Some time ago, John Michael Greer was writing a series of blog posts about a movement he termed "Green Wizardry." The point of the series of posts was to illustrate the fact that with some very simple life-style changes the average person could drastically lower personal (and, subsequently, cultural) dependence on money and "cheap" non-renewable energy.
A lot of the things he suggested, my family is already doing, and of the things we hadn't yet considered, all were wholly practical ... and almost, invariably very simple (smack-your-forehead-DUH! simple in most cases) and low cost.
One of my favorite posts was about insulation, more specifically, about windows.
When we talk about insulation, the usual term is "r-value", and what that means, basically, is how much the air temperature is changed inside of a structure. The higher the r-value, the lower the rate of exchange. That is, if it's cold outside, your house will stay warmer with less heat produced if you have a higher r-value.
Since most heat is lost through the roof and through the floor, the best suggestion is to make sure the insulation in the ceilings and sub-floors is adequate, and really, if efficiency is our main concern, insulating those areas should be step number one.
Of course, in our typically Western fashion, too often when people are looking to make their homes more efficient, the first proprioty is often with changing doors and windows.
In his post on insulation, John Michael Greer points out that windows have an r-value of 0 (zero) - regardless of the number of panes and whether or not they have gas between the layers. Of course, windows aren't measured in "r-value." They are measured in "u-value", and people who sell windows will insist that a triple pane, argon-filled window manufactured by their supplier of choise are the absolute best windows ever made, and changing to those windows will save billions of dollars in energy costs over the lifetime of the house.
What they won't tell you, but they will express to each other in an online forum dedicated to building contractors is: Quite honestly it's just another extension of the tricks and gimicks [sic] that the window market is known for.
In short, if it's cold outside, no matter how "efficient" the windows are, there will be a huge heat loss through the windows *period.*
The other day, Deus Ex Machina and I discovered, quite by accident a very simple and relatively cheap way to insulate a window. Our office has a northeasterly facing window. It's a double window - the largest in the house (and yes, the fact that our largest window is on the north side of the house annoys me a bit, but does't surprise me given the wanton wastefulness and failure to plan for efficiency that's marked so much of our "American" lifestyles). When we first moved in, we installed a mini-blind, but it's a rather wide window opening, and the blinds that fit are too heavy and too cumbersome for that sized opening. We've also used two smaller blinds, but that leaves a gap in the middle of the window.
In the end, the mini-blinds didn't work for an entirely different reason that had to do with a four-legged house companion who wanted to go with us when we were walking to the library, but they have a no-dogs-allowed policy and so she had to stay home. She expressed her feelings about that plan by eating the blinds.
Over the years, we've had all sorts of coverings on that window - none of which I've been completely enamored of. Factor in that the arrangement of our furniture is often fluid, and sometimes furniture is placed in front of the window. Right now, there's a couch sitting in front of that window, which makes opening the curtains is a little awkward. And so, there's no covering over the window ... mostly.
Like most folks, the two throw pillows we actually purchased when we bought our house multiplied, and now we have 12 square feet of pillows (if we laid them all flat on the floor side-by-side. At one point, over the holidays, I was trying to straighten things up, and I put a row of throw pillows on the window sill between the couch back and the window.
The couch back is slightly taller than the bottom of the sill, which means that a good quarter of the window is blocked anyway. Putting the pillows there, blocked most of the bottom half of the window. I knew when I put them there, that they would add some insulative value to window, and perhaps, keep the room slightly warmer, but I was completely unprepared to realize how truly insulative something as simple as a few throw pillows can be.
The other day, I decided I wanted one of those pillows. I went to grab it from behind the couch, but found that it was frozen to the window.
Which got me thinking. In the lower-one's-impact circles, we have a lot of great ideas for ways to keep our homes comfortable with less energy, and of course, the topic of window coverings always comes up. Window quilts or blankets are always a great suggestion. To that, I would like to add "window pillows" :).
I don't know if my office is any warmer, but I haven't taken anything away from my comfort or enjoyment by having the pillows there, and I can still see out of the top half of the window. Seems to me, that shoving some pillows in the window frame at night would be a quick and easy way to add some r-value to a opening where there is none.
It's quick, it's simple, and it can be pretty cheap.
Of course, that's true of most of the lower-one's-impact solutions. The challenge is to get people to realize that simplifying our lives doesn't mean spending money on a lot of very complicated solutions, but really can be something as simple as a couple of throw pillows.