Three Energy and Money Saving Tips You Can Use TODAY

cowboyindNovember 25, 2004

We're running out of fuel on this planet. While the search for alternative energy sources is on, we need to remember that a kilowatt or BTU saved is just as good as a new one found. Conservation isn't as glamorous as a solar-powered house or a geothermal hesting system, but it has the potential to be far more beneficial to our world's energy future because it's something EVERYONE can do TODAY.

And the best thing is, it can be nearly painless. Most of use have energy wasting habits that we can change very easily and quickly, saving energy and allowing us to keep more money in our pockets.

1. Turn the heat down at night and when you're away from home. The biggest energy myth believed by people is that it uses more energy to heat a house back up then to leave it at the same temperature 24 hours a day. This is wrong. Turning the heat down when you're away from home saves energy in two ways: Heat loss is reduced because the temperature difference between your house and the outdoors is less, and the heating system will run in a longer stretch when the heat is turned back up, and longer running times are more efficient than short on/off cycles. The only exception is for electric heat pumps. If you have a heat pump, you need to buy a special heat pump setback thermostat with "smart" recovery in order to set your heat back when you're away and bring it back up when you get home. If you have a heat pump and simply turn the heat down when you leave and then up when you get home, you might activate the auxiliary heat, costing you more energy than you would have used to leave the temperature alone. Electric heat pumps are the ONLY heat source where this is an issue.

2. Buy five compact fluorescent light bulbs and put them in your five most-used lamps -- today. Incandescent light bulbs are ridiculously inefficient, and should only be used in closets (where the light is on very briefly) and in fixtures that absolutely can't accommodate compact fluorescents. (Consider changing those fixtures to fluorescent ones when possible.) By putting the compact fluorescents in your five most-used lamps, you maximize your energy savings and extend the life of the bulbs, since fluorescents last longest if not switched on and off frequently.

3. Turn your computer off when you're not using it. Computers account for a high percentage of the growth in electricity demand in North America. If your computer is a newer Energy Star model, it's okay to use the "sleep" or "low power" mode rather than turning it off, but otherwise turn it off. Studies have shown that it's a myth that it's better for the computer to leave it on all the time. In fact, computers left on all the time in a "high power" mode (such as with a screen saver on the screen rather than a dark powered down monitor) fail sooner than those turned off when not in use, and they're also more vulnerable to power surges.

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Hi again cowboyind,

Maybe I should get a switch as a flat panel situated well above the keyboard of the computer ...

... that'll turn it off when I go to sleep while using it and my head hits that panel.

I'd need a hole for my nose, though, for I wouldn't want to damage it, since it would hit the bar first. And I have rather a large nose - at least, that was the opinion of the Koreans - but they tend to rather flat noses.

Who nose which is best: maybe both equally efficient?

As any who've read several of my posts know - I am a strong advocate of reducing our use of precious resources and of conservation of those that we do use.

I took my old 1980 Ford van, with over 300,000, possibly 400,000 km. (250,000 mi.) on the odometer almost full of used pop cans (probably about 2,500), only a small number of them crushed, to the scrap metal dealer's the other day.

Came away with $93.00 plus. Not too shabby.

I try to make such trips when I'm to travel to that area (the other end of the city) on other business.

My friend had asked me to pull his small trailer with scrap steel that day, and a light bulb (compact fluorescent) went off in my head, telling me that I'd have zero cost to take my pop cans along.

We made three trips, using a small decommissioned tent trailer, only a dozen blocks or so. The loads were so heavy that they ran the tires about a third flat - they complained, and when we went to check found that a metal flange was rubbing on them, so moved it.

My friend came away with about $300. - scrap steel price has increased about 50% in recent months, as the Chinese and Indians are asking for large quantities.

The friend's landlord asked us whether we'd like him to come out to the scrap yard to pick us up.

Meaning that we should leave the van, which has quite a few holes in the body (I advise riders to be sure to wear seat belt) and the trailer along with the scrap.

Injured our dignity, he did.

Have an energy-saving Thansgiving, all.

And safe and happy, as well.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   November 25, 2004 at 4:32PM
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Hey Cowboy . ..

I'll "challenge" your statement : "we need to remember that a kilowatt or BTU saved is just as good as a new one found."

I suggest that a kWh or BTU saved is BETTER than a new one found. Every form of energy that we use has embodied energy attached to it. Consider gasoline . . . by NOT using 1 gallon ( saving it somehow ) we have avoided that direct impact; but have also avoided all the energy involved in drilling it, refining it, transporting it etc. So you save MORE than that one gallon. The same principle applies to every form of energy . . saving a few kWh here and there . . saves MORE than that actual amount of energy . . . power plants have losses no matter WHAT their fuel, environmental consequences of various types etc.

Another aspect I'd like to toss out is the process of "justifying" virtually any energy saving expense; in terms of money only. Let's say we're considering some "extra" insulation when we're building. It costs $xx for some extra R-value above what is required. The savings in heating does not justify that amount. So S%#&can the extra insulation ? I would not. Simply consider that the dollars are only one form of justifying it. You can consider the extra comfort it will provide. You can consider that the next buyer of your place may well consider it a selling point; it may even meet standards in the future as they get more and more stringent. Many times these calculations do not seem to include increases in energy prices . . . one can only guess them at best; but we ALL know they're not going to be going down in the long run . . . . more likely a question of how fast they'll go up. In some cases; these can rapidly justify upgrades . . . .

