Saturday is the day when our family does most of its shopping and errands. Many stores are closed or have limited hours on Sunday. Weekdays are dominated by school and work most of the time. So, it isn't unusual that we were shopping today.
The motivating factor for us, and this won't be the only trip this factor influences, was the rising price of natural gas. Heat is going to be very expensive this winter, and, as a result, we have resolved, like many people in Colorado, to keep our thermostat at the lowest tolerable temperature this winter. So far that hasn't been unbearable. November has been unseasonably warm so far. But, we know that it is just a matter of time before a cold snap hits.
Today's focus was window coverings. Our 1925 half duplex has single pane windows, with single pane storm windows. They have an insulation value in the vincinty of R-2, on a scale where R-0 is an open window or door, and R-15 would be typical for mildly insulated walls. We'd considered replacing them with better insulating windows before, but even assuming a very substantial energy savings on the order of 50%, it would have taken about twenty years to get our investment back (replacing windows in old houses is expensive because all the frames are non-standard sizes), and only a small percentage of a renovation like that will be reflected in resale value -- in part because it is the city lot in this neighborhood, and not the physical structure, that accounts for most of our home's value.
Our first set of window coverings were sheer white cotton, which are great in the summer, but have no insulating value. The last time we thought about the issue, we replaced those during the winter months with cotton duck, which also provide more privacy, which is a big deal now that the house next door was scraped and we now have a two story duplex ten feet from our windows. Today, we went with thick, gaudy red velvet in one room, and blue velvet in another, in the hope that it will have more insulating value than cotton duck and on the theory that if you are going to make a style change you may as well do so boldly enough that it looks like you did it on purpose.
Last winter we made a similar investment in rugs for a similar purpose. We have a front nook, above an uninsulated crawl space, that used to be the coldest place in the house. The floor there always sucked heat out of the room. So, we bought a thick imitation Persian rug for that area, which now is the children's favorite play space, and also bought another big thick imitation Persian rug (the real ones cost ten to twenty times as much) for another room in the house that has always been chilly. We also bought a throw blanket that you could wrap yourself in as you sat on the couch in the living room.
We haven't yet purchased a tapestry for the walls, but the thought has crossed our mind, and more throws, sweaters, blankets, and turtlenecks are all in our future. At work, I expect that my former habit (common among Colorado lawyers) of promptly depositing my suit jacket on a hook as soon as I entered my office where it remained until I left (indeed, it stayed there unnoticed on a hook in my old office for weeks after I left the firm to be a professor) will end. My camel jacket, in particular, is likely to see a lot of wear this year.
Hot drinks will be in, and cold ones will be out.
The idea of a heat lamp in the bathroom, so that we could be warm upon leaving the shower without heating the entire house, or even heating the bathroom all day, has suddenly appeared on the long list of renovations to consider, even if it hasn't made it to the top of the list yet. This will also likely be the year that we do decide to replace the weather stripping, and our inconclusive experiment in putting an extra layer of plastic on our bigger windows from last year is likely to be repeated again.
We live in a world that has been oblivious to the seasons for decades in our climate controlled indoor worlds, but rising natural gas prices may return at least a part of that awareness to our lives.
Our course, rising energy prices are not the only style driver at the moment.
Some of the needs are mundane and have mundane causes. For example, like most people, we have quite a bit of non-stick cookware. But, I defy you to find a pizza cutter or knife made out of plastic or wood that won't damage them in a store near you. We have found both, but they don't last forever, and if I had realized how hard they are to find, I would have bought half a dozen. Apparently, higher end kitchen merchants don't offer them because plastic is too nasty for the high end kitchen, while low end vendors assume that you don't have non-stick cookware.
Other style drivers run much deeper. One of the most insightful chapters in John Naisbitt's 1982 best seller Megatrends, was a chapter entitled "High Tech/High Touch", which argued that rather than continually pushing us towards more impersonal lives, people would reach to high technology by trying to find more "high touch" elements in our lives. Naisbitt spun that chapter into an updated book of its own in 1999, and the trend is still with us.
One of Denver's more intriguing businesses, situated in a high profile spot on Speer Boulevard near downtown, makes computer cases in interesting colors, or even with wood, instead of the drab plastics that are the norm outside the Macintosh dimension (a similar firm exists in Iowa). People spend $3 billion a year on personalized cell phone ring tones. Screen savers, and desktop backgrounds have also become high touch enclaves in an otherwise impersonal hgih tech world. A map of Wi-Fi users at MIT has shown that students are leaving study rooms for more comfortable lounges and coffee shops in droves, now that they can. Volkswagon's New Beetle released in 1998 comes with a bud vase, which has spawned a truly worthwhile analysis of the whole concept of a "bud vase feature" defined as: "functionality outside the core purpose of a product that evokes positive emotion about the product, and allows the user to express their personality or character in their use of the product."
Indeed, two of the baubles I am most on the prowl for (my father recently suggested that I move my search from the real world to google) are wooden belt buckles (since metal ones can trigger the metal detectors found in every court house and airport these days) and a bud vase for my Honda Accord (selections range from $185 hand made ones to $15 ones that are decidedly mass produced) as I am the sucker for flowers in our family. I haven't purchased either, however (there have to be some limits) so anyone out there making gifts lists, please take note.
Finally, Evil Mommy has a nice post on the joy of independent video rental shops, while Mile High Buzz considers the issue of what constitutes a corporate coffee house. I patronize both Starbucks and Blockbuster from time to time. Who doesn't? They are everywhere. But, given the chance I, and I think most people, value the diversity that independents bring to the market and favor them when I can as a result. Both posts explore the why's of that instinct.