Whether we like it or not, summer has left us and fall has arrived. With our beautiful summer weather this year, I’ve been more reluctant than usual to let get of the shorts and T-shirts wardrobe and settle into the rain and gray skies lifestyle. But we must, and there are ways to make our homes in winter more earth-friendly. This is a good time of year to take stock and make some changes in our habits. Here are some home-based ideas to think about, ones we certainly consider at our house:
- How warmly do you dress? This is a very obvious and easy way to cut our energy use, but amazingly, many people don’t think about it. Many people shed their down jacket that they are wearing outside, and expect to run around their home and office in a cotton shirt. It’s really easy to put on an extra sweater or pair of socks, get your family cozy slippers, and keep some warm blankets handy for when you’re sitting still to watch TV or work on the computer. Flannel-lined jeans and a wool sweater, or an extra quilt on the bed, will let you keep the thermostat turned down several degrees.
- Do you have a thermostat that can be shut off when heat is not needed? If you can, program your heat to go off when you are at work, or at night when you only need heat in bedrooms. Or just manually turn off the heat when you are gone. You only need to heat the rooms you are using frequently; close the doors on unused or seldom-used spaces. Simple curtains in archways can enormously reduce heat loss between rooms.
- Does your home suffer from pollen and mold; drafty windows, doors and cold floors; moisture on the windows and mildew in closets and basement? These can be improved with window- and door-sealing weather strips, better insulation, storm windows or plastic window “shrink-wrap.”
- Do you have attic insulation? Can you add more? Insulate, insulate, insulate.
- How many lights are on in your home, on average? This will vary with the number of people in your home, but keeping it down to one to four lights at a time is great. Think about it — do you have to spread out in different rooms? Do you need the lights for the whole room if you are working at your desk and can use a desk lamp? Do you remember to shut them off when not in use? I cannot tell you how many times I realize that we’ve left on a light in the bedroom, when no one is there except the cat. Really. The cat can sleep in the dark, I think.
- How many of your lights have you changed to CFLs or LEDs? Compact fluorescent lights and LED bulbs are very efficient. If a 75-watt incandescent (old style) bulb costs $3.80 a month to run, a comparable light from a 12-watt LED will cost only 43 cents. If you can’t change them all at once, change the bulbs you use the most; you can wait on the ones in the guest room.
- Lack of warm sunshine means giving up the backyard clothesline for the winter, but can you skip the clothes dryer? Can you use a dryer rack or line in the basement or back room or sun porch? It may take a little longer for your clothes to drip dry, but you will save loads of energy. We were amazed at the reduction in our energy use when we quit using the clothes dryer (except for fluffing already dry clothes).
- Do you know those sneaky energy suckers? All the TVs, computers, monitors, printers, and other electronics suck energy even when they are turned off. They are in constant standby mode. One estimate is that shutting down all the appliances and electronics for seven or eight hours every night could save an average household about $100 per year in power. One easy way to shut them all down is to use a power strip that can be turned off or unplugged easily. Then remember to do it.
- When was the last time you changed your furnace filter? If you have a furnace, this is a good time to get a new filter in there — the cleaner the filter, the less energy it takes to get the heat circulated.
All of these ideas will not make you warmer, necessarily. But they will make your energy consumption less, allowing more of your energy to go to the necessary heating to get you through the winter. Stay warm.
— Naomi Maasberg is director of Stillwaters Environmental Learning Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.