Staying warm

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 29, 2008

As we hurtle (rather unceremoniously, if you ask me) toward winter, many Portlanders are considering ways to stay warm without breaking the bank during the colder months. The cost of heating oil might have gone down from its mid-summer peak, but it still sure ain’t cheap. This isn’t as much a problem for me, as I live in a larger, fairly well-insulated apartment building where heat is included in my rent. However, my dedication to the common good ensures that I don’t get lazy or inefficient. As such, I’ve got winterization on my mind, and with good reason.

According to the US Department of Energy, the average household in Portland spends $2090 on energy costs (mostly heating and small appliances) each year — but in an energy-efficient home, that number could drop by almost a grand to $1175. Most of that savings would come from cutting heating costs, which can be achieved in several ways.

Many friends and acquaintances are planning to put plastic shrink film over the windows in their rental apartments — a good call, because drafty windows can account for up to 30 percent of heating bills. Hardware stores sell basic window-insulation kits for about $10; aside from the fact that plastic-wrapped windows must stay closed all season, this is a quick and easy step toward energy conservation. To go even further, apply rope caulking and adhesive foam strips around window edges and doors (only one handyman-difficulty level up). DIYNetwork.com has several great tutorials on weathersealing windows and doors; see if your landlord will pay for these expenses, if you volunteer the labor.

The homeowners among us have more choices in terms of weatherization. Quality insulation is the most obvious, and cost-effective option — the Energy Department estimates that close to 45 percent of a home’s energy loss is through the attic alone; according to Popular Mechanics, most insulation fixes, big or small, will pay for themselves within two and half years, tops. One friend, who lives on Munjoy Hill, got insulation piped into his walls in October and expects his energy bill will drop close to 40 percent this winter. The best part is, it’s easy these days to find “green” insulation materials. Maine Green Building Supply (mainegreenbuilding.com) on Fox Street stocks several types of sustainable insulation products, including natural recycled cotton, Low-E reflective insulation, and non-toxic insulation foam.

Doing these winterization projects allow anyone to kick their thermostat down a few degrees. Other keep-warm endeavors include buying a humidifier (moist air feels warmer than dry air), leaving blinds and curtains open during the day to allow the sun to warm your place, and if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, making sure that it’s tightly sealed when not in use (so warm air isn’t escaping out the chimney). If you have rooms that aren’t in use, don’t waste energy to heat them: close the doors to keep heat concentrated in the rooms where you are. To that end, Treehugger.com says it’s more efficient to use space heaters than to heat an entire home. They identify five great models on their Web site, such as the $100 Pelonis Four Disc Furnace, which combines space-heating with another heat-conservation idea: a fan to help spread warmth around a room evenly. (Renter’s bonus: you can take humidifiers and space heaters with you when you move!)

Of course, some of the best ways to keep warm are to cuddle up, throw a party, or put on a sweater. Drink mulled cider or wear mittens all the time. Gosh, winter is cozy.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

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