We can also all have an impact by wise choices of what types of materials we use to do many things: I chose cellulose insulation for my home when building simply because it is great insulation; but it has very little embodied energy . . . whereas f'glass is very high, so too are foams etc which may also have other enviromental impact / concerns as well. I also chose metal roofing for similar reasons . . . it will outlast me, and can be easily recycled anytime. Consider that energy usage against doing conventional shingle roofing covering the same time period. Clearly a lot less energy involved; and a LOT less landfill too.

Your ideas are all good; there are also lots of other less obvious ways as well to accomplish the same thing by just thinking a little bit more and in a slightly different way, about some of the things we do every day in our lives . . .


    Bookmark   November 25, 2004 at 7:30PM
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You're of course right that saving energy is actually better than finding new energy. Considering the energy used just to extract and process various energy sources, conservation yields a greater than 100 percent payoff.

The reason I posted that message is because I think so often people don't think there's anything they can do. There are things people can do, and they're not even all that hard.

We have a very serious energy problem developing, and I don't think most people are even aware of its enormity. At some point in the not too distant future, oil prices will spike tremendously when world oil supply can no longer keep pace with demand. This may happen in 6 months or maybe in 6 years, but it's going to happen. And the ONLY viable short term strategy is to reduce energy use sharply.

People seem to think some scientist somewhere is going to whip up some "alternative fuel" that's going to solve everyone's problem. It's not going to happen. The "alternative" fuels people talk about now, such as alcohol-based fuels and hydrogen, have huge amounts of energy that go into making them. With some, it's even questionable as to whether they're even really net energy sources, or whether their production in fact consumes more energy than the fuels created ultimately yield.

One reason I tend to favor use of electricity in many situations right now over some other fuels is because I think that's where the future lies. At least with electricity, we have "clean coal" plants and nuclear as future options. But what we're doing now, generating it increasingly with natural gas, is energy suicide. We're literally throwing away 50+ percent of the heat value of that gas out the smokestacks of electric generating plants.

The saying in the Middle East is, "My grandfather rode a camel, my son drove a car, I fly in an airplane, and my children will ride a camel." If we don't get serious about our energy situation, they're going to be right.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2004 at 12:24PM
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Sorry, that saying should read, "My grandfather rode a camel, my father drove a car, I fly in an airplane, and my children will ride a camel."

    Bookmark   November 26, 2004 at 12:25PM
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Hi cowboyind,

I think we got your drift, even if the generations got mixed up a bit.

Are you sure that you weren't into the sauce, yesterday? I didn't think that was a major feature of Thanksgiving. Anyway, if you were drinking, I hope that you weren't driving soon after.

It takes a lot of energy to build replacement cars.

And high cost to repair damaged bodies - which were, until recent years, not replaceable, and now are only partially so.

Just as long as you guys know whether you're coming or going.

Speaking of "drift" - it snowed here, yesterday.

The older that I get - the less that I like winter.

Good wishes for continuing conservation.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   November 26, 2004 at 2:56PM
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Another tip is to put all computers and peripherals, tvs, vcrs, stereos, clocks, etc. on power strips to be turned off when not in use, which prevents phantom(?)loads (electronic equipment that uses small amounts of power when turned off). While it may seem like an insignificant amount for one household it adds up to a huge amount of wasted energy over time.
Hope ya'll had a great Thanksgiving!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2004 at 3:16PM
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We tell the kids, if its daylight, don't turn on the lights! We have plenty of light during the day and its just wasteful. We monitor the shower length-usually they get a bellow of "get out of the shower" if its been too long. They might not get out that second but they know to hurry it up. We try to get the kids to use towels a couple times before they throw in the laundry and tell them if clothes are still clean hang back up.

After tinkering with the dryer I have figured out where to put start control on dryer so clothes don't run longer than nessicary. I marked with black marker so kids know when they throw clothes in dryer where to put it. We turn off water heater at night (from 10pm to 4am) and only wash clothes in cold water. Just throw in some bleach when washing whites.

And I try not to just run to the store on a whim. If kids want something that isn't emergency I tell them add to the shopping list and I make a trip once a week. My daughter is great for announcing I need or want "whatever" and I say its just wasteful to jump in the car for just that. I try to combine errands. I know we won't change the world with just with what we do but I feel better and I am showing the kids that we care.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2004 at 10:07AM
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A lot more great tips have been added.

But Mudbugtx, I'm a little curious about those clocks you're turning off when they're not in use. Doesn't that affect their accuracy some? :-)

Since it's the holiday season, I thought of another money and environment-saving idea that also makes a great gift: rechargeable batteries. If you're buying battery-powered toys for kids, instead of buying armloads of alkaline batteries, why not get them a set of rechargeable batteries and a charger as one of their gifts? (Obviously if these are young kids, the adults should be the ones to operate the charger and deal with the batteries, not the kids themselves.) The best strategy is to buy enough rechargeable batteries so that you can always have an extra set charged and ready to go. So, if you have 3 toys that use AA batteries and each one takes two of them batteries, buy 8 AA rechargeables.

Using rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries saves a lot of money in the long run over alkaline batteries, especially with toys that tend to be left on and forgotten, resulting in frequent battery replacements. And they're much better for the environment, since rechargeable batteries can be charged up hundreds of times before being discarded, reducing toxic waste.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2004 at 5:11PM
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This isn't my week as far as accuracy. I didn't mean to write "two of them batteries." I meant to substitute "them" for "batteries."

Now, if I had meant to say it that way, I would have said, "two of them there batteries."

