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ISSUE Almost all of us use conventional energy, but are we using it sensibly?

When it comes to saving energy, people mostly talk about solar gadgets. Solar heaters, lamps and cookers are popular and increasingly better designed, but they have to be installed and operated judiciously if we are to benefit from them, and they certainly aren’t the whole story.

Apart from a few rural homes off the grid, almost all of us use conventional energy sources — electricity and gas. We can all take immediate steps to reduce our consumption. Turning off lights and fans when we leave the room is a simple habit most of us have lost. We often forget that when we need more light or air, we can take our work to the window or sit where the breeze is instead of turning on more lights and fans.

Fortunately, we no longer hear the silly idea that keeping appliances and computers on standby day and night “makes more sense” than turning them off when they’re not needed. If a gadget on standby is warm to the touch, it is clearly drawing power.

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Air conditioners draw monstrous amounts of power. Many modern houses have left out cooling structural features such as a courtyard or a verandah or deep sunshades. To get the most out of our power, it is important to know where heat and light get into the house and how to control them.

In designing a new house or renovating an old one, we puzzle over tiles, curtains, wall paint and vaastu. But it is far more important while designing and planning to orient ourselves to sources of light and heat. Windows, chattais, drapes and blinds cannot be considered just elements of decor. Altering the position of windows or enclosing verandahs will affect the temperature inside a house. Verandahs and balconies insulate our rooms from the elements. Windows let in necessary light and air. We discover where the heat comes from only after we’ve lived in a house for a while. Then we’ll know which is the hot balcony, perfect for drying clothes and spices, and which is the cool balcony, comfortable for sitting and reading the paper.

A kitchen is also an important place to control heat and energy use. Families may soon get just six subsidised cylinders a year for cooking, and we’ll all have to burn gas more intelligently. By being aware of how we consume power, we can do our bit when the power is on and stay comfortable when the power is out.

(This is the fifth article in a 10-part series about how to live sustainably every day. It appears on Mondays. The next article is: There will be mud.)

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