How to Be Sustainable While Keeping Warm in Subzero Temps

As the winter season reaches its peak and temperatures drop below zero, the results of climate change become ever more prevalent. With extreme heat comes extreme cold, both of which often cause people to waste energy, worsening the crisis. This year, several temperature records in America, both high and low, have been broken, causing families to huddle in their homes with the thermostat turned up. Despite the extreme temperatures, there are several methods to stay warm while the world freezes around you.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is one of the most sustainable ways to heat a home. (Keystone Waterwell Drilling)

There are many ways to power the heating in your home, including propane, natural gas, solar, geothermal, and oil. Some of these methods are more sustainable than others. Oil, a once-popular heating source, is not as prevalent any more, as prices have risen and its environmentally-harmful properties have been realized; only about 8% of U.S. homes use it today. In terms of price, natural gas is the cheapest. Despite being a fossil fuel, Natural gas produces 50 to 60 percent less carbon emissions than oil or coal, which makes it more sustainable in the short term. Long term reliance on natural gas is controversial because extraction methods cause damage to surrounding ecosystems and water quality.

Natural gas is also not renewable, so many environmentalists recommend methods like geothermal or solar powered heating. A geothermal heat pump is a far more friendly system, albeit expensive; it works by using the earth’s natural heat to warm and cool buildings. In the long run, the sustainability and renewability of geothermal has economic benefits, paying off the cost of installation with savings in energy costs. Solar power also has benefits but is more expensive up front, and in northern states has limited efficacy during spring, fall, and winter months. Lake Placid relies mainly on hydroelectric power, another sustainable option, but this is limited to the geography of a region and as such is not available for everyone.

Once you have a heating source, it’s important to make sure it’s effective. Buildings with poor insulation, especially in roofing, allow heat to escape quickly, causing more energy to be wasted. Proper insulation can improve the effectiveness of a heating system and save energy and money, as well as prevent temperature fluctuations. Insulation, while expensive, will quickly pay for itself in savings. Some easier and more affordable options are fiberglass and plastic/natural fibers, which serve to cover unfinished walls, ceilings, and underneath floors to prevent heat from escaping out those ways. They are also relatively easy to install and can often be done without professional help. Some more expensive options are foams such as polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, and polyurethane, which work in a similar way but also serve to plug any cracks in unfinished places, are more space efficient, and can be installed in roofs. These do require professional installation and have fire safety requirements, but ultimately are a more effective tool.

There are also some measures people can take that simply follow common sense. For example, leaving doors and windows open to the outside is a waste of heating energy, causing more power to be used and thus more money and fuel to be burned. Instead of opening the window to cool off a room, simply turn down the thermostat and wait for the temperature to naturally decline. More subtle habits include closing the curtains over windows. This serves to keep the cold glass from affecting the air temperature of the room. It’s small, but over the entire winter, it makes a difference. If a home is properly insulated and a quick-heating method like a geothermal pump is in play, turning off the heating while out of the house for extended times and then back on upon return saves some energy, though if used too frequently can be more detrimental.

There are plenty of these small steps people can take to improve their sustainability: invest in blankets and sweaters so you can keep your rooms cooler, don’t continuously change the thermostat, keep the boiling-hot showers to a minimum. It’s up to you whether you choose to do so or not.

If you would like to learn more about home heating systems or insulation, here are two very helpful websites:

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