Dressed Not to Chill

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guy in parkaarticleDon’t just insulate your house –insulate yourself

Every year, nearly five tonnes of climate-wrecking CO2 flies out of the chimney of the average Manitoba home. Most of that carbon goes to keeping us warm.

That’s a lot of tonnes. The average Manitoban’s personal carbon footprint is just seven.

But while most people are sold on weatherizing their homes, few really weatherize themselves.

Folks spend thousands of dollars on triple-pane low-e insulating windows, but few realize they can spend a hundred bucks on a couple choice items of clothing and turn their thermostat down 5 or 6 degrees without so much as a shiver. Spend a little more, and you can be comfy with the thermostat as low as 12 or 13.

Like most penny-pinching Manitobans, I’ve always dressed warm to keep the thermostat down in the winter. But recently, my growing alarm about climate change has led me to do more and more to use my furnace less and less.

Three years ago, I had a breakthrough. That Christmas, Santa gave me a couple very snug t-shirts – a novelty for an ample-bosomed man such as myself.Stretching one t-shirt on in the chill of my bedroom, I had an epiphany: a tight t-shirt is really warm.

Yes, it was an insight worthy of an Einstein or a Hawking.

As a loose t-shirt man, I had never appreciated that half the battle – at least – is to trap a layer of your body heat right next to your skin and keep it there. A tight, well-tucked in t-shirt does that. A loose one is a great way to stay cool in the summer.

You may be wondering: “where did this guy get his Ph.D. in Obvious?” But as Einstein said: “Knowing the obvious, doesn’t necessarilly mean dressing accordingly.” (Or was it Gandhi?)

Now even if the difference between wearing a loose t-shirt and a tight one is just one degree Fahrenheit on the thermostat, it would shave 5 percent off our heating bills and carbon emissions, according to research by the United States Department of Energy. If every Canadian did that (assume for a moment that every Canadian is like me), national energy data suggest we could avoid about 4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. That’s the equivalent of cancelling the personal carbon footprints of 570,000 Manitobans or the yearly military aircraft flights of Peter Mackay.

The tight t-shirt was my gateway drug to thermal enlightenment.

Suddenly, other obvious apparel insights came to mind – the comfort of fleece, the warmth of long underwear, the wisdom of layers.

A pivotal discovery was that the cotton-based long-johns of my childhood are a loose t-shirt compared to the high-performance, thermal long-johns and uppers of recent vintage.

Specifically, I discovered microfleece – a feltlike synthetic that seals in body heat like a glove. In the morning, with my thermostat still at 12 or 13, I could pad around in my microfleece body suit (including thermal socks) before donning the extra layers I needed to sit comfortably at my desk for hours and not alarm visitors.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers and other thermal experts use a measure called the clo. Every clothing (get it?) item has a clo value, based on laboratory studies.

For instance, an average t-shirt has a clo of about 0.1; heavy pants about 0.3; and a parka, 0.7. As it turns out, the difference between you in your birthday suit (clo = 0) and you in a business suit is roughly 1 clo. One clo also equals the typical winter indoor garb of people who keep the thermostat around 21. Thus, your basic wardrobe plus a long-sleeved shirt or blouse and a sweater weatherizes your body to the tune of 1 clo.

But for about $100 you can buy yourself a set of medium to heavyweight high-performance thermal underwear (long-sleeve tops and bottoms) and easily add another clo or more to the weatherstripping on your body.

Standard issue cotton and cotton blends have a modest clo of about 0.2 to 0.3 each (estimates vary). But high performance netherlayers have two or more times the insulation value – probably over 0.5 to 0.7 clo each, according to an exceptional little treatise on the subject by Kris De Decker in Low-tech Magazine (www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/02/body-insulation-thermal-underwear.html). Gram for gram, these space-age synthetics – look for fabrics like Polartec® (microfleece) and Capilene® – can pack 15 or more times the insulating power of cotton. Though more expensive, wool (especially merino wool) approaches the insulating power of synthetics. But look for muelsing-free products to minimize pain to the sheep – or just stick with synthetics and leave the sheep alone.

Now, one clo adds about 5.5 degrees Celsius of insulation to your body. So when you add a set of those Polartec® or Capilene® bodyhuggers to your winter ensemble, you’ll have to lower the thermostat 5, 6 or 7 degrees.

Not bad for $100.

As we’ve seen, the U.S. Department of Energy says that every degree Fahrenheit you lower your thermostat reduces your heating bill – and CO2 emmissions – about 5 percent. If your home is occupied half the day, adding 1 to 1.5 clo of thermal underwear to your family’s attire should reduce your heating bills and emissions about 40 to 60 percent whenever people are home, for an overall reduction of 20 to 30 percent.

That’s about one or two tonnes of CO2 per year.

Thinking of trading in your Corolla for a Prius? Don’t let me discourage you, but if you drive as much as the average American, that upgrade will also save you two tonnes of CO2, but it’ll cost you $10,000 more than the underwear.

When it comes to saving the planet, thermal undies are the lowest-hanging fruit of the loom. At least that’s what Einstein said.

But don’t stop there.

For starters, you can double up on the undies. I mean literally wear one pair over the other, like the geekiest kid you ever knew in high school. According to the US Air Force Survival Book, double-layering (anywhere – including on your feet) creates a synergy that more than doubles the clo value.

Only you and your sexual partners will know the secret of your superhuman ability to watch Netflix with the thermostat hovering near 10 degrees.

Of course, thermal clothing comes in every layer. On top of your base layer you can wear a fleece-lined shirt (Marks, for example, carries them), a zippered “expedition-weight” mid-layer or even a light, thermal bomber jacket. And don’t forget the thermal socks and slippers.

It’s not hard to layer yourself up to 3 clo or more without looking like you’re waiting for a Sunday bus to a sleigh ride.

Indeed, if you’re like me, the limiting factor in your thermostat-lowering makeover will be the tolerance level of your pets, at least until Mountain Equipment Co-op starts stocking Caplilene® cat suits.

A few parting thermallies:

• Make your base layer airtight: tuck the top deep into the bottom and the bottom into your socks. You will baste in your own heat juices.

• Pile on the bedding so you can drop the thermostat as low as 10 degrees or whatever your pets will tolerate. Put a generous layer of bedding under you so the mattress doesn’t become a syphon for your precious bodily heat fluids.

• Don’t forget the obvious: Turn the thermostat way down when no one is home. The difference between being away with the thermostat pointlessly set at 21 instead of 12 or 13 is over twice as much CO2 and dollars escaping from your chimney and wallet, respectively. Similarly, don’t waste heat on unoccupied rooms or floors. Close the ducts or radiators and doors.

• Consider using an electric space heater. In Manitoba, our hydroelectric and wind energy is green, and a heater (I recommend the quiet, oil-filled kind) can take the chill off in a small area, like your bedroom or a home office, instead of you having to crank the thermostat up another degree or three. Still, it’s a lot cheaper to turn the thermostat up instead.

• Finally, a great way to improve your health, keep your weight down and lower your thermostat is to increase your indoor physical activity. A busy body is a warm body (Einstein). Sitting still for long stretches not only forces you to turn the heat up, it’s a serious risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. The good news is that even light activity – pumping a dumbbell, using an under-the-desk pedal exerciser, as I do – can break the hypometabolic spell, sparing your health and, well, the planet.

Syd Baumel is Editor of The Aquarian In Print.

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