Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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].”
  4. 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.

Low Tech Magazine Via Treehugger

Boy in Red Pajamas image via Shutterstock

  • Chris

    Let’s not forget Thick Socks.

    Also, draft excluders for doors and lined curtains (drapes), all help to keep heat in.

  • Tim Domenico

    I’m sitting here wearing thermal underwear, two pair of socks, my indoor shoes, and three shirts (oops almost forgot my fingerless gloves). I’m also sitting at my computer with a blanket over my lap.

    I shut off half of the heating vents in my house (I only use three rooms during the winter). I have a modern high efficiency furnace (which offsets the age of the house – perhaps 80 years old) that is so efficient that the flue is 2″ PVC.

    Compare that to my neighbor who runs around in shorts, t-shirts and no shoes or socks all winter long and keeps his thermostat above 80. I actually have to peel layers off when I stop by for a visit. Even though he has baseboard hot water heat (one of the most efficient ways to space heat) his heating expense runs over twice what mine does on a month to month basis.

    Common sense is perhaps the best way to save energy during the winter.

  • Gary Overton

    I bought one of these this year and it has been great. I like everything cool but I was having trouble with cool feet

  • Juliellen Sarver

    And a hat. You lose alot of heat from your head.

  • Catherine

    After living in Wisconsin I recommend a heated mattress (magic) and thin wool base layer (I have a smartwool version).

  • David

    Lowering indoor temp also helps raise indoor humidity. Infiltration of outdoor air removes moisture from the interior. Humidity gets low enough to make us uncomfortable and, due to dry mucous membranes, more susceptible to infection. Cooling the air increases its RH and also reduces infiltration (since it is driven in part by in/out temperature difference).

  • DianaBGKY

    My living room, which I use as a home office, has a large five-panel window. When the sun is shining, no matter what the temperature is, my sweater comes off–and sometimes I have to change to a t-shirt. So if you have great windows and the sun is out, take advantage of that.

  • Wendy

    Or buy yourself a fabulous rechargeable-battery-powered heated vest (and other heated clothing) from the wonderful Gerbing company. I am living in mine, thanks to the latest arctic freeze here in Massachusetts.

  • Kerry

    I’m a big fan of merino wool socks from Smart Wool and Ice Breaker. They are substantially warmer than cotton socks.

    I’ve considered an electric blanket but then I got worried about electromagnetic fields. Does anyone have any insight on this issue?

  • cheryl terrace

    Living in a 100 year old (drafty, no insulation) carriage house on a mountain in the western catskills, (with minus 22 F temps), PLUS being the uber environmentalist – all I can say is layers, like skiing (only inside), liners for socks, silk under-wear.. it works ~ Plus a wood burning stove.. (all that chopping & hauling heats you UP!) ~cheryl Terrace/Vital Design