Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 9, 2004
Arm yourself for winter's war
Monitor that thermostat and bundle up
By SUZANNE ELSTON
There is a great anomaly in our collective Canadian psyche. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of pacifists, but when it comes to winter, we belligerently declare war.
Defiant guerillas, we face down icy storms in scanty attire, daring old man winter to do his best. Students walk to school in double-digit below temperatures, sans gloves, sans hats, oblivious to the fact that their behaviour is likely to leave them sans ears and fingertips, too. Snow tires are for woosies, block heaters are for Albertans and long underwear is for grandpa. Or at least for weird Uncle Albert who likes to go ice fishing.
Apparently, the vagaries of the Canadian climate, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, have thinned our blood and our ability to make rational decisions. Given the consistent deep freeze that our country has been locked in for the last few weeks, maybe it's time to take a page from military strategists whose best advice is to "know thine enemy."
Lesson One in winter survival: Wind chill doesn't actually make the temperature any colder. What it does do is measure how fast heat is removed from our bodies. The faster the heat is sucked out, the faster we become human Popsicles. For example, when the temperature drops to minus 12C a moderate wind of 32 km/hour creates a wind chill of minus 32C - a temperature where exposed flesh can freeze within one minute.
Drop the temperature down to where it's been sitting several mornings recently, say minus 29C, throw in a wind of 40 km/hour and flesh is flash frozen in 30 seconds or less. Ouch.
Which leads, of course, to Lesson Two: wear a coat, preferably one that does up, along with a proper hat, gloves and/or mitts and a scarf to cover anything else that's going to be exposed for more than a minute or two.
Lesson Three: if you're properly attired, you won't need to use your car as a personal warm-up device. Allowing your car to idle for long periods of time certainly isn't good for the environment, or your car 's engine. Surprisingly, most car engines require only 30 seconds to warm-up. (When in doubt, refer to your owner's manual.) Unnecessary idling costs money, honey, not only in wasted fuel, but also in wear and tear on your car's engine.
Lesson Four: Reducing energy consumption during the cold winter months doesn't mean freezing in the dark. For longer than I can remember, my husband Brian and I have whispered the same sweet question to each other as we snuggle into bed each night: "Did you turn down the temperature?" Thanks to our new programmable thermostat, our pillow talk can turn to much more interesting things.
According to the packaging, using a programmable thermostat can save up to 33 per cent in year round heating and cooling costs. You can buy one just about anywhere that has a hardware department for around $50 (Brian picked ours up on sale at Canadian Tire). Although the instructions say, "easy to install," I would recommend having at least a working knowledge of screwdrivers before attempting the job.
Once installed, you can customize household temperatures to maximize on energy savings while avoiding cold floors in the morning and midnight jaunts to turn the temperature down at the end of the day. The unit is capable of multiple programs, which lets you input weekday, weekend and holiday schedules.
Our thermostat even has a nifty little signal that will tell us when to change our furnace filter, which leads to Lesson Five: To keep your furnace running at peak efficiency, clean or replace filters at least once a month during the heating season.
Recommended websites:Accuweather has a great chart that calculates wind chill. (The downside, the chart is in Fahrenheit degrees, but it definitely will give you the right idea) www.accuweather.com/iwxpage/paws/windchill.htm.
For more on the evils of idling, or for information about programmable thermostats and other practical ideas about how to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, visit Natural Resources Canada website at oee.nrcan.gc.ca.
The Sierra Club Prairie Chapter launched its Reduce Vehicle Idling for Clean Air campaign last fall. Based in Edmonton, the campaign uses local VIPs (Volunteer Idling Patrols) to help educate the public about idling dos and don'ts.
For more information, visit the campaign website at http://prairie.sierraclub.ca/idling/index.htm.
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