There are days -- just the most stifling and sticky of days -- when Reba Kennedy misses the blissful sensation of walking into a house chilled to 72 degrees.
With energy prices soaring, Ms. Kennedy has made the ultimate sacrifice. She's turned off the central air conditioning.
'A lot of my discretionary income was . . . going into air,' says Ms. Kennedy. She lives in San Antonio, Texas. It's hot. She endures.
That's the spirit of this summer of sweat.
With electricity costs rising -- along with global-warming guilt -- consumers across the country are struggling to wean themselves from the A/C. It remains to be seen whether they'll take a cue from Marilyn Monroe in 'The Seven Year Itch' and stash their undies in the icebox. But they're trying just about everything else.
In Thousand Oaks, Calif., Adina Nack keeps the thermostat at 82 -- and lets her toddler dance around the house in a bathing suit, spritzing herself with cool water from a spray bottle. Cara Cummins, in Atlanta, turns on the air conditioner only when she's expecting guests. Otherwise, she makes do by snacking on watermelon cubes soaked in chilled bourbon.
Because many power plants run on natural gas, which has shot way up in price, utilities in every region of the nation have imposed -- or are planning -- big rate increases this year, some approaching 30%.
In response, nearly two-thirds of families are cutting back on air conditioning, according to a recent Associated Press-Yahoo News poll. They're buying ceiling fans and programmable thermostats; burning up hot afternoons in malls and movie theaters; and bombarding blogger Erin Huffstetler, who writes about frugal living, with questions about the merits of tinting their windows dark to block the sun.
The wealthy are even putting windmills in their backyards. Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Ariz., installs residential turbines that can supply a third or more of a typical household's electricity. The cost: At least $13,000.
Sales are booming, says Miriam Robbins, the company's marketing manager. 'People are trying to find ways to take control of their own energy destiny.'
In Arizona, 50,000 customers of the Salt River Project utility have cut energy use by an average of 13%, thanks to a gizmo that lets them monitor their daily bill, so they can see exactly how much they save by bumping up the thermostat a few degrees. In Texas, Reliant Energy reports an 8% drop in per-customer energy use since 2005.
To be sure, experts warn that conservation should be taken only so far when the weather turns oppressive. In a typical year, the U.S. records more than 650 heat-related deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But there's much that consumers can do to stay safely cool -- on the cheap.
Take Troy Newman, of Wichita, Kan. Last summer, his home energy bills hit an unacceptable $300 a month. So he has installed dark curtains on his south-facing windows and limited his family's use of heat-generating appliances. All summer cooking, for instance, is done on the outdoor grill. Much of the laundry is hung on a clothesline.
On hot afternoons, Mr. Newman runs a hose to the roof and douses the shingles for 20 minutes, which he swears lowers the temperature inside. 'I don't know if it's all that good for the life span of the roof,' Mr. Newman says, 'but when it's 110 degrees, I really could care less.'
Though he recently added 1,200 square feet of living space to the house, Mr. Newman says his energy bills are at least $100 a month lower than they were last summer.
The Department of Energy calculates that heating and cooling account for nearly half the energy used in a typical home. That's more than all the light bulbs, the dishwasher, the refrigerator, the hot-water heater and the washer and dryer -- combined.
Replacing a standard air conditioner set at 72 degrees with an energy-efficient model set at 78 can cut your cooling costs in half, though savings vary by climate, according to Xcel Energy Inc., a regional utility based in Minneapolis. A programmable thermostat can save as much as 12%. A ceiling fan can lower a room's temperature by several degrees. Even something as simple as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs can make a big difference in electricity bills.
Micki Wehmeier offers another tip: Marry a man who likes it hot.
Ms. Wehmeier and her husband, Gary, are renting a modest apartment this summer while they fix up a house they just bought in Des Peres, Mo. To save money, they resolved to keep the thermostat at 74.
But Ms. Wehmeier admits that she sneaks over to turn it down -- just a few degrees, honest -- at every opportunity. 'I'm one who likes to snuggle under an afghan when I'm watching TV,' she says, 'even in the summer.'
