I wondered this because, for the first time in 31 years, I’m living in a home in which I control the thermostat. Because I’ve either been living in a van or someone else’s home, I never had to deal with the responsibility of paying for utilities or the guilt of relying on fossil fuels, which are, in my current situation, natural gas and coal-powered electricity.
Since July, I’ve been living in a vacant home on a friend’s property in Nebraska. The house is quite large (three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a massive living room), and because it isn’t the most energy-efficient house, keeping the temperature at a toasty 70˚F (21˚C), especially for just one person, is unthinkable. Not only would that cost a ton of money, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of wastefully using fossil fuels when I thought a simple hat and sweater might suffice.
I’ve often wondered: If we all set our thermostats to our own “comfortable low,” how many West Virginian mountains could we save, how many fewer communities would we frack, how much less greenhouse gas would we emit?
That’s tough to calculate, but we do know that we use a lot of (arguably unneeded) energy. In the U.S. and Great Britain, the average bedroom and living room temperatures are set between 65˚F and 70˚F (18-21˚C). When you think of the size of U.S. homes in particular, the amount of energy it must take to maintain that level of warmth throughout a house is flabbergasting. All in all, residential thermostats, a UC Davis study reports, are responsible for an astounding 9 percent of all energy consumption in the U.S.
Winter finally hit a little over a week ago, bringing with it temperatures as low as 6˚F (-14˚C). My house’s minimum temperature had been pre-set to 55˚F (13˚C), so I just let it remain that way for a couple of days, figuring I should acclimate to this manageable temperature before I begin testing cooler temps.
Before I share the results of my experiment, I should elaborate on what I mean by my “comfortable low” temperature. I would consider this low temperature “comfortable” so long as the temperature does not negatively affect my health or productivity.
I know from experience how temperature can affect productivity. In a North Carolina summer, on a 90˚F (32˚C) and unbearably muggy afternoon, I found that my mind would slow down and all I wanted to do was take a naked nap atop my sheets. It seriously affected productivity, and, before long, I'd be hankering for a cool gust of air conditioning.
On the other hand, I know from living in a van and my tent that it’s extremely uncomfortable to type or do anything with my hands when it's, say, 10˚F (-12˚C) inside. So what's an acceptable indoor low that won't cause any reduction in productivity?
When it was 55˚F (13˚C), I put on more warm clothes than I'd usually wear indoors: a tee shirt, sweat shirt, sweat pants, and a light coat. For the most part, I was reasonably comfortable when I was lying in bed under the covers or when I was up and moving: cooking, cleaning, exercising. It was only when I was at my computer typing (and I'm on my computer a lot) when it became uncomfortable, especially when my hands were more than half numb.
I did the obvious thing and put on more clothes, and in due time I was ready to lower the house's temperature even more.
The lowest the thermostat would go was 45˚F (7˚C), which I figured was a good low to stop at because I had to ensure that none of the pipes in the house would freeze.
The first day at 45˚F (7˚C) was fairly unpleasant. My fingers were frozen and they were moving slower than usual, so much that it was affecting my ability to type. My feet were constantly cold, too. For pretty much twenty-four hours straight, my hands and feet were cold to the touch.
I decided it was time to go all-in on my winter wear, so I dug through my bags and pulled out and put on two pairs of underwear, a pair of wool socks, and then a set of thermal underwear.
After that, I put on a pair of sweats, though sometimes I wear a thin pair of pants and a long-sleeve tee beneath my sweats.
Then I put on my light red coat and then a heavy poofy purple coat.
Here I am in my house-wear.
Don't forget your hat!
And your second hat!
Still, when you're living in 45˚F (7˚C) for twenty-four hours a day, for days on end, and you're doing a lot of sitting, the cold will eventually set in, no matter how many articles of clothes you're wearing.
Again, I was having trouble typing because of my frozen hands (even though the rest of me was comfortable), so I pulled out my -20˚F (-29˚C) rated down sleeping bag, and decided to wear it whenever I was sitting.
I stuck a thermometer in the sleeping bag and when I pulled it out, it read 85˚F (29˚C). I noticed that neither my feet nor my hands were cold anymore, and I was so warm I had to fling off both of my hats. I've been living like this for over a week, and I've grown comfortable enough with the cold and my adaptations that I don't think I'll feel compelled to put an end to my experiment.
|Picture taken just after I pulled thermometer out of my sleeping bag.|
While one person experiencing just ten days of a colder-than-normal house is a pretty small experiment, and one from which I ought not draw strong conclusions, I can't help but believe that, if times got hard, or if a hefty carbon tax was instituted, most Americans (let's not include the old and sick) are more than capable of lowering their thermostat by 20˚F (11˚C) without doing any serious harm to their health and efficiency.
There's no great secret to keeping warm. The more clothes, the better. But I think that there is a subtle art to it. A few things to keep in mind:
1. Our extremities (fingers and toes) get cold not just because of exposure, but because our "core" is stealing that heat (forgive my non-technical terms). The body's number one priority is to keep the core warm, so keep the core extra warm and our extremities will have a better chance of staying warm, too.
2. There are a lot of factors that contribute to hypothermia, and one of them is food and water consumption. A well-fed and well-hydrated person will fend off the cold much more easily than someone who's not.
3. As I understand it, we don't get colds because of exposure to cold weather. We get colds because the cold weakens our immune system, making us more susceptible to succumbing to viruses spread by human contact. Luckily my hermit lifestyle severely limits my exposure to unpleasant illnesses.