And, Joyfulguy, no, I'm not drunk, and have not been drunk anytime recently. About two beers at a time is my limit.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2004 at 6:38PM
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I couldn't agree more about batteries. Companies who make them have improved their products by removing a number of the toxic materials, but a conventional use-once battery is still an extremely toxic and wasteful item.

Also, of the rechargeable batteries, NiMH and NiCd have some important differences. NiMH holds more power, can be recharged more (about 1000 times), and most importantly the components in it are not classified as hazardous waste. NiCd is the older technology and it contains the extremely toxic metal cadmium, and when disposed of in a landfill (as a huge majority of domestic batteries are) it's eventually going to leak out and contaminate the ground water.

NiCd is currently cheaper, but it's reduced life span makes it more expencive in the long term when it has to be replaced sooner. And from a company perspective, NiCd is a risky buy for large orders as regulation may change leaving them with a large number of batteries now considered toxic waste requiring expencive disposal.

As you can probably guess, my opinion is simply that NiCd is a bad technology. I hope regulations eventually force manufacuters to pull it off the market, as there is no good reason to keep flooding the environment with toxic heavy metals when there are closely priced alternatives that work much better.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2004 at 11:05AM
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Even if you forget about the more toxic chemistry of NiCad's another shortcoming they have is their "memory" effect . . . they NEED to be fully discharged before they will accept another full charge. NiMH (and most other rechargeables ) do NOT suffer from that effect. Just pretty much inherent in the chemistry of them.

Wall warts ( so-called AC adapters ) can chew up a good bit of power . . . one on every phone etc . . they're all over the place. I don't use the things but for a very few places. Phantom power also comes from anything with a remote . .. TV's aren't OFF . . . nor the stereo, VCR etc. And consider every appliance that HAS to have a clock or electronic display of some type . . . . walk around your house and add them up and you'll likely be amazed how much power you are using JUST in these kinds of things.

I built this place with the idea of being solar powered . . . and have done so. Picking every single appliance, large or small; was part of reaching that goal. I have tried to do so, and end up with a "lifestyle" such that I have most of the amenities of a "modern" home; but without the power consumption that typically goes along with it. Wise use of stuff . . . .

Kids and lights being on ( some kids are adults, too ! ) . .. I've got a saying I use ALL the time: If you need it, use it. If you don't; don't. Pretty simple and works great.

Let's be careful about nuke plants too . . . . if every house in this nation replaced ONE 60w incandescent bulb with a fluorescent; we could close the equivalent of a single average sized nuke plant in this country. Don't want to be political here; but let's remember that NO-ONE has ever successfully shut-down and decommissioned a nuke plant. We don't know HOW to do that long enough until it's safe. So while the supply of raw material may be great; getting it ( mining ) and disposing of it ( we still don't know how ) and guarding the carcass of a nuke plant 'til it's safe are NOT environmentally benign things. Furthermore; if the TRUE cost of operating one of these plants were to be rolled into the cost of electricity they produce; there would NEVER have been a single one built. . . . we don't KNOW the full cost of them over their lifetimes because we still don't even know where or how to dispose of the waste.

Coal mining is environmentally horrible stuff; and even though it's improved greatly it's still nasty. Different grades of coal can supply power; but they stuff going into the air from some of them is terrible as well. Ask some of the now gone fish in the Adirondacks . . . other places as well. Nothing is without a price.

Reducing our usage still reigns supreme in my mind . . . we sent men to the moon 30 years ago . . . put a small amount of that technical energy into the energy field to find REAL solutions that work; and we'd have things in better shape quickly.

Right now, there are simply other things more important in the minds of those we've chosen to empower . . . . think about that next election time . . . . it's much more than kissing hands and shaking babies . . . . .


    Bookmark   November 28, 2004 at 6:17PM
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If everyone did ANY stuff, we'd be better off; building a more energy effecienct house (the current standard of platforum framing is completely out of date with technology), if everyone MADE THEIR VOICES KNOWN, things would be a lot different. IF EVERYONE did a lot of little things, the world would be a much different place, both now, and in the future. I'm a huge proponent of the small stuff; everything from making sure you're tires are properly inflated to reduce gas mileage to using lower-voltage bulbs to reducing your furnace setting by merely one degree. It all adds up.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2004 at 6:54PM
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You can tell that the "wall warts" use a fair amount of power all the time because they're always warm -- often quite warm. That heat is just wasted energy. Just judging by the amount of heat, I'd guess they probably draw 5 to 10 watts constantly. If you have 10 of them, which isn't at all unusual for a house with a lot of electronic stuff, that's 36 to 72 kilowatt-hours a month. In an area with high electric rates, that could be over $10 worth of power a month.

I definitely agree that there are problems with nuclear power, as well as with coal. But I think you said it all when you said that no form of energy is without costs. I think we ought to face up to making some moderately hard choices now so we don't have to make REALLY hard choices later. What I mean is, if we're stuck without adequate ability to generate electricity because we've built only natural gas fired generators in a nation that is essentially running out of natural gas, we're backing ourselves into a corner that could someday cause us to do whatever we have to do to get the energy we need, and that could ultimately wreak havoc on the environment.

But even when you look at the worst-case scenarios for the world's oil and gas supplies, tremendous benefit could be derived from simply stopping our growth in demand through conservation. Because we in the U.S. and Canada have the most energy intensive societies in the world, what we do here can have more incremental benefit for the world as a whole than what anyone else anywhere else could do.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2004 at 11:57PM
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Little stuff CAN make differences. . . especially if enough people do it. Believe it was a Canadian who once said something like:

"If the people lead; the leaders will follow" . .

this is the best paraphrase I can make of it . . . apologize if it's not right . . . and would credit it if I knew who it was that said it . . . . there's a lot of truth in those simple words . ..


