Gail Hawkins cut her daily driving by half, abandoned her electric stove for a charcoal grill and disconnected her air-conditioner -- all in an effort to conserve energy and pay less for it.

But on sweltering days when Hawkins can no longer stand the heat in her Dale City Home, the 28-year-old secretary and her husband turn to their last resort -- the miniature pool belonging to their 4-year old daughter.

"We run cold water in there and act like we're playing with her," Hawkins says, even though her real motive is to beat the heat. "We stick our feet in there, out hands, anything we can get wet."

Hawkins is among numerous Washington area residents -- from construction workers and office employes to congressmen and oil executives -- who are slowly gravitating toward an energy-conscious life style.

For the first time in their lives, these families are cutting back on their use of gas, oil, electricity and gasoline -- not necessarily in response to President Carter's exhortations, but for financial, practical and patriotic reasons of their own.

Their adjustments range from the purely symbolic, such as the suggestion of Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) that members of Congress walk down stairs instead of taking the elevator, to the pragmatic, such as the recent purchase of three new pairs of dress shorts by a government mathematician who wears them to work.

Most of the more than 30 area residents interviewed this week said their principal conservation measures were to drive less and cut down on air conditioning.

Rep. Clarence J. Brown (R-Ohio), a member of a House energy subcommittee, said his household was cooled by a small fan "until we got into the hot, humid weather." Now his home air-conditioner thermostat rests at 78 degrees, Brown said. The congressman bought a new home in Cleveland Park in May because of its close proximity to a Metro station and the Hill -- but he must wait to sell his current Bethesda home before moving in, he said.

Senate Energy Committee member Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon) said yesterday he carefully plans automobile trips so several errands can be taken care of in one sweep.

"I would say we have reduced our driving by at least a quarter to one third," Hatfield said, adding that the planning has brought his family closer together because they combine their outings instead of going separate ways.

Potomac Electric Power Co. Senior Vice President Paul Dragoumise has canceled his usual weekend vacations, he said. Now he spends his Saturdays and Sundays digging ditches in his yard.

"I've been doing that instead of going to the Eastern Shore . . . I wonder about my sanity," Dragoumise said.

The president of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil lobby, said he, too, has made some adjustments.

"We have not turned on the airconditioner in our house this year -- period," Charles Di Bona said. "In fact, I'm not sure it even works."

In addition to abandoning his air conditioning, Di Bona said, "I've developed a technique of driving where I almost never step on the brake. You get more miles to the gallon that way."

But some residents say they have been unable to shut down their air conditioning entirely -- the heat and humidity are just too much for them.

"It's not too hot to do without -- it's just damned uncomfortable," said Rep. Phil Sharp (D-Indiana). A member of a House energy subcommittee, Sharp recently purchased a compact car and he has become "selective" in driving it. But his air-conditioner, set at 78, is still running.

"I guess we haven't decided to make that ultimate sacrifice yet," Sharp said.

Nor has Washington Hostess Ina Ginsburg. Ginsburg said she raised the thermostat in her home from its usual 70 degrees to 75 -- but so far she has avoided the 78-deree setting urged by President Carter.

Martin Cordes, a mathematician with the National Bureau of Standards, has little choice -- all federal buildings must be cooled to no lower than 78 degrees. So Cordes keeps as cool as possible, he said, by wearing shorts to work three times a week.

"I was a little hesitant to wear them," said Cordes, who purchased three new pairs of shorts several weeks ago when the thermostat settings were switched to 78 degrees. Most of Cordes' working companions still are clad in dresses or coats and ties, "but I've had no derogatory comments . . . I hope to wear [shorts] as much as possible," Cordes said.

Rhoda B. Singer, an AFL-CIO secretary for 21 years, said she cut her driving bby 40 percent through car pooling and substituted a large fan for air conditioning.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who sits on the energy committee, said he takes the train from Garret Park near Rockville to the Capitol each morning. He also has left his station wagon in the driveway in favor of a small car.

But Domenici said the energy-saving measures have a basic purpose that is more important to him than financial considerations. "I don't think there's any way for us in public life anymore to fail to practice what we preach. If you aren't experiencing what you ask your people to experience . . . it could be counter-productive," Domenici said.

James Schlesinger, the outgoing Energy Department secretary, had his home insulated more than a year ago, but so far has decided against car pooling because of his irregular hours, spokesman John Harris said. Each morning, Schlesinger arrives at the office by a chauffer-driven, government-owned Ford Granada, Harris said.

Similarly, Virginia Gov. John W. Dalton, who walks the 200 feet from the governor's mansion to his office each morning, "has not felt it appropriate to curtail official travel," press secretary Paul G. Edwards said.

For land developer Jack Coopersmith, trimming energy consumption is a civic duty, though. "Call it patriotism, I guess. . . . It isn't that I can't afford the price of gasoline," said the owner of two Mercedes Benzes and a Volvo, "it's just that I don't want to violate the spirit [of conserving]."

Charles Atherton, secretary of the federal Commission on Fine Arts, said he is conserving, too. Most weekends last summer, Atherton drove elsewhere for entertainment but now, "I'm doing much more around the city -- visiting museums around the Mall, visiting parks."

In addition, Atherton has refused to break out the four air-conditioners he normally used each summer. "They're just sitting up in the attic, collecting dust," Atherton said.

Henry Tenenbaum keeps his three air-conditioners in the rooms where they belong -- but this summer Tenenbaum, host of the weeknightly PM Magazine on WDVM (Channel 9), is using only one of them.

"My bedroom has become the center of my house," Tenenbaum said, "because that's the only air-conditioner I use." CAPTION: Picture, Gail Hawkins and daughter Leslie show their last resort -- a wading pool. By John McDonnell -- The Washington Post