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I just moved, in many ways to a better place. The move was a surprise to me, but I found a good new place, thanks to my social network. Now I'm in a place that's less treed, and farther out from the city, but closer to most of my work, and in many ways more suitable to walking/biking/carpooling. So hooray.

There is one thing that's bothering me - energy inefficiency/heat waste. My last place was a complex of 3-story buildings built in the late 40s/early 50s, with brick walls, radiators, and individual AC units. I live in the DC metro area, and work from home, so I do need a relatively hospitable environment. At my last place, I could for the most part get through winters without using the heat, and summers without turning on the AC. I'd dress warm in the winters, and go mostly naked in the summer, taking cold showers to cool down. I had windows on opposite sides, so I could set up a cross-draft for ventilation, and run the ceiling fans as needed.

My new place was built in the 70s, and it's far less energy efficient! It basically requires dependence on external heating/cooling systems. I only have windows on one side, so no cross-draft, the windows and patio doors are the original 70s single-pane energy wasters, and the foyer is open, so there's no energy buffer there. And what's making me crazy is that I haven't found a way to improve the situation yet.

The heating wasn't working the first few days after I moved in, which slowed me down quite a bit. I dressed in layers, but it's still kinda challenging. I don't mind camping and hiking in low temperatures, but it's harder to concentrate on work. The fact that it wasn't much warmer inside than out made it very clear that the windows weren't providing much insulation. It got better when the heat started working, except for the fact that I know I'm just pouring energy out as waste.

I'd only used the radiator a few times this winter at my last place, and often kept windows cracked open (without the heat on) for fresh air. Here, everything's shut, and the furnace kicks in every 20 minutes, to keep holding at 60F. Both places have utilities included (which is a complete disincentivizer for those who would be motivated by financial concerns to waste less energy), but my new place is a condo complex, which means that I'm renting from the owner of my apartment, but the condo complex covers the energy costs.

I could ask the owner to upgrade the windows and patio doors, but they won't see any actual value from that, aside from improving the resale value. I could ask the condo complex, but they have no way of measuring actual value in reduced energy costs by subsidizing improvements to my unit. I could pay for it myself but I get no value from that either.

What makes me crazy here is that we were building better buildings in the 50s, before air-conditioning became ubiquitous, and that even in a building built in the 70s, forty years of awareness of the importance of reducing energy consumption has not resulted in tangible improvements in this apartment. And I, a dedicated environmentalist, have no effective path to a solution, short of going down the "A Pail of Air" path.

I live in a basically progressive county, am connected with a very effective environmental community, and yet I don't have an effective way to address 40 year old windows. Welcome to the tragedy of the commons!

PS, I'm very aware that I'm living in luxury, when many others can't afford to pay for heating, and/or are living in actually challenging situations.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Google "insulated curtains". (5+ / 0-)

    This is just one of the links I found.

    There are lots of options out there, and I'm sure you can think of some I wouldn't.

    Strength and dignity are her clothing, she rejoices at the days to come; She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.

    by loggersbrat on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 03:38:49 PM PST

  •  We've Relocated to a Rustbelt Inner Suburb Where (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erratic, palantir, Tinfoil Hat

    on our street houses were mostly built in the 20's or into the 19th century. So while the original insulation was nearly nil, all the houses have some efficiency features like porches and overhangs, cross ventilation as you say, and more.

    This winter view shows a very common style of construction from back then.
    Image Hosted by

    Our house is newer but still only its bathroom lacks cross ventilation. It was however built without a porch, so we added one which has really helped out with summer overheating of our main living room.

    I also ran a new hvac duct under the basement ceiling to the far corner of the living room, and that has let us feel comfortable with about 2 degrees less heating or cooling than when one end of the room was more vulnerable to outdoor temperatures.

    In college I rented in an old stone apartment building where all the doors had functioning transoms so even though it was long enough ago that we didn't get air conditioning units, we did use fans at times. The building was very well designed so that the transoms enabled cross-hall ventilation and even drew cooler air up through the stair wells.

    You have to accustom yourself to considerable warmth in the summer months, but much of the time well ventilated houses or buildings can be very doable without A/C.

    Hey there's always the clear plastic sheet option for windows for winter time. Sometimes as a renter I would even hang some plastic sheet across a doorless entry of a room I didn't want to heat or cool as much as my main living area, while still being able to use the room and come in & out.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 03:42:58 PM PST

  •  yeah Fritz (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erratic, palantir

    I read A Pail of Air just last month.
    I know what you mean on efficiency. My building was converted into apartments about 15 years ago. Better insulation all around would be so nice. They could have saved the cost difference in the first winter. Yes it was that bad. hallways were set at 74 and the empty space below me was heated also. Now I wish they still heated that empty space so I wouldn't have floors 5 deg colder than head height.

  •  We built "better" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bronx59, erratic

    in the days when design directly impacted comfort and shelter needs.  With the invention of modern amenities like central air and heating, building because a race toward mass production, where design meant simply the easiest, cheapest and fastest way to put up a lot of housing.

    The design didn't have to do the work, the HUAV unit did it.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:00:24 PM PST

  •  Newer buildings meter tenant gas and electric (0+ / 0-)

    while poorly insulating the structure so it's impossible
    to do much in energy savings. If you go from single to
    new double pane windows you can cut your heating/cooling costs by ~20% but the price of new windows is terrible. The easiest way is to add thermal storm windows.
    A cheaper way to save 20% heating energy is to buy woolen long underwear and turn down the thermostat 10 degrees for 16 hours per day.
    In the summer raise the thermostat from 72 to 82 degrees and turn on low watt circulating room fans to cut your AC bill by 20%.
    What I also do is to buy certified green (wind) electricity from my deregulated utility which is currently pretty cheap 6 cents per kwh.

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