Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freezing Yer Buns?

It's cold out!

Okay, it's San Francisco, so it's not THAT cold out, but you know ... it's coldER than it is at other times of the year, and also I am a big, big pansy, so anything less than 60 degrees = cold in my book.

Now I would like to say that, being a pansy non-withstanding, I have been a Freeze Yer Buns star and have been diligently keeping the thermostat at some obscenely cold temperature.

But I have not.

Instead, my thermostat has been hovering between about 65-70 during the day, and sometimes a bit lower at night.

I have to admit, I haven't been putting as much thought and effort into it as I have in years past. When it gets cold, I turn the heat up a notch. At night, when I go to bed, I'll often turn it down a notch.

The truth is, now that I'm not trying to be SUPER HARD CORE about everything, it's a little hard for me to get up the motivation to freeze my buns off. While there are plenty of people who save tons of money by keeping the thermostat down, we don't save that much money. Living in San Francisco means that even heating the apartment to 70 degrees doesn't take THAT much energy if it's 50 degrees outside. And, oh yeah, I live in an apartment. Heating a smaller space just involves less energy.

As I make these justifications to myself for why I don't WANNA freeze (waaah!) I can't help but think back on this Washington Post article about the rebound effect. The article basically states that though our appliances have become much more energy efficient in the past forty years, Americans still use as much energy as we did in the early 1970s. The idea is this: when we purchase more energy efficient appliances that save us money and energy, we will often end up a) using them more, getting something bigger because it will now "cost the same," or turn around and buy yet another energy sucking device.

Energy efficiency can produce a number of these kinds of unintended consequences. A classic example is captured by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, who writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The biggest energy drain in a home is for heating and cooling. We opted to heat our home with a system that runs warm water through all of the floors. The system is energy efficient, I'm told, and wonderfully comfortable, but it's powered by gas. So while our photovoltaic system will someday help during the summer, it will never help much in the cold months when the sun is wimpy and we're burning gas to heat the floors. Worse yet, the heated floors are so pleasant that we probably overuse them compared with a forced air system. That's a classic unintended consequence.
When Adams opts for a more energy efficient system for his heating, he ends up using more heat than he would have if he had gone for a less energy efficient system.

Bringing it back to Freeze Yer Buns, I'm finding that I'm just like any other American. Given a situation where my heating needs are already fairly minimal I choose to keep my apartment heated to a level that I like it.

Which is fine for my buns, but sort of problematic if the goal is to combat climate change by limiting energy use....

What would you do? If you got a super-duper energy efficient heating system that would allow you to keep your thermostat at 70 without using any more energy would you continue to freeze yer buns? Or would you say "eff it" and get those buns nice and toasty?


Rosa said...

If it was super-duper-efficient, I would probably use it to keep this place warmer, but not to the point of using the same amount of energy we use now, hopefully.

We're upgrading a very, very old house very slowly, so we're at about 40% of our 10 years ago natural gas use right now, despite keeping the thermostat at 62 instead of 55. I'd like to get it down to somewhere between 10-25% of our old use, Riot for Austerity style goals, and also get up to 64 degrees. It might mean moving to a smaller place.

Dmarie said...

we have electric heat that I find freezing in and of itself. So, luckily, we also have a woodburner, which keeps the furnace from kicking on AND keeps me nice and toasty. Try to resist the temptation to keep it shorts/sleeveless warm in here but feed the fire regularly. And dream of the day when solar panels and a wind turbine will give us clean heat that doesn't make me have to take sinus meds all winter. *sigh*

Spare the Air Day said...

We have a really efficient EPA certified fireplace insert that keeps our main living area nice and toasty when the temperature gets a bit too cold for us. In our area we have to be aware of air quality issues, Spare the Air days and no Burn days.

cbb said...

What it should come down to is trying to reduce the number of KWH (or BTU if you are using gas)/ per person.

In our old house with just a gas floor heater in the living room, there is no other way to heat our peripheral rooms except with electric space heaters. BUT we only heat one room at a time, and turn everything off at night. (We are in temperate San Jose so the house seldom drops below 55 between heating sessions)

So, I can justify 150 square feet of my house at 70 degrees for 2 people for 6 hours vs trying to get the whole house (1200 sf) to 60 deg 24/7. And, yes that is warm, but my husband is disabled and it is harder for him to take cold.

At work, I put on extra layers and my office is at 60. But I move around a lot so it's not bad.

Rosa said...

I was thinking about this yesterday: what I would really spend power on, if we had 100% green power, is air filtration. Because we don't have AC, and our heat is radiators, there's no filtration at all - we're breathing the exact same air as outside. And since we live in a (small) city we do get bad air warning days, plus right now we're getting everyone's wood smoke. I really worry about asthma and other particulate risks.

Also as we continue to insulate and fix up the windows, we are going to eventually have to have some sort of formal air exchange system (our new boiler does bring in fresh air and exhaust outside, instead of just relying on the leakiness of the house like the old one did - but at the cost of using electricity instead of just heat and gravity to run). So a filter to pull out soem of the particulates would be nice, but it will be a big electricity drain.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

I like it cold. I grew up in an old house (we often had squirels and birds in the house because the coupelo (sp?) was never put back on. We het with wood and (gasp) coal. The woodstove was red hot during the day (we still needed socks/slippers, long sleves and warm pants) but it went out at night. We slept under many blankets in warm jammies. My Dad was always first up (4am) and he would stuff and stoke the fire to get the house warm. We always played in the playroom (which ironically was where the wood stove was). So I am used to living in 60 degree winter weather (hey when its 20 below out 60 feels good). I actually sweat at work becuase its so warm and I sweat at night. I often joke I am always cold (and my feet are always ice) I am less cold in the winter when the temp is low, if we heat the house to 65 or greater I will sweat when the heat is on and be chilled all night.
So no even if I had a more energy efficient method (and I will this summer replace my 20 year old furnace) I would still participate in the challenge. $300 heating bill vs $600 heating bill..