Saving energy is their passion

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Last week, we visited my brother and sister-in-law in northern Wisconsin. As we learned from Rich Benning, Wisconsin wolf pack No. 51 calls their farm home. Although their sheep and chickens remain unscathed, we exercised caution on our hikes. When we asked about the weather, she told us to expect “somewhere between snow and 80 degrees.” We did, but still had to shop at Goodwill to fill varied clothing needs.

Friends who knew we’d spend time in the north asked: “Do they really live there? In the winter? Really?” Yes, really. They love it. When they were first married, they bought land near Lake Superior. Bit by bit, they purchased larger pieces until they now own their home farm. After a 28-year employment-imposed exile, they relish each moment in the often-frozen northland.

Most of their neighbors are also retirees, many originally from the area who returned after their years of job-imposed exile. They would not live anywhere else.

From meditation and yoga through heating their home, they have a passion for saving energy. They will do anything possible to accomplish their goal. They never use the dryer in summer, since it is in an interior room, and rarely use it at other times. They prefer to hang laundry outside in summer, either near the back door or on the front porch so they can take as few steps as possible, and in the bathroom in winter. They feel locating it where they did forces them to save energy.

On a frosty morning, we southerners, however, decided to heat a sweatshirt in the dryer. She pointed out that the dryer is vented into a bowl of water to catch lint, keeping the house free of dust, and she reminded us they seldom use the dryer. When they occasionally use the dryer in winter, they vent to the inside for heat and humidity.

A habit they started in Colorado, where the weather is “blasted hot all the time,” they hung bamboo venetian blinds on the exterior of their windows.

Another weather accommodation for summer heat is setting up a kitchen on the porch. Any appliance turned on heats the kitchen. They eschew air conditioning, so feel this is a necessary accommodation.

Preferring cool to heat, during summer they wear sweatshirts in the house, where the temperature is usually at least 20 degrees cooler than that of the outdoors.

Another tip is “divide and conquer,” meaning setting up the house in a way that rooms are closed off so as little space as possible is heated. Blankets are hung in each doorway, sealing rooms and stopping drafts, and are also hung inside exterior doors. During winter, the kitchen is warmed briefly in the morning, then left cold during the rest of the day. The living room is kept toasty all day by a wood-burning stove. Bedrooms and the upstairs are unheated.

Although they live 20 miles from town, they finally purchased a second car last year—another Saturn.

We had a wonderful time with two delightful, focused people, and will return as often as possible.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

From the April 28-May 4, 2010 issue

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