Sunday, March 30, 2003

Save energy, starve a terrorist

You don't have to be a ecobabbling tree-hugger or leftist to appreciate energy conservation nowadays. That's especially true now that we're fighting in Iraq - there are plenty of dangerous dragons to be slain there, but the simple fact is that we're fighting those particular ones instead of any of dozens of others is because they're around a major supplier of our oil. (And while you're at it, keep an eye on other major oil suppliers like Nigeria and Venezuela).

Lefties generally support energy conservation, but their prescriptions typically are either nutty lifestyles or govt programs. And they're simply stupid when it comes to their supply side prescriptions. They'll never solve the problem they claim to want to solve.

As for the rest of us, well, nothing much seems to be happening besides bitching about electric bills and the occasional power outage. That's a shame, because there are so many minimally painful ways to curtail power consumption.

Let's start with consciousness. Do you have any idea how many power consuming devices are on in your home now? Do you know how much power they take, or at least which ones are the biggest consumers?

My background is as an engineer from the nuclear power industry, so maybe my expectations are out of whack. But I've been astounded at some of the things I have found otherwise intelligent and motivated people doing which affected their electric or other power consumption drastically.

For instance, do you have pets? Do you provide a heated area for them to stay in? OK fine - but use a spot heat source such as a light bulb, don't heat the entire garage like one couple I know. You can shield the lightbulb so it doesn't dazzle your pets. And they're used for heat more often than you might think, such as to keep the instrumentation from freezing at municipal water tanks.

Do all of your rooms need the same attention? For instance, can you shut off the heat or A/C to the guest bedroom or others? It's easy - just close the vanes on the register. If it doesn't have vanes, replace it with one that does.

Is your furnace filter clean? Clean it or replace it as needed, to improve the air circulation. This is especially significant if you have allergies, or have major dust or dander sources indoors or out.

Do you provide power to outbuildings via buried power lines? Slow shorts on such lines can suck down significant amounts of power long before they blow a breaker or fuse, as another couple I know found out. Hubby had been in a hurry to put in the power, cut some corners at a buried splice, and you should have seen the steam come out of the ground when he dug it back up to fix it.

Do you have a well pump? Make sure it is operating properly and your captive air tank (if any) is properly charged. The pump is a significant power consumer, and it shouldn't be kicking on every time you flush the commode or run the water.

Simply closing shades can work wonders, especially if they are thick enough to provide some insulation. You might be money ahead to close the drapes and turn on a light.

What about those lights? In the winter they're your friend - replace them with higher wattage values. But in the summer you're paying once for the juice to light them, and again to suck the heat back out. So back off on the wattage values. Better yet, use the long life low power bulbs - they look funny and don't always fit into the same spaces old bulbs do, but they can provide the same light for less heat and power and they last a lot longer too.

Do you have a geothermal heat pump system? One couple I know wondered why their bills were sky-high. It turned out that an emergency switch was flipped that had their supplemental electric heat on all the time, so they were using far more power than they should have been.

Do you have an attic fan? Attics can reach very high temperatures, and that heat creeps into your house. Attic fans keep fresh air coming in, lowering attic temperatures and ultimately the cooling demand on your A/C.

Do you have enough insulation? It helps in the summer too. If you're in an old house, you may have less than you think.

What about your hot water heater? Extra insulation can help here, especially in the summer. Take shorter showers and blow the extra humid heat out the bathroom fan or window before you open the bathroom door.

Your dryer? It is vented outdoors, right?

Do you have a setback thermostat? They're cheap and easy to install, and by using them you can make sure the heat and A/C are only on when you need them. For instance, you might set it to lower the heat a bit after you go to bed, come back to normal before you rise, cut back when you go to work, and start back just before you get back. Don't argue with me like one couple did (and they knew I was an engineer - sheesh).

There are many more suggestions here.

OK, so where do you get the stuff to do this? It's probably as close as your hardware store or Walmart.

Where do you get the money? From the money you'll save on power bills.

If you like to shop over the internet, here is a site of interest. I have no connection with them other than some past purchases and a place on their email distribution list. They offer a lot of products which can be helpful in reducing your power consumption and your convenience in doing so. Here's another site. If you have other suggestions, comment here or email me and I'll post them too.

But don't put it off. If our troops can sweat it out in the desert, you can try it a little at home.

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