Energy Efficiency in the Home

Five simple steps towards better energy efficiency in the home.

| April/May 1998

  • Energy Efficient Flourescent Bulbs
    Flourescent light bulbs are an energy efficiency must.

  • Energy Efficient Flourescent Bulbs

Insulation. Weather-stripping. Water-heater blankets. High efficiency lighting. Are you yawning yet? Day-to-day resource conservation is not nearly so glamorous as chaining oneself to a redwood tree or marching on Washington. Sure, we all know — intellectually — that conservation is what we really should do, just like we all know we really should read more classic literature, but, being mere mortals, we usually leave David Copperfield on the shelf and reach for the remote control. Here's a factoid to post on your refrigerator, complements of Amory Lovins of The Rocky Mountain Institute: "All the remote control televisions in the U.S., when turned to the "off" position, still use the equivalent in output of one Chernobyl-sized power plant."

In the energy business, we call that a phantom load — the power your house is consuming when no one is home and all your appliances appear to be off (appear being the operative word). Phantom load is just one of the culprits working to defeat energy conservation efforts. The biggest culprit of all is human nature. We all care deeply about global warming, rapid depletion of natural resources, and toxic-waste production. But these issues seem so distant and enormous that we feel that our individual contributions can't have a meaningful impact. After all, when you chain yourself to a redwood tree, you see an immediate, if transitory, effect. It's hard to get the same exhilarating feeling of accomplishment when you buy a water-heater blanket. But you should.

Imagine for a moment that your Uncle Sam just gave you $2,000 to invest. Would you choose mutual funds? Certificates of deposit? Real estate? What if you found an investment that would net you a 100% annual return? How about a 300% return? Investing in simple, relatively inexpensive energy efficient conservation measures in the home will give you that kind of return, risk-free.

Energy Efficiency Step 1: Washing Machine

According to a revealing report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, investments in energy efficiency improvements to buildings in just three states, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, could save more than one hundred and fifty billion energy dollars, and reduce U.S. air pollution emissions by 24%. Here's another point to ponder: if every subscriber to MOTHER replaced their washing machine with a new water-conserving horizontal axis model, the annual water savings would be two billion gallons.

Retailing at around $500 more than conventional washers, these front-loading H-axis machines are one of the best conservation investments on the market. Before your heart stops at the prospect of spending that amount of money on such a simple appliance, consider the following. Instead of filling a tub of water and using an agitator to move clothing around, H-axis machines have an inner perforated drum that contains the laundry, and an outer drum that contains the wash water — as little as half the amount of water needed to fill a comparable vertical-axis washer. Clothes are lifted and fall into the wash water, efficiently cleansed and rinsed by water forced through the clothing fibers. Drying times are shorter because the drum spins upwards of 900 rpm, extracting most of the water from the load before it goes in the dryer. Water consumption is cut by 30% to 50%, and power to heat the water and to dry laundry is cut by 50% to 65%.

You don't need a calculator to figure out that the extra $500 you paid up front will be more than offset by dramatically reduced operating expenses. There are a number of H-axis models on the market, with various bells and whistles. The numbers to look for are the capacity (compare with your old one), water usage per load, and spin speed (the higher the rpm, the shorter the dryer time). Maytag's Neptune model is one of the best, with the largest capacity of any residential machine and an 800 rpm spin speed.

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