Feel Warm Even While You Save Energy This Winter


OK, Chicago, we had our mild November and our green Christmas.  And now … winter has arrived.  Are we all ready to meet the cold head on?  Today we break down how you can stay toasty warm this winter, WHILE YOU SAVE ENERGY.  If you think win/win scenarios aren’t possible, just keep reading!

One of the most important ways to cut your household energy use is to to reduce the energy you spend moderating the air temperature inside your house but that DOESN’T have to mean you cut down on feeling warm.

You’re Probably Worrying About the Wrong Energy Uses

It’s easy to forget how big a chunk of your energy use goes into your domestic heating/cooling. Grist’s piece, You’re obsessing about the wrong home energy uses, points out that, in an insane world, many of us like to grasp for a little control, by obsessing about turning off extra lights in order to save the planet.  But, in fact, believing that light switches can save the planet represents a misperception triggered by cognitive accessibility biases (or so say the psychologists).  In short, we are probably all guilty of placing undue importance on the “easy fixes” to save energy.

Grist author, Heather Smith, who had enjoyed scorning the people downstairs for constantly leaving the lights on, sums it up her feelings about this : “You know what this means: I have been judging my neighbors for all the wrong reasons. This is pure tragedy.”

The Science Behind Misunderstanding Energy Use

That study, published this fall in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, studied the effect of “cognitive accessibility” on people’s perception of their energy use.  In layman’s terms: they were interested to see if people were more likely to rate the energy savings of things they interacted with regularly (like turning off a light switch) than things they rarely interact with (like the hot water heater).

Researchers Dan Schley and Michael DeKay of the Ohio State University found that was all too true.  The study had participants estimate the percentage of individual and household energy use in the US and rate (scale of 1-5) how often they, personally, interacted with devices that adjust each of those categories and also how often they thought about that category (scale of 1-5).  When the numbers were tallied, Schley and DeKay found that “Participants overestimated energy use for low-consumption categories and underestimated energy use for high-consumption categories.”

So …The best ways to Save Energy

While we are ALL for flipping off light switches and powering down appliances when not in use, the biggest energy bang-for-your-buck is still home heat (and cooling) and transportation.

Try to drive/fly less.

The good news for Chicagoans is that we have great transit options.  Leave your car parked and strike out on the “L”, or a bus, or the Metra.  You’ll enjoy not being stuck in traffic!

And turn down the thermostat.

Remember, this doesn’t mean you have to feel colder.

Yes, You can Save Energy and Stay Warm!

For a Two Step Toasty Winter: Insulate, first, Then Add Heat.  It should be an absolute No Brainer for Chicagoans – we’ve all learned this lesson while shivering on a windy “L” platform on a blustery Chicago night. We’ve all been there.  You’re cold.  Your train may NEVER come.  What do you do?

  • Step 1: Get out of the wind. (That’s what those handy little glassed-in shelters are for.)
  • Step 2: Stand real close to the heater.

Note: standing under a heat lamp in a cold breeze will barely register. The same is true for your home.  Trying to warm up big, drafty areas is a doomed exercise.  Don’t bother.

save energy: insulate and block drafts, then add heat at the CTA station

Apply these two principles to your house or apartment.  Seal up all the drafts and insulate the hell out of your home.  Then, after you’ve done that, work on heating up the area where you are with radiant in-floor heat, zone radiators, or, at a baseline, forced air heat going only to the primary spaces in your house (close doors, and cover or close vents in areas you don’t use regularly).

Also, check out our post on Kotatsu – Japanese personal space heater tables.  The idea is simple: instead of heating the whole house … heat yourself.  Learn how the Japanese use Kotatsu to stay cosy through cold winters despite traditionally under-insulated buildings.

You can also rock a stylish sweater to keep the thermostat lower.  

There!  Look at you save energy!  Good Job!