Sunday, February 28, 2010

Energy Conservation

I was planning to write up a nice long post on ways to conserve energy around the house (after all, the war industry needs those resources!) when Kari at Moo Said the Mama seems to have done it for me. Thanks, Kari! Check out her great post here.

During winter at the Rational Living household we keep the thermostat at 62 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 degrees at night (we'll bump it up when company comes over). TMOTH has occasionally proposed dropping it down further but I protest.

I was amused when I came across a newspaper ad in the Topeka Daily Capital from February 24, 1943 with the following text:

We Must All use Less at Home

Even in normal times winter calls for extra volumes of gas, but now that we are at war the demands for gas has increased beyond anyone's expectations. Gas, as a fuel, is used in the making of practically all of our implements of war. The only way these extra demands can be met is by American people using less gas at home. That is one way we can all help meet our 1943 production schedules.

Here is How YOU Can Help on VERY Cold Days
Keep your home at 65 degrees...Closed all unused rooms and turn off the heat...If you have a fireplace, use it for extra heat...Do less cooking that requires high temperatures for long periods of time...Don't turn on gas until it is needed...Turn off as soon as cooking is finished...Use only necessary hot water and save gas in every way you can.

"See?" I asked TMOTH. "Even during the war they were keeping their winter thermostats at 65 degrees!" He hasn't asked to lower the thermostat since I showed him this ad.

In the meantime, we're already making plans for warmer weather. After discussing for many years the merits of installing a whole-house fan (sometimes called an attic fan), it seems like we're finally going to get off of our duffs and get one this year. Does this bend the no-appliance rule for rationing year? A bit, but it is historically-appropriate and since this appliance uses very few resources to produce (as compared to say, a refrigerator or oven *sigh*) we're going with it. I've always been a bit surprised that our 100 year old house never had a whole house fan installed before now. I mean, have you lived through a plains summer? Ugh!

In the meantime, I'm curious to know what the faithful readers set their thermostats on during the winter and summer months. Of course, some of you are lucky enough to live in temperate areas that require little of either heating or cooling. For the rest of us, it's always a balance of finding the right temperature at the right energy-budget price.

For us, it's 60-62 degrees in the winter, and 78 degrees in the summer.

And you, reader?

--Rational Mama


  1. We set our thermostat in the winter to 68 in the morning and evening and 58 during the day and night. I usually work from home, and if I can't handle the cold I bump the temp up a degree or two, but thanks to sun streaming in the windows it rarely gets down to 58 during the day.

    Regarding the newspaper ad's advice to "Close all unused rooms and turn off the heat" -- as an Efficiency Kansas trained home energy auditor, I feel I must respond... most homes have central heating, a system that includes not just the furnace but all the ducts, and has been sized to heat a particular volume of air. Most heating systems are already oversized by about 50%, in case you add onto the house or break a window or otherwise need more heat than usual. So by shutting off a room, you are effectively making your heating system even more oversized than it already is.

    If you are going to leave a room unused all winter, close it up and then call your HVAC technician to adjust your furnace's cycle length appropriately. If you are not going to adjust the cycle length, it's probably better to just leave the room open so as not to make your furnace less efficient.

    I'm confused by the 1956 advertisement talking about 1943 production schedules. Was it a retrospective or something?

    Thanks for the article, Rational Mama!

  2. Ben - thanks for the great info. It's always nice to get the technical side of advice such as that.

    It was my typing goof on the date of the advertisement - it should have read 1943 (not 1956). I've made the correction now!

  3. When we renovated the house 18 months ago (and still not finished...) we had a new central heating and hot water system put in, a combi boiler ( as they're known in the UK. This runs only when you want it to.

    It was possible to get a thermostat-controlled version, but we've worked on the basis of it being cheaper to manually control it: we switch off the radiators in rooms we're not in and we knock the controller upwards when cold and downwards when warm enough. The hot water for the kitchen and bathroom is only activated when the water is run (which means we don't waste money heating a tank of water we won't use, but you can't easily reheat a bath you're lounging in!)

    It's hard to tell how much we've saved as we can't compare like-with-like (it's much much cheaper than the previous oil-fired and electric systems we had, but we've had insulation and double-glazing put in, which saves money in and of itself). But our latest gas bill, for £150 ($225) for the last three months, is at least £50 ($75) cheaper than last year's bill from before we learned how to play with the controls.

    We call the combi boiler HAL, after the 2001 Space Odyssey computer, because we were scared of him at first (and also because we name all our appliances: Eduardo the dishwasher, Dot the washing machine, Mabel the clothes dryer... really, just don't go there!)

  4. Kids who study utility bills (electric, water and gas) in order to learn a lot about financial literacy and responsibility. Don’t you think they would make grow up to be better CEOs?

  5. RJGraham - Sounds like a good investment. We replaced our late 1970's furnace with a 90% efficiency model about 6 years ago and have been very happy with the different in winter heating costs. Also, I'm glad to hear someone else names their appliances! My favorite in our house right now is Moaning Myrtle - the perfect name for the 27 year old fridge we inherited with the house. She functions well but every once in a while lets out a moan or whimper, just like Hogwarts' resident spirit.