    Bookmark   November 29, 2004 at 6:31AM
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Not sure what I was thinkning on the clock thing. I must have been in a hurry...yeah, yeah that's it:)
Just saw a product made by Emerson that will recharge a single use battery up to 8 times. One of our local news programs has a deal or dud bit and they determined it was a deal.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2004 at 9:26AM
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Water conservation should be added. Turn the faucet off when you are not directly using it as in when rinsing dishes and bushing your teeth. It saves both water and the energy needed to deliver it to the source.

For those of us in cold places you can get a fair amount of free refrigeration. Fill containers with water and place them outside to freeze than put them in your refrigerator. As the ice melts it will give off cold air I can keep my refrigerator compressor from running for weeks at a time in the winter.

I don't think we should hold on to hard to the hope of "clean coal plants" they really appear more of a myth. The supposedly clean burning plants greatly reduce the levels of toxins they release into the are but still prove to be substantially environmentally unfriendly. And the end use of coal plants is only part of the story of how destructive coal mining, burning and transporting is.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2004 at 3:18PM
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Coal definitely has its own set of problems, but I don't see any viable alternative to coal at this point. Natural gas is what the environmentalists like. Trouble is, power plants are a huge waste of natural gas because they do not turn a very high percentage of its heat value into electric power. Gas is a precious commodity that we're definitely running out of here in the U.S. (production peaked a few years ago and is dropping).

What comes out of the smokestack of the power plant is only one part of the total energy equation. If you have "clean" natural gas power plants that burn up that clean fuel inefficiently to make electric power, you may have to resort to less clean fuels in other places, where they're harder to clean up. (Such as people burning coal or wood in their own homes to keep warm, which is on the rise, and it will really become common if the price of cleaner heating fuels keeps going up.)

I know there are no easy answers, and every non-renewable energy source you use has consequences to its use.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2004 at 11:39PM
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I doubt that home coal burning is on the rise, it is hard to come by in home sized quantities in most places and is dirty to work with. Coal burning of any kind is damaging to the environment, wood is not if used properly. It is important not to confuse wood burning with any kind of fossil fuel combustion. Wood releases CO2 into the air when burned but it is considered a carbon neutral source. The C02 that is released from wood during combustion is the same amount that the tree would release if left to die and decompose by nature. A rotting tree will also emit quantities of methane gas properly burned wood doesn't. Wood also dose not release any SO2 during combustion both coal and oil do. Wood harvested from maintained and renewed wood lots and burned in a efficient stove is a good form of renewable energy.

Some interesting facts about coal that may help some put its use and the amount each home typically uses into perspective.

It is to date our larges fossil fuel resourse the world over.

It produces more than 50% of the electricity in North America.

Coal burning to produce electricity is pretty inefficient only about 35% of the heat produced is turned into electricity the rest is released into the air or returned to the water bodys as super heated water.

The average coal burning plant burns about 1.5 million tons of coal each year, the US has about 600 coal plants in operation.

Coal burning plants use billions of gallons of water as a coolant and for steam each year it is taken from natural water sources causing devastating environmental damage.

A typical coal burning plant will produce this amount of toxins in to the air each year
3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2)
500 tons of small airborne particles
10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx)
720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO)
220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC)
170 pounds of mercury(1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat)
225 pounds of arsenic
114 pounds of lead
4 pounds of cadmium and other toxic heavy metals
and trace amounts of uranium.

Each plant will produce this amount of solid waste each year
125,000 tons of ash
193,000 tons of sludge

For those of you living in areas that use electricity produced by coal burning and use

a electric stove you will use about 1/2 ton to cook per year

an electric water heater will use about two tons of coal a year for an average family

Most of your refrigerators will consume half ton a year.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2004 at 3:11PM
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I don't have any statistics on home coal burning, but I am seeing coal stoves and boilers being sold in many places. Ten years ago this was practically unheard of. Coal is easy to get; I know of at least three suppliers locally.

All forms of large scale electricity generation are inefficient and turn most of the fuel burned into waste heat. Actually the 35 percent figure you quote is somewhat optimistic for some types of plants. There are simple-cycle natural gas turbines that are less efficient than that, and that's before you factor in the power line losses. This is not a problem with coal but a problem with generating electricity in large plants and sending power hundreds of miles. Decentralized electricity generation is the long-term answer: The power needs to be generated at a place where there is a use for the waste heat, such as for building heating or absorption cooling, or for an industrial process. Otherwise there is no choice but to throw a lot of it away.

I'm not sure where the rest of the data comes from, but coal plants differ greatly in the amount of pollution they emit. That data can't apply to every coal plant because they're not all the same.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 12:20AM
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I have not said any thing about voltage drain from line transmission, that involve all forms of generation and is entirely dependent on the distance traveled and the cable used. Why link it to either natural gas or coal?

There are gas fired generation plants that fall below the 35% mark but most do not use simple turbines most new plants are combined cycle plants and have efficiencies of 50% or better. Coal can also use combined cycle plants to improve efficient but there are less than 20 so called "clean coal" plants in or proposed to be built in the US out of more than 600, I am not sure if all or any of the 20 use combined cycle technology.

The above data can be found at the EPA, DOE and other places that record environmental statistics. Yes is is different for each plant, the above refers to the average 500mw plant since most plants in the US are that or bigger it refers to the majority of the 600 plants. The other troubling thing with coal generation plants is the age of most of them.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 1:22PM
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Yes, but my original comment referred to the need to continue to develop clean coal plants; I know that the average coal plant is dirty. I don't think anyone would dispute that.

