Discussions of home energy savings usually focus on using less energy to heat and cool a house, in order to achieve a lower utility bill. We like that, too, but we also like to think about how many days each year we can be independent of energy use in our home and office. We ask ourselves, “How many days each year do we have our heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system turned off?”

To concentrate on what we can do to increase the number of days without any HVAC, we use two steps:

1. We increase our range of temperature tolerance

2. We push ourselves to keep the HVAC system turned off

When you insist on having the temperature in your building at 72°F year-round in Northern Ohio, you have to use supplemental energy for HVAC most days of the year.

Most folks with whom we talk have begun to live with 65°F in the winter and 75-80°F in the summer. This increased range of tolerance greatly decreases the need for running an HVAC system during April, May, September and October of most years in our area.

Once you have expanded your temperature tolerance, you can increase your number of days of HVAC independence by increasing your use of passive or natural methods to regulate temperatures.

Use your curtains

Often we are all told that we need to get “replacement windows” in order to save energy. Of course, this message mostly comes from replacement window salespeople. In fact, purchasing or making insulated curtains can provide much more benefit, and can cost MUCH less. A triple pane window will afford an R-factor of 2.8, while an insulated shade can provide R-4.0.

The temperature on a bright September afternoon on the sill of our single pane window was 100°F. When we dropped our home-made insulated shade, the sill temperature came down to 78°F.

So drop your insulated shades to block out the heat in the summer, and raise them to let in the daytime sun in the winter. Drop them during winter nights.

As a guide to making these shades, we like “The Shade Book” by Judy Lindahl (ISBN 0-9603032-2-7). It provides step-by-step instructions. If you don’t want to take the challenge, show the book to a local sewing person. We are confident that they can easily make the shades.

Open your windows

Before the widespread use of air conditioning, many buildings, and the people in them, survived the summer months by just opening the windows.

You can open your windows and create cross ventilation for your room. You may need some nice paper weights if you open a window beside your office desk.

If you have no screens, you don’t need to buy a fancy, ugly window-screen system. You can buy adjustable window screen inserts online for about $100 a dozen. (We have found them for much less at a local WalMart).

Wear different clothes

Most of us have become so used to even temperatures in all buildings that we tend to wear the same general type of clothing year-round. During a visit to torrid Phoenix, we were surprised to see that the clothing being sold was no lighter than what was being sold in Ohio. It may seem simple-minded for us to have to say this here, but it is not reasonable to wear a dark 3-piece suit in the summer. It is not reasonable to wear a T-shirt and shorts in mid-winter. To make yourself more comfortable in the summer, find lighter weight shirts and lighter sport coats. Natural fibers, like silk, are often better for cooling. In the winter in our area, find some nice wool sweaters to wear, layered with your usual clothes. Look for heavier weight trousers.

Use natural light

Re-arrange your rooms to put desks and reading areas closer to windows so that you can use natural light, not artificial light, during the days. Resist the urge to just flip on the light switch. Often it is easier to read your computer when the lights are off.

Dry your clothes outside

Drying clothes outside not only saves energy, but also provides a wonderful natural fresh scent for your fabrics. Try it! Be aware that local ordinances or condo rules may oppose this idea. We think that this opposition was probably based on the idea that hanging laundry out was once a sign of poverty (“Can’t you afford a dryer, dear?”) You’ll just need to convince your neighbors that outdoor laundry drying is a “green building” practice. Maybe you can change your condo rules to require everyone to hang out their laundry!

How many days can you be independent of energy?

Our goal for this year is to have 130 days that we are independent of energy for cooling or heating our buildings. What's your goal?

Author's Bio: 

Ruth Haag (www.ManageLiving.com) is the President and CEO of Haag Environmental Company, a hazardous waste consulting firm. Ruth is also a business management consultant. She trains supervisors to identify their shortcomings and tame them, while creating management systems that focus on their employees rather than themselves.She is also the author of several books, including a four-book series on supervisory management which includes Taming Your Inner Supervisor, Day to Day Supervising, Hiring and Firing and Why Projects Fail. She and her partner, Bob Haag, host the weekly radio show Manage Living, which can be heard on-demand on her site.