Posted on August 7, 2012 at 5:20 PM
Wednesday, Aug 8 at 3:52 PM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I heard Beth Henry’s distinctive voice calling in to Mike Collins’ radio program, “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE.
I had met Henry when she was organizing opposition to Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants so I knew her voice.
Henry serves on the board of NC WARN, an active environmental group. It turned out the radio show was a taped segment a year old but what she said made me want to hear more from the woman herself. She told the radio audience she had quit using air conditioning. Not turned up the thermostat. Quit altogether.
She did it to protest Duke’s reliance on coal.
“I am very worried about climate change and the impact on my children and grandchildren,” Henry says.
But she quickly found she cut her summer power bill by a whopping 75 to 90 percent. Henry liked practicing what she preached. Her husband loved the savings.
This summer it’s been hotter longer. Temperatures are routinely in the 90’s and had soared above 100 for the better part of one week and stayed there. Surely Henry had caved in to the heat. As it turns out, nope, she didn’t.
To avoid the oppressive heat outside, Henry developed a number of strategies, some old fashioned, some familiar and some I had never heard of. I visited her home near the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.
The home was built in the 60’s – single story brick – more than 4,000 square feet. So there’s a lot to cool – and heat. And Henry and her husband have taken on a tenant, who does use AC.
The first adaptation you can probably guess. Henry keeps a breeze blowing in every room, but only uses fans in the rooms she’s occupying. There are fans on the ceiling in the kitchen, living room and bedroom.
There is a vertical fan next to the couch for her husband to be comfortable watching TV. There is a small whirring fan on the floor in the formal living room placed there when company came to visit last week.
“I’ve read that having a fan blowing on you makes you feel seven degrees cooler,” Henry said.
And sure enough the house is humid but not unpleasant, not oppressive like it would be in your car or out in the yard. “Most people are very surprised at how pleasant it is,” Beth says.
But fans are just the start of Beth’s strategies for living sans AC. Inside her home, no matter how hot it got outside, she said. “The hottest it’s gotten (inside) so far this year is 83.”
How does she keep the temperature lower in the house as the sun beats down on the outside?
• She pulls shades and blinds on the sunny side of the house until the sun passes overhead.
• She opens windows in the coolest part of the night and
• The last one to bed is responsible for turning on a whole-house fan in the attic which draws the cool air into the windows and blows the hot air out through the attic.
• By 8am she closes the windows again as the outside air heats up
• She has added insulation in the attic.
• She wears light cotton fabrics
• She avoids using appliances like the clothes dryer and instead
• She substitutes the good old-fashioned low-tech clothesline
Henry could have spent a lot more money on new insulated windows but she’s kept her out-of-pocket investment in alternatives to AC at a minimum. For instance she’s only added ceiling fans where there were already light fixtures to limit rewiring.
And the results?
“The last summer we used air conditioning (2010) our bills ranged from $200 to $350.” Henry said. “So for June last year (2011) the bill was $28.73.”
The latest bill this summer with Henry’s tenant using AC in his part of the home was a little over 70 bucks. So it’s safe to say that shutting off the AC has saved her hundreds of dollars a month during the summer.
Henry recalls a time – not that long ago really – when most homes did not have air conditioning.
“For most healthy people it’s a luxury,” Henry said.
And Henry is living proof you can live in relative comfort – or with limited discomfort – by making small sacrifices to reap big savings.