I referred to power losses along power lines because they're part of the total picture of electricity generation and transmission. If you lose power along the lines, you have to generate more and burn more fuel to do that.

Why I link that to either natural gas or coal is because natural gas power plants are dirty in a different way than coal-fired plants are dirty: Natural gas can be used directly to heat homes and busineses at efficiency levels exceeding 80-90 percent. Burning that gas instead in electric power plants results in obtaining far less than half of its heat value as actual deliverable energy to consumers. So, a clean, valuable, and increasingly scarce fuel is being squandered.

If you instead use clean coal plants to generate that power, you save the gas for other applications that exploit its true value as a clean and efficient fuel, and in so doing reduce the demand for electricity generated from other sources. What comes out of the smokestack of a power plant is not really the issue that matters: What matters is how much total pollution we generate.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2004 at 7:09PM
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Natural gas power plants are a terrible way to consume gas, even the best ones that capture the waste heat (many don't) fall far below the efficiency of good home heating appliances, the newer ones with condensing capabilities are over 90%. Even the old ones rarely fall below 80% efficiency, which is still far above that achieved by the gas power plants.

As for the clean coal plants, I think it's all wrong. Coal is not a clean fuel, and even with improved efficiency of the plant, many of the problems remain. To start right at the beginning, coal mining causes massive environmental damage and uses lots of machinery burning fossil fuels to extract. The power plants also use vast amounts of coal, hundreds of truck loads each day, all of which are burning fossil fuels. A large amount of the environmental damage caused by coal power plants happens long before the coal even goes in to the boiler. Then after the coal has burnt there's the disposal of the thousands of tons of ash filled with toxic by-products like arsenic, selenium, boron and heavy metals like mercury and lead. The current solution is using more fossil fuel burning equipment to dig yet another hole in the ground and dump it in, from there the toxic contents leach in the soil damaging ground water and making the surrounding soil toxic. There are also the concentrated toxic by-products captured by the air scrubbers. While these do save us from breathing some of it, the disposal of them in landfills means we'll probably end up drinking it or eating it in food instead.

Much of the clean coal technology depends on these air scrubbers, but stopping it entering the air doesn't mean it's contained from the environment forever. You simply cannot lock up toxic materials for eternity, they will find their way out one day. I would estimate by the age of the older power plants in use today that many of these landfills full of toxic ash and more recently materials from air scrubbers are old, some must be over 60 years and a few even older. Are they lined to contain the waste? Is the lining still working? And, if it is, for how much longer will it work? The heavy metals cannot degrade in to harmless substances before the liner fails, many of them are elements. It's simply a matter of waiting.

Going from 35% to 50% efficiency at capturing the heat from coal power plants I fear was a very expensive publicity stunt. There is nothing clean about coal, it's just a consumer-friendly name for a dirty pollution spewing device that is filling the environment, air, soil and water with toxic waste. They have done nothing to resolve the real problems with using coal for electricity. I'm conviced the millions expended for this modest improvement would have been better spent on renewable energy products. Better mass production of solar cells to improve their market share, or more efficient ways to capture renewable energy. They could also spend the money on developing bio-mass power plants and making them a viable option, only a few are in use around the world, but they could become a lot more common if someone invested in them.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 12:24PM
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There is a lot of investment going into alternative, renewable forms of energy. California now gets a few percent of its power from wind, and solar is useful in some locations where there's enough sun to make it suitable. However there are huge technological hurdles that have yet to be overcome. For example, photovoltaic panels consume a large amount of energy to construct, have a finite lifespan, and require the use of many scarce minerals.

You have some good points about coal, but unfortunately toxic waste is a reality with most industrial processes. As long as we keep demanding the type of lifestyle that's based on heavy industry, we're going to be living with the waste it generates and we're going to have to manage it as well as possible. And we do demand that type of lifestyle, and it's not just about driving SUVs and living in big houses. We have the life expectancy and degree of economic success we do because energy makes life easier, richer, and healthier. Without an adequate supply of energy, we go back to an economy where people spend a large portion of their time on subsistence level activities: Growing food, collecting fuel to stay warm, etc. While that sounds good to some people, they forget that 100 years ago when people lived and ate solely by the sweat of their brow, they had an average life expectancy of about 50.

Our entire lifestyle, really, is based on petrochemicals. That's not going to be the case for that much longer. Within the next 1 to possibly 35 years, depending on whom you believe, the world oil production will peak and begin to drop. At that point, if we want to salvage any semblance of the economy and lifestyle we're accustomed to, we need other forms of energy.

The reality is that coal will be used because we have a lot of it and, absent some major new energy discovery, we won't be able to do without it anytime in the near future. Since we're going to use it, we ought to try to do so in a way that hurts the environment as little as possible.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 1:10AM
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It's true that the clean coal technologies are reducing pollution from the smoke stack, which is certainly an improvement even if the underlying problems with coal continue, but I have to ask what good is billions of dollars of clean coal technology in a world that is running out of coal?

I've been reading the DOE web site, and the more I read the more I cringe. I think this quote about the investment of $1.2 billion of federal funds summarises it all:

"Hydrogen can be produced from domestic sources -- initially natural gas; eventually clean coal....That's important. If you can produce something yourself, it means you're less dependant upon somebody else to produce it."
President George W. Bush
February 6, 2003

In effect they're going to base the future of US energy not only on a dwindling reserve of fossil fuels that almost certainly will continue to rise in price far above inflation, but they're also adding an expensive extra processing stage to turn these fuels in to hydrogen. The financial situation would only get worse as the hydrogen economy predicted will require even more environmentally damaging mining, and ultimately exhaust the coal reserves faster and force the prices even higher as demand increases.

