When Emma sent us this question a while ago on ways to stay green in cold, frozen Canada, we had requests to turn the question into a full post. Sure, it's easy to be green in a temperate climate where you can bike, go running, garden, have a ton of plants around the house, shop at the farmer's market or join a CSA. But when it's -30 degrees Celsius outside, the earth is frozen, and you definitely need the heat on at all times to keep warm, how can you stay green? Well, one reader contacted us and told us she knew exactly what to do.
When this question was first posted, Re-Nest reader Aimée Doiron from aimée wrote us and said she had a ton of suggestions to offer on how to live green in snow-packed and freezing winters — and she would know. She's essentially allergic to the cold (a condition called cold urticaria), yet she's continued to live in cold Canada for most of her life. With over 30 useful tips, her email to us was so detailed and informative that we've copied the whole thing here for you to read!
Close off unused rooms and heat only what you need:
"When heating your house, it's handy to have a number of small rooms that can be closed off. My current house was built in the early 1920s and hasn't been made "open-plan" like most of the homes in my neighborhood. By closing off certain rooms when they're not in use, just as they did a century ago, I've found I can cut my heating bills by a great deal."
Take advantage of all the heat you generate while using the house:
"Whenever I'm feeling chilly, instead of cranking up the heat, I'll cook or bake something from scratch. Moving around and using the heat sources in the kitchen somehow make things a great deal warmer. Find people with whom you can trade off hosting duties every few days. Not only does this get you out of your house (a necessity when it's -30° out there and you've been house-bound for days) but the group of people and the hot kitchen will keep you warm when you're all together. After 5 days of being snowbound, a big 'family' meal that took a whole day to prep makes everyone a little more cheerful."
Install a programmable thermometer:
"When I moved into the old 1920s house, I installed a programmable thermometer right away. It was surprisingly easy to install—I did it all by myself!—and it was inexpensive. This alone has saved me a great deal and ensured I can turn the heat up at only the times of the day when someone is at home."
Find ways to add insulating layers to your home's exterior:
"I grew up on a farm and every year, in the late fall, we would place a row of hay bales around the outside of our home to add a layer of insulation where the concrete basement meets the wooden upper floors. Our house was insulated well, but this added layer not only kept the considerable snow melt from seeping into the ground around the basement, it helped with heat retention all winter.
For your own home, take a look at your perimetre and find the cold spots. Maybe thicker curtains over the windows will help. You may not be able to afford an energy efficiency inspection, but if you can, take a look at what help your local municipal and provincial/state government will offer. Canadians can apply such energy audits towards the national home improvement tax credit. If you're doing your own audit, walk through your house and feel the walls, windows, floors and ceilings for extra drops in temperature and concentrate on those areas.
Be sure to add extra layers to your windows as the temperature drops and you'll be surprised at the heat savings. You can always sew old blankets to the back of your existing curtains if you can't afford a new set of drapes. That trick has saved me in quite a few occasions. Don't be afraid to install curtains in front of doorways to add even more layers to keep out the cold. It's like wrapping your whole room in a cozy blanket!
Also, keep drafts at bay by covering the spaces around your door and window frames. There are lots of DIY projects to make your own, but the easiest, most insta-fix way to stop a draft from flowing under your door is to roll up a towel and drop it at the foot of your door to block the cold air seeping through."
Double check your safety alarms:
"Remember, with all the work you're doing to close off your home to the cold, you should also double check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Have a look at all your heat sources as well and make sure the extra layers (spare blankets, longer drapes) aren't get too close and become a hazard. Please don't trap yourself in your home, and be sure to open those drapes and let a little sunlight in every once in a while!"
Reconsider evergreens as indoor plants:
"As for plants, take a cue from what's outside. It may not be tropical, but if you bring potted evergreens indoors, not only will they survive next to drafty doorways, they'll make decorating for the holiday season a cinch. There seems to have been a trend over the last few years (at least in my area of Canada) to have small evergreen trees or bushes in beautiful cast iron planters to frame your front walkway or porch. Take some of these inside to keep the greenery indoors when the snow starts to fall. Small evergreen trees and bushes, from tiny bonsai-like versions to nicely shaped taller plants, can be surprising versatile in decorating your home."
Play with springtime bulbs and summertime annuals all winter long:
"For blooms, try playing Mother Nature a little with some bulbs. Plant some tulips and daffodils in pots, then put them out on the doorstep and let the snow fall on them for a few weeks. If you take them inside after a good chill and let them slowly warm up (keep them in cooler areas at first, not right in front of a heater if you can help it). The bulbs will think it's spring and they'll start pushing up and can bloom right in the middle of winter!"
