I am living in what I have come to realize is essentially a wind tunnel. Stand in any part of my house and the drafts of freezing cold air blowing through the place will practically knock you over.
It's like living in Superman's arctic fortress of solitude, except I can't fly and the kitchen is a mess. But the last son of Krypton and I can both see our breath when we're in our respective abodes. No matter how much I crank up the thermostat, it's still freezing in there.
The only thing that makes me shiver more than hanging out in my living room is opening up my heating bills. The last one was so high I decided it was finally time to take action. I scheduled an ecoENERGY evaluation of my house. I imagined it would involve me having a conversation with the inspector during which I'm screaming: "SO DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM IS?" and him shaking his head in frustration and pointing at his ears to let me know he can't hear me because of loud swirling vortex of hot air being sucked out through walls.
But it was all quite straightforward. And a little embarrassing. To see where cold air is entering my house, the inspector attached a fan to my front door in order to create a vacuum and thus be better able to identify leaks. He then led me around the house pointing out every place cold air is coming in: on all the doors, most of the windows, the walls in the basement, around the light fixtures and the electrical outlets. He also informed me there is a woeful lack of insulation in almost every part of the house.
How much can I save on my utility bills if I get the place in order?
"I would say 20 to 30 per cent," says Dave Kitchen, general manager and chief operating officer at Carson Dunlop and Associates, a company that provides evaluations.
And while the cost of doing upgrades can be high, a homeowner like me in Ontario can receive up to $10,000 in rebates. If I follow through on the recommendation to get my attic insulated, I can recoup approximately 75 per cent of the cost. If I get a new furnace, I can get up to 30 per cent of my money back.
But do I really want to replace my furnace, as the guy who did my evaluation recommended? Not really, considering it will cost between $4,000 and $8,000.
Deanna Duke, who runs the Seattle-based blog TheCrunchyChicken.com, has a cheaper solution. She suggests I buy a sweater.
"We just have this mentality that we should be living in a 70 degree [Fahrenheit]house all year round," she says. "It's been this weird mental change for people to realize, 'Oh yeah, I suppose I can put more clothes on and turn the thermostat down.' "
For the third year in a row, Ms. Duke has put out the call far and wide to participate in the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. Initially, the focus was to help people reduce their energy consumption and thus their carbon footprint. But it's also a good way to cut down on bills. Last year, Ms. Duke estimates she saved about $800 (U.S.) by keeping the thermostat low.
Over the course of the past three years, Ms. Duke has learned plenty of ways to keep warm without having to pay for it. Besides wearing sweaters, she suggests moving around a bit more and drinking a hot cup of tea or coffee to keep warm. If you're baking, she says, leave the oven door open when you're done to let the heat out into the house. As for anyone who has hardwood floors or spends a lot of time on cold kitchen tiles, there's an easy fix, Ms. Duke says: "Invest in slippers."
Perhaps the hardest part about living a cooler lifestyle at home is getting over the sense that you're a bit weird.
"There's this feeling that if you do that there's something wrong with you," she says. This feeling can be especially strong when company comes over to your ice palace.
"A lot of it is really social acceptability," Ms. Duke says. "Someone goes into your house and they say 'Oh my God, it's cold in here,' and you feel like you're doing something wrong."
But what you're really doing is saving money. I'm planning on wearing more sweaters around the house and doing whatever fixes I can to cash in on government rebates. It will help the environment and my wallet in equal measure.
And the idea of not having the chills every time I open a gas bill warms my heart more than the thermostat ever could.