Also, when they turn coal in to hydrogen there will of course be left overs, namely the dirty polluting stuff like poisons, tars and heavy metals. However, the DOE makes no reference to these or just where the billions of tons of toxic waste from large scale hydrogen production would end up...

I can only assume that their ideal future involves consumers happily going around burning up ultra-clean hydrogen in their cars, homes and businesses while industry strip mines coal in to extinction and pours millions of tons of toxic waste in to landfills. It's not stopping the pollution, if anything it will create more pollution as the extra processes will need more energy, and coal is the dirtiest fuel available. It moves the pollution from the consumers to a nice out of sight place where they can feel less guilty about it.

Call me cynical, but the same theory of out-of-sight out-of-mind pollution generation has worked wonderfully for the electric industry for years as all consumers see is a nice clean wall outlet. And the avoidance of the waste issue mimics the promotion of nuclear energy in the 1970's where the public were hardly informed about the radioactive waste, disturbingly they built the plants with no real idea of how to store or deal with the waste. Currently it's piling up in 'temporary' storage on site in plants across Europe and the US. They didn't just leave the public ignorant, they ignored the issues themselves, and to this day they have blatantly avoided dealing with it. Is this how they intend to deal with the by-products of clean coal?

Now they're trying to foist this absurd and poorly planned clean coal and hydrogen technology on the public. It will cost us a lot of money (actually, it allready has) and cause yet more environmental damage. Then everything invested in it will become worthless when coal runs out, which will happen much faster when we're turning it in to hydrogen, leaving us exactly where we started out; spending far too much money on fossil fuels that we're close to exhausting, only this time we will have an even bigger pile of toxic waste to remember them by.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 10:54AM
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You have numerous good points. Hydrogen, as you say, is not really a primary form of energy as we may someday use it in cars or whatever we use it in. It's an energy "carrier." Similarly, electricity is an energy carrier -- just a way of conveniently delivering energy extracted from some primary fuel. So you're right that because we need large amounts of electric power to get hydrogen from water, hydrogen as its currently proposed is nothing more than a way of repackaging the fossil fuels we already use. It will only be different if we can get the electricity we need to make it from some source other than fossil fuels.

As you have pointed out in both of your posts, energy is a tricky thing. What looks like energy on the surface may not yield much, if any, "net" energy by the time you subtract out the energy put into getting it to where it's actually consumable by the end user. This is going to increasingly be the problem with oil. The wells are less productive, so we have to put more energy into extracting what oil remains in them, and spend still more energy searching and drilling for new ones. So the true energy contained in each barrel of oil drops.

Solar and wind are good primary sources of energy. Wind is better than solar from the standpoint that wind equipment is not extremely energy intensive to build, and the technology to build it is already here. But no one thinks that we can replace more than a few percent of our current electrical generation capacity with wind-powered generation anytime in the next 10 to 15 years. Wind farms are already running up against objections from people who don't want them nearby due to aesthetic concerns, and environmentalists also say they kill birds, which they do.

More hydro is possible in some areas, but again, people don't like those for various reasons (destroy fish habitats, flood large areas of land, destroy delicate river ecosystems).

Coal has a whole raft of problems, of course, as you have pointed out.

So there really are no easy answers, and a big problem of course is that there is no long-term energy philosophy in this country. Drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. That seems to be pretty much the size of it, as far as our national energy policy. Even if we remove all restrictions on drilling there, that's a drop in the bucket.

We need both a short-term and a long-term energy policy. Short-term, that's where clean coal can probably help us out. That could get us through the next 50 - 100 years until better energy technologies are available, such as nuclear fusion. And we need major, big time conservation, to make the petrochemicals hold out as long as possible. Stop generating electricity with natural gas, and put a tax on oil derivatives to encourage conservation. Those are two things we could do in the short run.

Conservation is also the best alternative with respect to the environment, because really the problem is not the relative dirtiness of coal or oil or natural gas. The problem is the total amount of energy we consume. That's what's dirtying up our planet. All of the pollution controls and scrubbers in the world can't substitute for the fact that if you don't burn a BTU of energy, you don't see the pollution from it.

America could become the guiding light for the world on this. We could go from one of the least energy efficient economies on the planet to one of the most -- if we had some leadership. Energy conservation and energy alternatives could become a huge business, and they could employ tens of thousands of people. If we saw a commitment to energy that was on the same scale as the commitment we had to space exploration back in the 1960s, it could happen. And it needs to happen, because if it doesn't, all the debate about about the deficit and Social Security will come to nothing, because our economy will literally be devastated when the energy starts to run out. I'm not saying this will happen tomorrow, but it may. The sooner we get started, the better position we'll be in to maintain our democracy and our way of life when the oil supply does peak and start to decline. And it WILL happen. No one debates that. It's just a question of when.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 2:04PM
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It seems to be a common opinion in the investment community that world oil production has peaked, and from here production is going to go downhill while demand increases. How accurate these reports are is debateable, but these people make a living out of accurate predictions on the future of a product, and I'm suitably convinced by the information they used. The only reason we've sustained production at this level for the past few years is because of the better extraction methods you've been talking about. Injecting gases and foams to push the oil out is common, and they're even doing this with wells once considered empty. They're also drilling wells to extract increasingly smaller reserves, many of which have been known about for years, but only now is the cost of oil so high that it's become a viable option.