While I'm at it, here's a quick tour of my new home:
|Living room, which I don't keep heated. Notice walls are carpeted, and there's a couch hanging from the ceiling.|
|Carpeted doors and walls.|
|The man who built this house was a senior league racquetball superstar.|
|Kitchen. There are three thermostats in the house. One that covers the kitchen, which is set at the minimal temp of 50. The living room thermostat is turned off and therefore unheated. My room and bathroom is set for 45.|
|Kitchen booth. View of corn field, harvested a few weeks back.|
|Yellow Pad story board for my book.|
|Boning up on travel literature and all things Great Plains.|
|I live next to a corn field, a soybean field, and a cattle feedlot.|
|Here we are herding them from the field to the lot a couple of weeks back.|
|Pool in backyard.|
|My backyard, a harvested soybean field.|
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Themes - Activism
Born in Medicine Hat, Alberta on November 10, 1921
Died in Toronto, Ontario on March 2, 2007
Journalist, women's rights activist
Born in 1921 and christened Hilda Doris Buck, Doris Anderson was the illegitimate child of Rebecca Laycock Buck and Thomas McCubbin. She remembers her early years as happy ones, growing up in the Calgary boarding house which her mother ran independently to support the family. Her father entered their lives and married her mother just before Doris's eighth birthday. A difficult and domineering man, he had a strong influence over her mother regarding Doris's upbringing, leaving Doris confused and unhappy; she was chastised for being too forward and unladylike. As an adolescent, Doris found it increasingly difficult to accept her mother's vision of a traditional life based on marriage and children and looked to women such as her unmarried teachers as role models for an independent life.
Doris graduated from teachers' college in 1940 and earned enough money teaching in rural communities in Alberta to put herself through university. In 1945, she graduated from the University of Alberta and travelled to Toronto to pursue a career in journalism. She held a variety of jobs including copyeditor for the Star Weekly, researcher and writer for radio host Claire Wallace, and copywriter in the advertising department at Eaton's. Realizing that opportunities for women in journalism were severely limited, Doris decided in 1949 to travel to Europe to try her hand at fiction writing. Although able to sell short stories to Maclean's and Chatelaine magazines, she discovered that she did not want to earn a living writing fiction. She did, however, write three novels in later years.
Doris Anderson returned to Canada in 1950 and, in 1951, began her long association with Chatelaine when she was hired as an advertising promotion person. Through hard work and determination, Doris advanced to the positions of associate and managing editor. She finally became editor in 1957, a post which she held until 1977. At the time of her marriage to lawyer David Anderson in 1957, she notes in her autobiography, Rebel Daughter, "that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same". She continued to work after her marriage and the births of her sons, Peter, Stephen and Mitchell.
As editor of Chatelaine, Doris Anderson was determined to give her readers "something serious to think about, something to shake them up". She included articles on the legalization of abortion, battered babies, the outdatedness of Canada's divorce laws and female sexuality as well as informative, practical pieces for working women. An editorial supported the push for a royal commission on the status of women and other articles examined social issues such as racism and the plight of Canada's Native peoples. Some readers felt that she was turning "a nice wholesome Canadian magazine into a feminist rag" (Rebel Daughter, p. 151), however, circulation, which was 480 000 when Doris became editor, increased to 1.8 million by the late 1960s. The content of Chatelaine, during that period, placed it in the vanguard of second-wave feminism in North America.
After losing a by-election for a seat in the House of Commons in 1978, Doris Anderson accepted a Liberal government appointment as chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW) in 1979. Her term coincided with the campaign for inclusion of women's rights in the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In February 1981, government interference resulted in the cancellation of the CACSW National Conference on Women and the Constitution. Doris Anderson resigned as chair, an act which became the catalyst for an intensive lobbying campaign and an ad-hoc conference attended by some 1 300 women in Ottawa. In April 1981, Article 28, which stated that "Not withstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons", was added to the Charter.
Doris Anderson has continued to have a full and productive career throughout the 1980s and 90s. From 1982 to 1984, she was president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. She was a columnist for the Toronto Star from 1982 to 1992, chancellor of the University of Prince Edward Island from 1992 to 1996 and chair of the Ontario Press Council in 1998. Among the many awards and honours she has received are: LL.D. (Hon.) University of Alberta, 1973; Officer, Order of Canada, 1975; YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, 1982; Persons' Award, 1991; LL.D. (Hon.) University of Waterloo, 1992; LL.D. (Hon.) Simon Fraser University, 1997.
In examining the life of Doris Anderson, Canadian women can only be glad that she is indeed a "rebel daughter" who has worked tirelessly for the advancement of all women.
Anderson, Doris. � Affairs of state. � Toronto : Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1988. � 248 p.
Anderson, Doris. � Rebel daughter : an autobiography. � Toronto : Key Porter Books, c1996. � 288 p.
Anderson, Doris. � Two women. � Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, c1978. � 243 p.
Anderson, Doris. � The unfinished revolution : the status of women in twelve countries. � Toronto : Doubleday Canada Ltd., c1991. � 311 p.
Korinek, Valerie Joyce. � Roughing it in suburbia [microform] : reading Chatelaine magazine, 1950-1969. � Ottawa : National Library of Canada, . � 6 microfiches. � (Canadian theses on microfiche ; no. 27792). � Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1996.
Korinek, Valerie J. - Roughing it in the suburbs : reading Chatelaine magazine in the fifties and sixties. - Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c2000. - 460p.
Martin, Sandra. "Doris Anderson, Journalist and Political Activist 1921-2007." Globe and Mail. (March 3, 2007), p. S9.
Rawlinson, H. Graham ; Granatstein, J.L. "Doris Anderson". � The Canadian 100 : the 100 most influential Canadians of the twentieth century. � Toronto : Little, Brown and Company (Canada), c1997. � P. 72-75
Rex, Kathleen. � "Can Doris Anderson shake up Ottawa". � Globe and mail. � (April 12, 1979) � P. 15