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I've been on a roll in my energy saving regime (in response to global warming) and wanted to be able to brag at the end of this long, hot summer, hey, I haven't used my air conditioner at all this year (trying not to be too haughty to all you wimpy energy wastrels out there.)

But after the third day here in Illinois of over 100 degree temps and high humidity, and after a night where it stayed in the 80s and I couldn't cool the house down, I learned an important lesson: while in the winter you can keep piling on the clothes to keep warm (and save energy), in the summer you can only take off so many clothes to keep cool, and then you reach the end.

(Yes, it was climate change that turned me into a nudist, I swear--good thing the curtains are shut to keep out the sun)

Winter was a breeze

Last winter, I was so proud of myself (and cocky) for keeping my heating bill so low. True it was a warm winter and natural gas prices were low, but even in January, when we had two major snow storms and some really cold weather, I clocked in at under $90 for a 4200 square foot house (and that even included heating the water.) This is my lowest January heating bill in my entire life--even lower than when I lived in L.A. (Where insulation and thermo pane windows are considered quaint, even exotic--at least by my then landlord.)

How I managed it; what I've learned

The most important thing I've learned is that basements, even partial ones, are your best friend if you're trying to conserve enery. (And that every home from here on out should be built with one.)

I live along a river on a sloping lot and my house is split level, built into the slope. So my lower level is not even a full basement, it's just half-submerged on one end and opens out to patios and the river on the other. Lots of windows, lots of light.

Yet how temperate it is. It has a separate furnace which I can proudly say I haven't used in years. (Even on the coldest night this winter, it never got below 58 degrees.)

And in the summer it's at least 15 degrees cooler than the outside temp. Which is why that is where I have basically been living these past few weeks. Fortunately, it is totally fixed up. It has a bathroom, even a small kitchen, and I've put my home office down there and a spare bedroom.

(In the olden days, before the advent of air conditioning, they built houses with sleeping porches--I have a sleeping cellar, something I highly recommend to those concerned with saving energy.)

So, all winter long I kept my upper level thermostat no higher than 62 degrees during the times I was home, and down to 50 degrees at night or when I was out.

(Hoodies and long johns are your friends, another important lesson I've learned in my quest to save energy, and that the new long johns--or base pants as they're marketed to men--made of wicking polyester are so much more comfortable than the cotton ones.)

That Was Then, This Is Now

So I've been camped out in my lower level lately, but not even it can withstand three days of 100 plus temps and still be habitable (not even when I'm nude) so I've cried "Uncle" and turned on the air conditioner which flicks on and off and is keeping things at a nice dry 76 degrees and keeping me from fainting. (If it gets below 80 tonight I promise to turn it off.)

I think we can learn a lot from houses they designed before the advent of air conditioning, houses that were designed to keep cool without it, and perhaps we need to re-examine some of the things we've come to love.

High ceilings, open designs, lots of windows--all things that make it harder to heat and cool--maybe these things need to go the way of behemoth, gas guzzling SUVs, however much we love them. Maybe we need to start living the way our ancestors did, at least a little.

And here, I admit, I'm way guilty, we need to learn to live in smaller houses.

And we need to rediscover the advantages of basements and sleeping porches.

But at this moment, the air's running, it's dry and cool and I'm living large. Yes, I admit it, I wimped out.

Originally posted to Williston Barrett on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 07:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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