Giving it the boot: Insulation or guilty pleasure?

Posted October 15, 2015

I’m returning the boots. I’ve been looking at them in their box for a few days, feeling vaguely uneasy about purchasing new shoes with so many other things that my new house is going to need in the next few months: attic insulation, spray-foam basement insulation, rim joist insulation, new windows. You know, the kind of things (all pricier than shoes) that will make the Vermont winter that much more comfortable…but somehow the new boots made their way home with me.

What rational thought process lulled me from this emotional lapse? I started thinking about all the work my house needs, and it wasn’t the looming insulation job that turned me “rational”, but the thought of hiring a carpenter for about $30 an hour, and what could get done in, say, 6 hours…the cost of snazzy new boots. It seems like a lot of work could get done in six hours. And I’d see it, and value it, and realize I’d get a lot more utility from those six hours than a few days in new boots.

This got me thinking about other “value” metrics I’ve used. The media likes to measure things in Starbucks lattes, but I used to measure things in Swedish fish.

In grade school, on those special days when my friend’s mom picked us up, we went to the one general store in town with $1 each to spend on penny candy, waited our turn to tell the owner what we wanted, and he patiently counted out 100 pieces of candy in any combination. My typical order was 33 red fish, 33 purple fish, and 34 sour watermelons. Boy, that candy was delicious, and I savored each little piece from the little brown paper bag. And so I came to measure things in Swedish fish: Is this book really worth 600 Swedish fish? Are these earrings worth 1200 Swedish fish? Even into my teen and college years: Are these jeans worth 8,000 Swedish fish? Clearly the utility of 8,000 Swedish fish would be way higher.

When I step back and think about the cost of things in terms of “units” of items or services I value rather than dollars, it becomes easier to make clear decisions. It forces me to think about how I’d value the experience of better insulation or better windows. Will I truly value the experience of new windows (which I know are not typically cost-effective in kWh terms) that don’t shutter or creak every time the wind blows, even if it means giving up ______ ?

So, it brings me to wonder what other “value” metrics people use these days. Do all millennials measure things in iPhones? Probably not. What do you really enjoy that could be used as a “value” metric? Dinners out? SoulCycle classes? New England Patriots tickets? Is there any way we could use our unique value metrics to make energy efficiency messaging more fun and, frankly, more compelling?

What’s a CCF worth to you?

Update: The boots have been returned. Perhaps I need a poster-sized chart of my home’s energy waste to keep me in line?