Grow annuals, sprouts and greens indoors with greenhouse lamps:
"I have a greenhouse-style window box in my kitchen (I know, I'm very lucky). The window box is single-pane so it gets quite cold but, even when there is frost on the inside of the window, small, hardy sprouts like sunflowers will push up. If I find a warm spot away from windows where I can grow some leafy greens, it's always easy to light the area with some greenhouse bulbs. Visit your local nursery or hardware store's plant aisles before they close for the season to pick up seeds and bulbs. Don't be afraid to try some summery annuals inside! There are lots of plants and flowers that aren't as delicate and can take a few days of chilly weather—think of all those early spring blooms that are bright and colorful but still manage to survive a late-May snowfall."
Keep composting and share your food scraps with wildlife:
"Just because you can't find your compost bin under the 5 feet of snow in your backyard, doesn't mean you should give up. My family took to putting out our fresh food scraps right after our meals and many of the birds that didn't fly south would be grateful for the extra bits. Things like vegetables, greens and even cereal are always appreciated by those starving little scavengers. Make a habit of it, and do some bird watching from your window.
What can't be put outside right away can always be frozen until you have a moment to get to your compost bin outside. If your bin isn't already a dark colour, try painting it black to attract the most sunlight and heat to help you keep it snow-free and accessible between snowfalls."
Bundle up and get outside, even if it's cold:
"Remember that, at certain low temperatures, no one is concerned with how you look. Throw on all those extra layers, and stuff extra mittens in your pockets. Tip: Instead of those chemical-laden, plastic, disposable pocket warmers, warm up some beanbags near the stove or in the microwave and you'll have little heat packs in your pockets to keep your fingers from freezing. Putting a few of these inside your jacket also helps on those days when the windchill brings things down to death-defying temperatures.
Research the best cold-weather clothes and take care of each piece so they will last longer. I've found that one pair of specialized mountaineering socks can replace a few layers of regular socks. Places like M.E.C. (in Canada) and R.E.I. (in the US) have great online and in-store communities to help you find the best of what you're looking for.
Get your friends together and do a warm-weather inspired clothing swap. Each person should bring sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens and even blankets and boots they no longer use. Whatever isn't snatched up by the end of the evening should be brought to shelters to help keep our homeless neighbours a little warmer during the tough months ahead. Also, the homeless are having an even more difficult time finding food and donations during the winter. Please remember to donate what you can to help those around you and say an extra thank you for that warm bed you get to crawl into on cold nights."
Get moving to keep the chills from settling into your bones:
"Nothing gets you warmer than when your body is moving. Don't let that chill find you. When waiting for the school bus in the wintertime, my best friends and I would run around and build forts in the snow. By the time the bus arrived to take us to school, we were often bounding on up the bus steps with big smiles and already peeling off the layers. Other ideas:
- Throw an outdoor party and have snowball fights and a big bonfire. Some of my favorite bonfire memories from childhood aren't those from the summer but those where everyone came out, dressed in their many, many layers and huddled around a fire with marshmallows. Up to 40 people around a big fire makes you forget about the cold for a few minutes and keeps you outside all day long.
- Skate on the pond from breakfast until midnight with garden lights strung overhead or planted in the snow. You can now find solar-powered lights everywhere from IKEA to your corner hardware store.
- Don't sit around in the snow while waiting for transit, run around and have snowball fights or just walk to the next stop to keep your feet moving until the bus arrives.
- A game of football or soccer is far more challenging, and fodder for far more laughter when it's played in knee-deep snow.
- With lakes and rivers frozen, explore new areas that are usually off-limits in the summer. Use this new frozen "land" to get a whole new view on your neighborhood.
- Walk across the lake or river and make friends with someone on the other side as your new "neighbors" for the season.
- Let people know you have an open-door policy for people to stop in and warm up whenever they're feeling chilly on their daily commute. Hopefully you'll inspire others to do the same when you need to warm up.
- Challenge friends to a sledding contest—but everyone must bring something that is NOT a sled. Tip from a champion: Extra large, metal mixing bowls are super fast for those with great balance!
- Set up snowcone stands instead of the summertime-staple of lemonade stands and share flavoured snow to passers-by. Please make sure you're using fresh snow!
- Instead of heating up a TV dinner in the microwave or ordering take out, take the time to make a huge meal from scratch with friends and spend a few hours baking and cooking together.
Remember that we're all in this together. If you are sitting in your window and see someone having trouble digging out their sidewalk, go help them! Laugh at yourself when you have to jump over the slush puddles and maybe someone will laugh with you. I've always made more friends in the winter when we all seem to let our guards down and relax a little."
Anyone else have suggestions?
Originally published 2009-10-30
(Images: 1. Flickr member Muffet licensed under Creative Commons; 2. Flickr member Nadya Peek licensed under Creative Commons; 3. Flickr member Simon Dean Media licensed under Creative Commons; 4. Lori Ann via Flickr member Simplyla licensed under Creative Commons; Flickr member tvol licensed under Creative Commons)