Q. You say that the more energy a family has been using, the more opportunities there are for savings. How much can someone really expect to save without sacrificing a reasonable comfort level in winter and in summer?
A. It really depends on the circumstances. But if a house has serious problems with hidden air and/or duct leaks, and has little or no insulation, there can be a 20 to 50 percent saving on heating and cooling with greatly improved comfort at the same time. “Waste” is not always a lifestyle or consumption issue. Although we certainly can save a lot by changing our lifestyles, many significant things require no sacrifice at all.
Take this example: In the 1970s refrigerators were less efficient than ever before or since. If you still have an avocado or burnt-orange fridge, replacing it with a new [model with an Energy Star rating] will use less than half the electricity annually and will likely include some nice newer features—like slide-out racks, drawer-freezer on the bottom and so on. And the new refrigerator may actually pay for itself in a reasonable time—provided you don’t keep the old one running out in the garage!
Also, many water heaters are terribly inefficient, and you don’t have to go without hot water to replace your heater with one that saves 10 to 40 percent on your water-heating costs.
Q. How does saving the environment intersect with saving dollars and cents?
A. The biggest single environmental impact we have as consumers is the energy we use, and energy used is directly tied to our energy bills. Of course, that includes transportation as well as housing, but nationally, buildings contribute more carbon than transportation does. Saving energy has a direct benefit by reducing the cost of living, and the benefits for the environment are automatic byproducts of those efforts.
Q. These days, many communities, including some specifically for older residents, prohibit outdoor clotheslines. What’s your take on that?
A. Two things. First, I think it’s a wretched commentary about our values that people should be forced to use energy unnecessarily for any such simple daily tasks. Second, you can always set up drying racks indoors. My used dryer has never been hooked up and makes a nice work shelf. We use wooden drying racks for most of the year for convenience.
Q. What is the biggest energy mistake people make in their homes?
A. It’s thinking that they have already done all that they can when they haven’t.
Another mistake is thinking that electric heaters will save them money; theoretically that might be true if they really shut down most of the house and lived in one or two rooms. But most people can’t—or won’t—really do that, since they have to heat their house to a certain point just to keep the pipes from freezing. Electric heaters that you plug in are all the same; they are all exactly 100 percent efficient, no more or no less—but electricity is an expensive fuel.
Q. What are the top 10 electricity-guzzling home appliances?
A. Pool heaters and pumps are the first two, followed by refrigerators, freezers, clothes dryers, waterbed heaters, room air conditioners, lighting, “other” and aquariums. Electric range tops, dishwashers and indoor electric space heaters are numbers 11 to 13. Of course, the first couple of these are not appliances. Of all of them, the electric range is the only one you can’t really do much about—other than cooking less, which is not really an option because eating out isn’t cheaper and won’t save energy either!
Read More: Excerpt from "Cut Your Energy Bills Now"