Planning to drill for oil in the Artic is one of the signs of desperation, because really this is a small quantity of oil in a difficult place. Just 10 or 20 years ago when the cost of oil was low, they never would have considered it a viable option. We really are scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep up with demand, which is bad news as world oil consumption keeps going up. Not only are the currently wealthy consumers in places like Europe, the US and Japan using more oil per-head than before, but many developing nations are starting to use large amounts of oil as well.

I believe we can sustain normal, if increasingly expensive lifestyles for some years more, but there will at some point be a time when the increasing price cripples the world economy. Small businesses with lower profit margins will be the first, businesses selling luxury items will also start to close soon as higher prices for necessity's will force customers to go without such items. Less wealthy country's will also show the damage first, they may even be starved of oil as the entire production goes to rich western country's where it will command a higher price. The effect will be gradual, but sooner or later it may force nearly every business out of business.

The current plan is to turn to another fossil fuel with larger reserves. Coal is the favourite candidate, despite it's environmental problems, but it's just too late in the day to swap oil for coal. Even if we start building coal to hydrogen plants, 'clean coal' power plants and even coal liquefaction factories to make synthetic diesel at a record pace, we will never have the infrastructure in place in time. The oil infrastructure has taken decades to build, much of it has been in service for a long time, we simply cannot switch it off and put coal on-line overnight. The cost of conversion may prove more crippling than the cost of oil in 20 years time!

Besides, world fuel demand will strip the coal mines empty in no time. We need sustainable fuels, things like biomass and solar/wind/hydro that do not consume traditional fuels with limited supplies. Unfortunately they're just not well developed options right now, it's going to take time to design and build them, and frankly we should have started building these plants back in the 1970's when we first realised oil supplies were going down fast. I believe the only sustainable technology we have that is sufficiently developed to be commissioned to come on-line in large numbers over the next 10-30 years is nuclear power. I'm not entirely comfortable with that option, but it's probably going to be the choice of smart nations who want to save as much as possible of their economy.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2004 at 12:29PM
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What we probably have here is a situation where we really don't get to make much of a decision, for instance, to use renewable energy sources instead of coal. We are going to have to make use of every energy option we have, and possibly all added together, we may be able to make it through the end of oil without a total collapse of the world as we know it.

The data on whether or not world oil production has peaked is pretty shaky. Some of the optimistic predictions say that may not happen until 2040. But then again up until the mid-1990s, the position of the U.S. government was that natural gas supplies in the U.S. were "virtually limitless." Well, they weren't limitless. Everyone now agrees that U.S. gas production peaked several years ago and now is in a decline. The problem with finding a peak is that you don't know you hit it until it's past. You very well could be right that we're at the oil peak now.

A very good reason not to drill in the ANWR is to protect those precious reserves of oil so future generations may have some access to petrochemicals for some purposes other than burning them to power motor vehicles. Those chemicals are precious in so many ways, as there are many medications, fertilizers, etc., that depend on them, and for which we now do not have any replacement.

I think there are some energy options that could probably be put into place pretty quickly. I'm not quite as negative on coal as you are. You can build clean-coal plants pretty quickly, and to the extent that you can use those to replace energy from other sources, that's a plus. Biodiesel is also an option, and it can be distributed through the same channels that we now use (service stations). Supposedly the energy picture for biodiesel is halfway decent, in that it's a clean fuel that does not use a tremendous amount of energy in its production.

The solution, if we can come up with one, is probably going to be a lot of little things that will each play a part.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2004 at 2:15PM
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The reason I believe we're at the peak is because many of the large oil fields are starting to slow down. We do have many smaller reserves in use and even a few giant reserves have been found in recent years, but the majority of our oil supply does, and allways has, come from a fairly small collection of locations which were once considered limitless they were so abundant with oil. Now they're starting to slow down and even with the addition of other smaller reserves being taped, the world oil production is going to reduce with them.

The companys who operate these reserves have said themselves that they're either slowing down or close to their peak production. Demand is growing faster than our predicted production, including the currently unused reserves that will be taped over the next decade. The only possible alteration to this situation would be either huge conservation efforts, which don't seem to be happening, or the discovery of many large reserves, which also seems unlikely. It's also possible new technologies will help us discover remaining oil reserves, and even explore and eventually drill deeper for oil, but they're not going to happen soon, if at all, and we we need this oil right now as we're allready running out of reserve production capacity.

Unless something radically changes world oil production will start declining in the next decade, the facts are very clear, our once giant reserves are almost all starting to plateo and even drop, and the new reserve discoverys are increasingly smaller and less frequently found.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2004 at 9:16AM
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Then my idea for a wind-up bathroom fan may come to fruition.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2004 at 10:49PM
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Thanks for the much needed comic relief, Sczcasa. I'll buy one. Hopefully you're not planning to make it out of plastic, though.

There are some possibilities for extending the current oil reserves. Undersea exploration is becoming more promising, and there are the oil sands in Alberta, which are already yielding oil and could probably supply a lot more. No one thinks that these are any type of "solution" to the problem of declining oil, but they could help us buy some time.

The oil companies not only have, as you said, admitted that their production from key oilfields is slowing, but some have begun overstating their reserves. Taking a more honest approach, BP now in some of its advertising refers to itself as, "Beyond Petroleum." So there you have it straight from the horse's mouth: They know the oil age is starting to wind down.

