Home Ecology - a new newsletter

How to make your world a better place

One of my dreams, back in the 1990s, was to create a database that would let people plug in information about their circumstances and get recommendations that made sense for them. I plan to look for funding for that project, which is really essential now. People who can afford a Tesla are a tiny minority.

In the meantime, though, I’m going to offer tips connected with major events we’re reading about in the news.

This time: staying cool during a heat wave without adding to the problem of carbon emissions.

  • I used to tell people not to use air-conditioning, but given the extremes we’re seeing now it’s hardly feasible to avoid using a/c in some places. But turn up the temperature control as high as you can. (Compare it to your winter heating setting - you should expect to have a warmer home in summer than in winter, right? But I’ve often been colder in US buildings in the summer than in wintertime.) Human bodies are adaptable and we can get used to living in rooms that are warmer or cooler, within reasonable limits. Temperature changes are actually good for our immune systems.

  • Don’t cool rooms you’re not using, and - this is often the single most important thing for both heating and cooling - seal the leaks, clear the vents, and generally make sure your a/c system is working at maximum efficiency. I’ve heard an estimate that we could reduce energy use by 15% just by doing this basic housekeeping.

  • Be flexible. Move downstairs, or to a cooler spot outside, and make sure that when things do cool down that you open the windows and let in cool air.

  • Install ceiling fans. They are inexpensive to buy and run and amazingly effective.

  • Consider a whole-house fan, which can be equally effective in a different way. In places like the Berkshires where it almost always cools down at night, even during a heatwave, the attic fan pulls cool night air through the house. In the morning I gradually close doors and windows and pull the curtains.

These are simple options, and I welcome further suggestions (and questions.) In the longer term we will have to think about where we build and how we build. I’m especially interested in vernacular architecture: solutions that communities and designers have come up with over the centuries to live more comfortably, but using far fewer resources than we do.