Not this summer. Even in their modest apartment, their monthly energy bills are running $110 or more. So Mr. Wehmeier is cracking down on thermostatic cheating.
'He's got more willpower,' his wife says.
And Reba Kennedy, who turned off her central air altogether?
Ms. Kennedy now cools just the three rooms she uses most in her San Antonio home, with window units set at 78 degrees. To her surprise, she has found it pleasurable. With her downstairs windows open, she can smell the honeysuckle in her yard. She loves the look of her sheer curtains blowing in the breeze.
Last week, though, when she reviewed her electric bills, Ms. Kennedy found that her sacrifices haven't translated into savings. In June of 2006 -- with the central air on full blast -- she used an average of 26 kilowatt hours a day. Last month? An average of 44.
Harvey Sachs, a senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says that isn't surprising, because window units are notoriously inefficient.
But Ms. Kennedy was upset. Since quitting her job as a business lawyer two years ago to take up writing, she has tried to live simply and frugally; conserving energy is central to that goal.
All this earnest angst over kilowatts and thermostats strikes Kathy Boylan as off point. She runs a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., and has lived there, without air conditioning, for years -- 'in solidarity,' she says, 'with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have no electricity, much less air conditioning.'
Her advice to middle-class families: Pull the plug.
'You'll be hot,' Ms. Boylan said. 'Put a little cold water on your face and get on with your life.'
夹在电价上涨和全球变暖恶果之间的美国消费者在是否应关掉冷气的问题上很是挣扎。不知道他们会不会从玛丽莲•梦露(Marilyn Monroe)的电影《七年之痒》(The Seven Year Itch)里找到灵感，把内衣裤装在冰盒里，好随时给自己降降温；不过，其它所有能想到的办法都被他们拿来一试了。
在加州的千橡树镇(Thousand Oaks)，艾蒂娜•奈克(Adina Nack)把空调温度调到28度，并让自己蹒跚学步的小孩穿着泳衣在家里乱走，还用喷水瓶给自己洒凉水降温。亚特兰大市的卡拉•库明斯(Cara Cummins)只有在客人来家里时才把空调打开，其他时候，她靠吃几块泡在冰镇波旁威士忌里的西瓜块来抵御酷暑。
据美联社(Associated Press)和雅虎新闻(Yahoo News)的最新联合调查显示，将近三分之二的美国家庭都因此减少了空调的使用。他们添置了吊扇和可编程控温器，去商场和电影院度过炎热的夏日午后，并向撰写博客介绍如何勤俭持家的艾琳•哈弗斯泰德勒(Erin Huffstetler)提出了一大堆问题，比如怎么把窗户染黑，减少阳光的照射等。
在亚利桑那州，盐河项目(Salt River Project)的5万名用户已平均减少了13%的用电量，原因是他们安装了一个能实时显示每日用电量的小仪器，这样他们可以清楚地看到如果把室温调高几度，那么能少用多少电。能源企业Reliant Energy表示，德克萨斯州的人均用电量自2005年以来减少了8%。
当然，专家警告称当酷热难耐时，我们为节电所做的努力应该适可而止。根据美国疾病预防控制中心(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)的统计，在正常年份中，每年美国都有超过650人因天气太热而死亡。
美国能源部(Department of Energy)做过计算，一栋普通住宅供暖和冷风的用电成本在总电费占去了将近一半，比一个家庭中灯泡、洗碗机、冰箱、热水器、洗衣机和烘干机全部加起来的耗电都要多。
明尼阿波利斯市地方公用事业企业埃克西尔能源公司(Xcel Energy Inc.)表示，如果把标准的22摄氏度室内空调温度改为25.5度的节电模式，大约能够节省一半的电费；当然，具体程度根据外界温度而有所不同。安装一个室内温控器可以节省12%的电费，在天花板上安装吊扇可以降低几度室温，甚至使用节能灯泡都有助于显著减少电费。
美国节能经济委员会(American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)的资深成员哈维•萨奇(Harvey Sachs)说，这并不奇怪，因为窗式空调非常费电。