Publicity about the greenhouse effect the atmospheric changes blamed by some experts for the heat waves and drought experienced this summer - is helping to revive concern about home-energy efficiency.
Several authorities say more-effective use of appliances and better control of home energy can not only save money but also help keep us more comfortable outdoors."One factor that contributes to the greenhouse effect is emissions from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil," said Leslie E. Aitcheson, media coordinator for the Conservation and Renewable Energy and Inquiry Service, which is doing its bit to cool the national greenhouse by offering a couple of free publications, "Passive Cooling" and "Buying an Energy-Efficient House." The service is one of the few surviving government-aided agencies specializing in consumer information.
"By reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, consumers may reduce the impact of the greenhouse effect," Aitcheson said. "This reduction may be either direct or indirect. For example, coal is the primary fuel used to generate electricity. By using less electricity, consumers may also indirectly burn less coal."
"Passive Cooling" (publication FS 186) discusses ways to keep a home cool without resorting to electric air conditioning. Insulation, shading, ventilation and roof treatments are among the topics discussed in the illustrated leaflet.
"Buying an Energy-Efficient House" (FS 207) is geared to prospective home buyers and can be used as a checklist when shopping for a home. The leaflet can also be useful in evaluating any home for energy efficiency, since it provides tips on recognizing fuel-saving features.
Both booklets also contain bibliographies for finding additional information on energy efficiency.
Either or both of the leaflets can be obtained by calling 800-523-2929 toll-free or by writing the Conservation and Renewable Energy and Inquiry Service, Box 8900, Silver Spring, Md. 20907.
Another shot at household energy waste is taken by Alan Durning, an energy expert at Worldwatch Institute, a Washington think tank.
"The energy profligacy of our homes now threatens the health of our planet," Durning writes in a recent issue of World Watch, the institute's magazine. "Our lights, refrigerators and televisions are powered by coal-burning generators that spew out the gases responsible for acid rain and the greenhouse effect, and by nuclear reactors with thousand-year radioactive legacies."
Durning's article, titled "Setting Our Houses in Order," also makes the disconcerting point that "most households waste half of the energy they consume."
One of the biggest problems, Durning says, is rental housing. "Landlords ignore opportunities to increase efficiency because tenants pay energy bills, while most tenants do not invest in property they do not own," he writes.
The choice of a home-heating fuel is clear, according to Durning. "From the point of view of efficiency, electricity should be your energy resource of last resort, since generating a unit of electrical energy requires three units of fossil-fuel energy," he writes. "If your house is hooked up to gas lines, go with gas. If wood is cheap in your area, get an efficient wood stove. Otherwise, heat with oil."
Durning also pushes hard for high-efficiency appliances. "Paying extra money up front for an efficiency model is good economics," he writes, pointing out that a standard electric water heater can cost twice as much to operate during its lifetime as a high-efficiency heater. "Indeed, the extra investment often pays better dividends than anything on Wall Street."
The relative efficiencies of many appliances can be determined by checking their energy-efficient ratings, or EERs, listed on special labels attached to the appliances.
Durning offers a number of simple tips for energy saving:
-Spend a day on a heat-leak (or cooling-leak) chase, sealing the house's shell by weatherstripping windows, doors and other gaps.
-Use shades and drapes to help keep the sun's heat out in summer, warm air inside in winter.
-Have furnace and air conditioner tuned and, if needed, upgraded. Insulate ducts and pipes.
-Insulate the water heater and set its temperature at 120 degrees.
-Install low-flow water faucets and shower heads.
-Clean refrigerator coils and check the fridge's door seal.
-Use fluorescent lights indoors, sodium or halide lights outdoors.