New ways to save energy at home; clothing can made the difference

Wendy Grayson grew up in the United Stated during those years (1940-1970) when the acceptable winter indoor temperature rose steadily from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. Light clothing indoors was the rule all year long. When anyone felt cool, a quick adjustment of the thermostat solved the problem.

Then eight years ago she and her husband moved to England and quickly learned how warm a sweater, cardigan, jumper, pullover, you name it, could make one feel in an otherwise cool house. "We didn't have a thermostat to reach for," she recalls, and now if they did she still wouldn't run a hot house. Though individual space heaters warm parts of the home when needed she has learned that the "only way to go" in the present costly energy situation is "to dress appropriately."

Dressing appropriately, indoors, now is returning to the United States as well. Sweater sales are up everywhere, and there is a marked preference for natural fibers -- wool, cotton, linen -- that are both warmer in winter and coller in summer than artificial fibers. On the other hand, a good case can be made for a blend of natural and man-made fibers, say clothiers. If is the item of clothing made completely from heat-conducting artificial fiber that is on its way out, they add.

Other comfort-promoting options, too, are turning up on the market. Massachussetts residents Jean and Sven Casperson are just two among thousands who have discovered the "snug sack" or "snuggle blanket" as it is sometimes called. In their opinion it's the "best thing to come down the pike in a long while." Still others are discovering, or rediscovering, the delights of the hot-water bottle and that other tried-and-tested option, the comforter. In some instances sweat suits, made for the athlete, are turning up on totally nonathletic persons -- in lieu of bathrobe -- because the more snug-fitting track garment traps body heat so much more effectively. Another increasingly accepted keep-warm option: a little mild exercise.

When we dress to keep warm or put blankets and comforters on beds, we are simply insulating ourselves so that body heat loss is slowed down. Dr. Ralph F. Goldman of the US Army Ergonomic Laboratory in Natick, Mass., likes to stress the fact that insulation is dead-air space, not fiber. The fiber in our clothing is merely there to enclose this dead air.

"It is the air in the fiberglass insulation bats, not the glass itself that insulates our houses," he points out. So, the more dead, dry air we can surround ourselves with, the warmer we will feel in winter.This is the reason why several layers of thinner materials are generally better than one thick garment: Besides the air that is trapped between the fibers of the garments, a thin skin of insulating air is also formed between each layer of clothing. Another obvious plus for the layered-clothing approach: It is easier to regulate personal comfort by peeling off him layers of clothing, say a light sweater, than by removing one heavy jacket. The same can be said for bedclothes -- several thin blankets are better than one thick one. But don't confuse a blanket with a thick comforter. The correctly made comforter is loaded with light, air-trapping foams or fibers.

As a general rule, for every pound of clothing we wear we can turn down the thermostat 1 to 2 degrees F. and remain confortable. More specifically, one lightweight long-sleeve sweater equals 1.7 degrees, according to Dr. Goldman; a heavy sweater 3.7 degrees. But two lightweight sweaters add 5 degrees of comfort because of the additional dead-air space between the two garments.

If your home or office is really cool, wear a hat. That's because, Army experiments show, more heat is lost through the head (in extremely frigid conditions as much as 90 percent) than any other part of the body. This isn't always recognized because we don't necessarily feel uncomfortable losing heat this way until we are cold all over. So it makes sense to plug that heat loss. Dr. Goldman suggests a hat has the same effect on the central pool of heat in the human body as the stopper has on the hot drink in the thermos bottle. In the days before central heating Victorians never bothered to calculate the radiating capacity of the head but they did know a good thing when they wore one -- the night cap which accompanied them to bed on winter evenings.

Hot air rises, so a fair amount of body heat is lost at the neck line and also from the sleeve cuff as well. For this reason people stay a good deal warmer wearing high-neck, snug- fitting garments, such as turtlenecks. For the same reason a man stays warmer by wearing a tie. Wear clothes that fit snugly at the sleeve cuffs too. This is one reason why some people are choosing the sweat suit over the bathrobe for after-shower comfort. It fits so much more snugly that the warm air stays where it's most needed.

While two garments generally outperform one in heat retention, there is an exception to that rule: Two pairs of socks crammed into the same size shoe will leave you with colder feet than if you wore one pair of socks. That is because they are compressed in a tight shoe so that the dead air is squeezed out. What you then have left, according to Dr. Goldman, is "more fiber, and fiber on its own conducts heat away from the body." On the other hand two pairs of socks worn with shoes one size larger is an "excellent idea," according to Dr. Goldman.

One of the newer stay-warm options to hit the market in recent years is the snug rug. Patterned somewhat after a sleeping bag, it is designed for use during the waking hours. It enfolds the wearer like a cocoon but can be fastened so that the arms are free for working. It can also be quickly unzipped to free the feet for walking. For added comfort in a really cold room, throw in a not water bottle. Mr. and Mrs. Casperson, who invested in snug rugs recently now find they can read, enjoy TV, write letters, or do any one of a number of sitting tasks in much cooler temperatures. The snug rug's one drawback, say the CAspersons, is its comfort. "It's just too easy to go to sleep in."

Remember, insultation, no matter how good, never retains heat indefinitely. "It merely slows down the passage of heat," says Dr. Goldman. On other words if you sit still for a long period of time you will eventually feel chilly no matter how good with snug sack or what have you. Drinking something warm will help but a little exercise is more effective. Cutting the wood, as the saying goes, warms you more than sitting in front of the resulting fire. The moment we move around we generate heat, Dr. Goldman says.

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