Straight Talk Articles

Helping Pets and Saving Energy
July, 2019

We love our house pets, and we love saving energy. This month’s article looks at three common questions, from readers like you.

1. We’ve thought about putting in a pet door. Is that a good idea?


A: Pet doors can be a convenience for the pet owner and an even greater convenience for the pet.  They can also be a great convenience for raccoons, skunks and other critters.  There are some entertaining stories and videos on the internet of unwanted animals entering homes through pet doors – even deer!


Pet doors have an energy impact.  A pet door that is poorly-made or installed improperly will create unwanted drafts that increase energy bills and reduce comfort. The wrong type of door may also be pushed open in high winds.  


Installing one that is certified by the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) or has a double or triple flap can reduce your energy loss and make life easier for you and your pets.  The best solution may be a high-quality electronic door that is activated by a chip on your pet’s collar.(1)


It’s hard to undo a pet door installation, so before taking the leap, we suggest doing your research.  Maybe there are other strategies that will give you and your pet some of the convenience benefits without the downsides.  One other interesting but minor consideration:  Indoor pets help heat your home by converting food into body heat just like a human.  One article we found estimated that a dog generates about 75 watts.(2) 


2. To save energy, we like to keep our house cool on winter nights and let it warm up on summer days. How much hot and cold can our pup and tabby handle?


A: Cats and dogs handle the cold better than humans.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates facilities that house cats and dogs, requires these facilities to maintain temperatures above 50°F.  Some exceptions are allowed for breeds accustomed to the cold or if some means of insulating the animals is provided.(3)   Your pet’s tolerance depends on their breed and the thickness of their coat.  A report by the Purdue Center for Animal Science says that Siberian huskies can tolerate temperatures below freezing, but some short haired dogs need temperatures of 59°F.(4)   Older animals may need warmer temperature than younger.


In the summer, cats and dogs handle the heat in different ways.  Cats clearly enjoy warmer temperatures than dogs and do a good job of reducing their activity level as temperatures climb.    But both cats and dogs can get overheated.  The USDA says that room temperatures in facilities housing dogs or cats should not exceed 85°F degrees for more than 4 hours at a time.


3. Is it okay if I send my cat or my dog to sleep in the garage overnight?

A: USDA rules suggest this should be fine if your garage temperature stays between 50° and 85° F.  Some breeds can deal with lower temperatures.  Any breed might be able to handle a little lower temperature if they have a warm, insulated bed. 


I would rule out heating or cooling your garage for your pet.   I know someone who lived in a harsh winter climate who kept their dog in the heated the garage on winter nights. It was great for the dog, but they had enormous utility bills!  This makes sense, since an uninsulated but heated garage could easily cost more to heat than a house.


A better energy solution than heating the garage is a heated pet house.  An internet search will turn up dozens of options.   You will also find heated beds for cats and dogs, some that use as little as 4 watts of electricity.


We hope you found these answers helpful as you work at saving energy while caring for your favorite furry friend.


This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on helping pets and saving energy, please visit the July 2019 more information page.



(1) Source:

(2) Source:

(3) Source:, pg 113

 (4) Source:



A pet door that is too narrow or too high off the ground may be impossible for your pet to get through, making it a big energy drain. Photo: Tony Alter,