Stewardship of Life

A Cool Way to Save Energy

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on January 29, 2010

Visitation is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work as a parish pastor, and it’s enabled me to make some informed observations about the energy consumption awareness of senior citizens.

For instance, there’s Doris, a grandmotherly saint with rimless spectacles, an oatmeal-colored cardigan sweater and tiger-striped cats named Flossie and Bossie. When Doris opened her door to me last week, a blast of tropical air, thick with radiator steam and pungent with the aromas of cat fur and tollhouse cookies, escaped into the frigid Pennsylvania afternoon.

“Hi Doris,” I said, suppressing a gag as I stepped into the house. I repeatedly blinked my eyes, which had begun to burn. “Are you staying warm enough?”

Senior citizens tend to keep their heat pretty high, and that’s OK. Elderly folks like Doris* have a hard time keeping warm, even with the omnipresent cardigan sweaters. But for the rest of us, there’s no excuse for not minding the thermostat – not when there’s a gigantic carbon footprint to be reduced, tanker-loads of fossil fuel to be conserved and billfolds of cash to be saved.

How much carbon do we emit just keeping ourselves warm in winter and cool in the summer? Way too much, say the geeks with the slide rules at the United States Department of Energy. Heating and cooling dump an astounding 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, most of it from Doris’ house. HVAC also accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s sulfur dioxide and 4 percent of the nitrogen oxides, whatever they are.

No wonder the world’s glaciers are melting like ice cubes on a griddle! But if climate change and rescuing drowning polar bears isn’t enough to persuade you to turn down your thermostat in the winter, there’s something in it for you. Money!

Just by setting the thermostat back by 10 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the geeks, you can save 10 percent on your heating and cooling bills.

Sounds confusing?

Here’s how to calculate your savings:
Step 1:
Estimate how much you spend a year on heating and cooling.
Step 2:
Multiply that number by 10 percent.

If you bought a programmable thermostat, you could even reap the benefits without ever touching the thermostat again. After you installed it and set it up, that is.

What got my attention was the estimate that I could reduce my energy consumption by about 5 percent for every degree I turn my thermostat below 68, where most people set it. I do, for example.

So I took the plunge, starting boldly with an 8-degree drop to 60. Hey, for a sporty, middle-aged guy like me, youthful in mind, body and spirit, that’s no big deal, right? Eight lousy degrees? Besides, when it’s 60 outside, it feels just great. What’s the big deal?

Funny thing, a 60-degree house feels cold. When I sit to watch TV, I needed a blanket over my legs. Sitting at my computer desk, my toes ache with cold. I wear a baseball hat indoors, just to keep my head warm. Getting into bed at night, I crawl onto sheets like ice. I could deal, but when I started wearing my oatmeal-colored cardigan sweater every waking hour, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be turning the thermostat up to “Doris” level.

How do you save energy? Share your knowledge.

Click here for the Department of Energy’s guide to conservation in the home.

* Of course Doris is made-up, and the whole situation is an exaggerated composite of every senior citizen I’ve ever known. I’m not dumb — I’ve gotta keep my job.  But Flossie and Bossie are real cats, and they really do stink.

4 Responses to 'A Cool Way to Save Energy'

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  1. Angela Steele said,

    The programmable thermostats are great, and really not hard to install. “Doris” might need a hand, just to read the little wiring diagram which is hard without reading glasses, but it doesn’t need any special expertise (if I can do it, anyone can!) An extra blanket on the sofa for evenings of TV, and on the bed, helps a lot (as does an extra cat or two)!

    Having heavy drapes, and keeping them pulled, helps both for the heat of summer and the cold of winter. It’s hard if you crave the sunshine, but just pulling them at night helps keep out the cold night air. And of course, there are those cute little draft-stoppers for your doors. I’ve not looked up the data, but if you can feel the wind blowing under your door, you can almost hear the dollars ringing up on your monthly heating bill.


    • Hi Angela,

      Thank you for the good ideas! Drapes, weatherstripping, a throw blanket — even a cardigan sweater — are all simple ways we can reduce our energy use. I’ve found that I can eliminate a lot of draft simply by putting rolled-up fleece throw blankets at the bottom of my exterior doors.


  2. Angela Steele said,

    And don’t forget the cats!

  3. Sharron said,

    Another way to save energy and provide heat is to consider when to use your clothes dryer. That of course presumes you do use your clothes dryer instead of hanging clothes on the line or a rack. When it’s really cold here (which is a few months out of the year) I’ll wash my clothes at night and dry them first thing in the morning. It’s too cold to hang them on the line. The heat from the dryer seems to heat up the kitchen pretty quickly.

    I also know of one fellow Compactor who heats his house using only electric light bulbs.

    Oh, and yes, I have a stinky cat, too.

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