I think it is crucial, for many reasons, to try to live a low energy lifestyle. I wanted to share a few of the things our family has done and would like to know what you are doing.
First, we downsized twice (to a three bedroom, two and a half bath). After framing the house, we spent weeks and weeks caulking everywhere two pieces of wood met, inside and out, including the foundation. We super-insulated the walls and ceiling (R-90 in the attic). The basement and storage room over the garage (always a problem) we chose not to heat. The entrance to the attic is a huge heat loss, so even though it has a Styrofoam cover, it is in an unheated area. The windows are double paned and tightly fit.
I have seen huge homes in Brookfield with 2 by 4 outerwall construction! In this climate! All our homes are 2 by 6, making them stronger and much better insulated. I wish we had done 2 by 8.
We installed a superefficient, forced air wood/oil furnace (www.yukon-eagle.com) in the basement that also heats our hot water, and pays for itself every winter. We burn four cords of wood a winter (only needed mid November to mid March). We keep eight cords of wood in the basement that we have cut and split (for free, other than the cost of gas) and dried outside for a year... so we dont have to go outside all winter to get wood. The wood ash (NPK of 0-1-7 with many trace minerals) goes on the organic, French Biointensive gardens in place of lime.
The house is so tight (check out the German Passivhaus ideas) that my wife leaves the bedroom window open all winter.
My oil company estimates that my home should use between 1,800-2,200 gallons of heating oil per year for usually three people. We used 515 gal., 423 gal. and are trying for 200-250 gal. this year. We use two quarts a day during the summer for hot water (laundry, showers, kitchen). It is only possible to turn down my oil heater to 100 degrees so I put an on/off switch and turn it off as much as possible. This simple, inexpensive step saves hundreds of gallons of oil a year.
Four years ago, we turned in the Explorer SUV (about 13 mpg) for a Volks diesel (about 45 mpg and mid 50s on the highway). We try to drive 55 mph, which gives huge savings (going from 50-80 mph increases fuel usage about 40 percent due to wind resistance). In an emergency, we could use the heating oil in the diesel if we had to.
The third other main use of energy is in food. It takes about 400 gallons (fuel equivalent) to feed an American in our industrial food system. The average food comes from about 1,500 miles away and uses massive energy to grow, process and transport, using 7-10 calories for every calorie of food provided. We have put in gardens, fruit trees and "soft fruits" and are learning to root cellar, dry and freeze the harvest (learning canning comes next... with some trepidation... while in med school, an old couple died from eating their canned peas). So our food, fresh, healthy and organic, travels 1,500 inches, instead of miles, to our plates.
So whether you are trying to save money, keep the money in our community instead of sending it abroad, keep your carbon footprint small, keep your home toasty warm (for almost free)... it just makes sense to try to live a low energy lifestyle.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season, Robin