you will be warm all over. It’s the 21st century, so you can use a hot water bottle instead. Invented by a Croatian named Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, who foresaw one of the most persistently “green” uses for rubber and silicone ever invented, today’s hot water bottle is a marvelous marriage of practicality, nostalgia and technology.

Use of these “Termofors” (Penkala’s name for hot water bottles) declined with the advent of almost ubiquitous and affordable electricity, which powered heating pads and electric blankets. Now, with electricity prices rising like a good loaf of bread, people are reverting to hot water bottles again, many of which have been “sophisticated” by the implementation of technologies that allow them to stay hotter, longer.

In a pinch, if you don’t have a hot water bottle and don’t want to resort to an electrical appliance on which small children might hurt themselves on, consider corn meal or rice in a cotton sock, heated in the microwave. You will be amazed how long the heat lasts.

You might think $100 to $150 for a service check of your heating system is extravagant and unnecessary. Will you still think that when you wake up some night and it’s 35 degrees in your bedroom, and the repairman says he can replace your furnace but it will cost you about ten times as much as the service call?

While the repairman replaces your furnace, check your ducts to make sure they aren’t being blocked by drapery, furniture or other obstacles. Then check the ductwork in your basement for leaks around joints or from the area where the sheet metal ducting system meets the heat exchanger or plenum.

If you use the oven to cook dinner, leave the oven door partially open afterward so that the heat can escape into the home instead of dissipating inside the stove. The same holds true if you have an electric dryer (but not gas, and not if it is located in the same room or area as the furnace, since the moist heat could affect furnace performance).

Dressing for winter is half the battle. Experts advise layering, with a first layer of silk, polyester or nylon, all of which have “wicking” abilities that transfer sweat from skin to an outer layer.

The next layer should be fleece or wool, though the latter is heavier and more confining. A final layer, of waterproof and wind-resistant fabric like Thinsulate or Gore-Tex, allows you to stay dry in rain or snow without getting all sweaty and smothered.

As the day warms up, remove layers. When the sun begins to set, put those layers back on. Wear boots, fleece-lined is nice, over woolen socks, and wrap your feet in plastic bread bags if you’re spending an outdoor day skiing, snowmobiling or just communing with nature.

And don’t forget to accessorize; red, water-resistant gloves strike a cheery note against the white snow and also make it easier to spot you. A hat is also essential, but make it a –face-mask hat if you’re skiing – a bad snow burn, from driven pellets of ice and frost can make you miserable. Don’t forget the sunglasses, as sun on snow can be a little too bright for comfort.

If you don’t have a full-face hat, take a scarf and wrap it around your face on the way up the mountain. Also carry a bunch of disposable heat packs and use them in your boots and gloves to stay moderately warm for up to six hours.

If you’re a stay-at-home weekender, get in the habit of opening curtains during the day to welcome whatever sunlight might be available. Then close them at night to keep out blustery Old Man Winter.

Install power strips to turn off unused electronics; install “smart” power strips to turn off these devices without human intervention (technology just keeps getting smarter).

And finally, a tip from Green Home’s editor, Kari Dorth, who agrees that jersey sheets are “the bomb”. With cotton jersey under you and over you, you will feel like a cuddly bear waiting out winter – and don’t we all wish we could!

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