Most books about saving energy have about as much humor as a segment of "Dallas," so it is refreshing to find one that passes along a few smiles as well as some practical advice on dealing with the fuel crunch.
The book is "People Heaters" by Alexis Parks (Brick House Publishing Co., $4.95 paperback); it contains a number of droll drawings in turn-of-the-century style, as well as such delightful quotations as this one from solar-energy expert William Shurcliff: "I'd like to live in a house so well insulated that all it would take to heat it would be the daily burning of the New York Times."
"People Heaters" barely mentions such energy-book staples as insulating, weatherstripping, caulking or repairing the central-heating system. In fact, this book concerns itself mostly with the era when there was no central heating -- an era that might very well return if the prices of oil, gas and electricity get much higher.
Instead of dissertations on furnaces, "People Heaters" discusses such time-honored methods of keeping warm as the communal saunas of Finalnd and mass bathing of ancient Rome. Consider the spreading hot-tub movement as evidence that these customs already have been revived to some extent.
Another old-time custom that has strong requisites for a widespread comeback, and appears to be already making one in some quarters, is bundling -- the use of a bed by a number of persons who are not necessarily married or otherwise related.
There is a rather thorough discussion of wood stoves, with tips on picking the best ones, but this is tempered with a "half-serious balance sheet" attributed to a Vermonter who switched from oil to wood and calculated that he spent $376 less for fuel during the first year. In the same year, however, the Vermonter spent $36,388 for various expenses relating to his wood stoves, including $699 for a new living-room carpet, $840 for roof repairs, and $14,500 for a divorce settlement.
A typical useful bit of information from "People Heaters": The human body is a sort of space heater that generates about as much heat as a 100-watt lightbulb, and if properly clothed the body can remain comfortable in very cold temperatures. Thus, one of the most important items of clothing in cold weather is a cap or hat, since the uncovered head acts much like a chimney in releasing body heat.
Saving energy "doesn't mean going without heat, it just means heating differently," says the author, a Colorado native who has worked in various energy-conservation offices in that state. "And most of the ideas in the book require little or no money to design warmth back into our lives."