Think Globally, Heat Locally
In his text “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” Buddhist master Shantideva said it is easier to cover your feet with shoes than it is to cover the world in leather (I’m paraphrasing a little). With much of the country experiencing major cold-spells, Shantideva’s statement might offer guidance and comfort to the chilled masses. Why blast central heating everywhere, when we can warm our bodies?
Throughout history, humans have known that an extra layer of clothes is the simplest, most efficient way of bumping our body temperatures. But the advent of the thermostat made possible the reality of the constant-temperature-environment. Never were people to be too cold or hot again. The little mechanism would keep us enveloped in the constant comfort of 70-73° F no matter what was happening outside.
The only problem with this strategy is that it is extremely inefficient. Even factoring in improvements in insulation over the years, easing off the temperature is still the most effective way of curbing our household heating use, as Kris De Decker of Low Tech Magazine says:
The reduction in energy use for space heating thanks to more efficient homes was less than 20 percent from 1993 to 2005. Lowering the thermostat by 2°C (or 4°F) would thus result in energy reduction comparable to that. Turning down the thermostat from 22° to 18°C [72° to 65°F] would initiate an energy savings of at least 35 percent.
This would suggest that if it gets colder outside, consider letting it get colder inside as well to save valuable natural resources and money.
Along the lines of Shantideva’s thinking, here are a number of planet and pocketbook friendly ways to keep comfortable in the cold season:
- Put on a sweater. This should be your first line of defense from the cold. Think about it: insulate the 1/2″ of air between our skin and clothing or countless cubic feet of our building interiors? Sweaters should be of a thermal material, e.g. wool or a synthetic fleece.
- Thermal underwear. De Decker says, “One layer of thermal long underwear allows you to turn down the thermostat at least 4° C, saving up to 40% on space heating energy.”
- Stay active. De Decker says “each increase of 30 watts allows the comfort temperature to go down by about 1.7°C [sitting uses ~60W and walking ~110W].”
- Try an electric blanket. Today’s electric blankets little in common with thick-wired covers of the past. Many are made of thin micro-fiber with virtually undetectable wiring. They have different climate zones for couples who might want different temperatures. And on the lower settings, they pull as much power as a single light bulb. As an added bonus, when unplugged, they make good regular blankets the rest of the year–something that can’t necessarily be said about heavy down duvets.
Boy in Red Pajamas image via Shutterstock