Home Energy Efficiency (Part 1)

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new-suburban-stockade-introAll of the goals here at Fortress Peschel lead to one ultimate destination and that is financial independence. Being financially independent, or at least closer to it, means

home energy efficiency pearls before swine jinxies

Being more resilient makes you less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It does not make the bad times go away.

having some degree of control over your life. When you owe piles of money, you owe your life to your creditors. When you can’t grow some of your own food, preserve it and cook it, you are at the mercy of fully stocked grocery stores that are available at all times (plus the money to pay for it). When you don’t have money in the bank, (and you have those piles of debt), you are totally dependent on having your salary continuing, whether or not your job exists next month.

Everything we do here at Fortress Peschel is to make us less dependent on various supply chains that are thousands of miles long and beyond our control. Being more resilient makes you less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It does not make the bad times go away. It does not keep the hurricane offshore or the wolf from your door. You can still meet the Mack truck at the intersection. You can still get cancer. Bad things will still happen.

But what we do get from our hard work is being less harmed by bad things. Having two weeks of food on hand means you can eat, at least for a while. No debt and money in the bank means you can stave off the wolf, at least for a while. Good diet and regular exercise leads to better health, so you can better deal with illness and injury. To be succinct, the closer you are to the edge, the less margin you have for error. No matter what idiocy you hear, failure is always an option.

Being energy independent means two things: you spend less money in the long run (hooray!) and if prices rise through the roof, you spend much less money than you otherwise would have.

Being energy independent does not keep crazy people from blowing up oilfields making the price of oil quadruple overnight, nor does it keep the hurricane from flooding your basement, forcing you to replace your furnace years earlier than you planned. It doesn’t make the winters warmer nor the summers cooler.

What it does do is make it easier to cope with all of the above. Every dollar you don’t spend on energy costs is a dollar you can apply to something else. If you apply them to your savings, they’ll accumulate tax free. Remember that you get taxed on what you earn, not what you save (at least, not yet!).

We’ve saved a lot of money at Fortress Peschel by reducing our energy usage. It required us to spend some money up front and to do some hard, dirty work ourselves. It meant we had to make lifestyle changes. But they worked together, feeding off and reinforcing each other. At our house, we call them heterodyning.

Here’s an example of heterodyning in action:

1. If you heavily insulate your house, you will save money.

2. If you lower your thermostat in the winter and put on a sweater, you will save money.

3. But if you do BOTH, you will save much more money than either one alone.

The side benefit of energy efficiency and conservation is that you have the pleasure of knowing that less of your money spent at the gas pump ends up in the pockets of terrorists. If that doesn’t matter to you, then about reducing our country’s need to build fewer polluting power plants so with every dollar you don’t spend?

Since these things matter to me, so I hang my laundry on a clothesline year round. It’s non-polluting and free after paying for poles, clothesline, clothespins, and a bag to put them in. Standing outside hanging clothes gives me some sunshine every day, which improves my health and attitude.

home energy efficiency washer

Buying, installing, and maintaining solar panels to power a dryer is stupid.

Buying, installing, and maintaining solar panels to power a dryer is stupid. Use a clothesline and save the solar power for something you can’t do as easily, i.e., generate electricity for your TV or computer.

The difficulty in practicing energy efficiency is something called the Jevons Paradox. William Stanley Jevons was a Victorian British economist and he noticed that technological improvements in the use of coal did not lead to a drop in the use of coal. On the contrary, it lead directly to using more and more coal as its usage got cheaper and cheaper.

This is just as true today. Electricity used to be expensive and scarce. People didn’t use it for much as it cost too much to do so. As the technology improved, the cost dropped, and more and more usages for electricity developed until here we are today, with electronic picture frames. The picture changes for you! Regularly! You don’t have to do a thing! Does each electronic picture frame use much power? Nope, not at all. Add up a few million, however, plugged in 24/7, and you’re talking a power plant. Just so we don’t have to look at the same boring picture of our kids all the time.

While I’m on the subject of digital electric picture frames, don’t forget that they come with a huge amount of consumed energy in each one: the energy used to mine and refine all the materials used in manufacturing the picture frame, to actually make the frame of said materials, energy to ship, warehouse and sell the frame, and the power plant needed to run it 24/7.

To be truly energy efficient, you need to wring out every drop of usefulness from a fuel source and then you still have to use less! That is, you switch to the most fuel-efficient car you can find and then you still have to drive less! You don’t get to drive more because you’re doing it in a Prius. You don’t get to turn up your thermostat in the winter because you installed a more efficient furnace. To get the most benefit, you should still turn it down and put on a sweater.

Conservation is just as important as efficiency. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are in using your fuel, if you keep on using more than ever. So how do we do this? We improve our efficiency (so as to wring out every drop of power from a given unit), we cut out waste (i.e., energy we carelessly spill on the ground), and we make lifestyle changes that let us use less overall.

You end up doing all of these things kind of at the same time, but that’s not how we’ll talk about what to do. We’ll address it in sections. Reducing waste and lifestyle changes can be easy and cheap, even free, but not always.

Improving energy efficiency usually means replacing (i.e. a shopping choice and spending money) some piece of equipment with another one that uses less energy. This choice can also be made (but rarely is) by getting rid of a piece of equipment altogether. That is to say, you stop using a dryer and start using a clothesline. The most energy efficient dryer in the universe, one that comes with a gold plated energy star to wear around your neck, will still use more electricity than a clothesline ever will.

Next week, we’ll look at the lifestyle choices you can make that will start saving you money instantly.