Regardless of whether the peak is now or in a few years, it's coming. It seems to me that the biggest problem we face is people's almost complete inability to even conceive of it. We live in a virtual sea of oil. Nearly every product makes huge use of plastics. Energy that comes from oil is embedded in every bite of food we eat. In a very significant way, oil is not "part" of the economy, it IS the economy.

None of us know anything different. We were born into this oil-powered world, and we truly can't even imagine a world without it. What makes me laugh the most are the people who say, "Oh, just wait, there'll be something else for us when the oil prices get too high." BUT WHAT? You can't power farm equipment with solar panels or windmills. You can't run semi trucks, bulldozers, and construction equipment by burning animal manure.

The only solution I can see is to increase our use of electricity for everything possible, and work hard to come up with as many non-oil and gas consuming ways as possible to generate it. Electric cars, electric trains, all electric houses. Start to remove some of the demand for oil, so we can keep enough of it around to use for the stuff we can't yet think of any other way to run without it.

And of course, conserve energy in a big way.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 12:55AM
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Oil may seem vital, but we have managed to live millions of years before it became a common part of daily life. Until the 1930's we did not extensively use plastics or other domestic products derived from oil. And, the early plastics were not even derived from petroleum.

We can cut out a huge proportion of our petrochemical dependence from daily life, I've allready stopped using a select number of products made from oil. I've recently stopped buying household cleaning products like dish soap, washing powder and toilet cleaner made from petrochemicals and am happy to say the entirely bio-degradable alternatives work just as well. I also take re-usable bags to the store and rarely use the disposable plastic ones. When buying household items I try to avoid plastics and buy metal, wood or glass instead as they're sustainable, tend to last longer and have a feeling of better quality anyway.

We don't have to wait until the price of oil becomes too high or we entirely run out, we can start using alternatives for many things right now. The market is driven by consumer wants, so why are the majority of consumers passively buying whatever oil derived products end up on the shelf at the store? I found it curious to realise just how politically outspoken people are about our oil dependence and the resulting conflicts because of it, and yet these same people keep buying oil based products. It might sound crazy and even impossible to boycott an entire raw material, but why not? We do have alternatives, we just have to take a moment here and there to consciously choose them. It can be as simple as purposefully picking up recyclable card/paper and glass containers at the store instead of plastic. Nobody makes us buy foreign oil, it's a choice people make every day and somehow fail to notice it.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 12:26PM
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People did live in the world for a very long time without oil. But there's only one big problem: There weren't 7 billion of them on this planet when there wasn't oil being used. And unless steps are taken to move us to the next level as far as energy, it's a pretty sad but plausible prediction that there won't be 7 billion people here after oil is gone. Earth can't support this many people without REAL energy that really works.

I disagree with you on whether we can boycott foreign oil. At this point we can't. You can't buy ONE SINGLE THING in this world without using oil. Even if there's no actual oil physically in the product itself, how was it transported to the store? All of the food we eat was grown with tremendous assistance from oil-burning farm equipment. The keys on this keyboard, plastic, there's oil. The whole computer is made of oil, really. Books, paper: a tremendously energy (oil) intensive process involving cutting and transporting lumber, making the paper, printing books, binding, transporting, and sending to the consumer. Every step awash in oil. Raising livestock for food is just about the most oil intensive of all: One pound of beef takes 3/4 gallon of oil to produce, so the oil it takes to produce the beef weighs about 4 times as much as the beef itself.

So, yes, it is indeed impossible to boycott oil at this point. I don't think the answer is to boycott anything, but to move forward.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 1:27PM
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I entirely agree, it's impossible not to use any oil. I never considered my fairly small lifestyle changes to be anything but fairly small. However, if everyone made small steps like this just how much less oil would we need?

True, my purposefully chosen items at the store in non-plastic containers use oil for farming and transportation, but they still use less oil than the same items packaged in plastic. They also place less strain on landfills as they're recyclable, and don't contribute much to air pollution if incinerated.

By buying items that aren't made from oil where possible your money is going to companies that use sustainable materials and in many cases cause less environmental damage. I believe that buying oil for items where we don't need to use it is simply supporting the idea it's ok to keep over-consuming until we run out of oil entirely. I'll keep filling up my car with diesel as I have no alternative product, and for now that's ok, but I don't see a reason to keep using plastic bags at the store or scrubbing my house with oil derived products when the alternative item is widely available and not even inconvenient.

It's not going to change the world, but I feel opinions need to change, and where better to start than with my own opinion? The more people who choose to not use oil where possible the more of a demand there will be for products that don't use oil, and when you have a large number of consumers with a requirement it's not long before companys start to fill it. Simply, if we carry on the same as ever how can we expect the companys who currently are largely responsible for the use of oil when producing the things we use to change? They need a reason to change, and they're not going to invest in items that use less oil untill consumers make it clear they want them.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 3:23PM
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First of all, Happy New Year. It's probably only a short time before midnight there. How much energy goes into a beer? It'd be more fun to be discussing this with you over one of those.

I agree with everything you said. Conservation of oil does matter very much. My point was just that our dependence on oil now goes quite deep. When people think of shortages of oil they think of lines at the gas pumps. That'd be the least of our worries if a really severe shortage hit.

The two really great things about conservation are that it has a greater than 100 percent economic payback rate, and offers by far the greatest benefit to the environment. The kilowatt of energy not used is not only conserved for some other purpose, but the energy put into obtaining it is also conserved, so the net payback is actually far greater than the energy saved. In the case of electric power, the savings could be three times or more the actual energy saved.

And from the standpoint of the environment, the kilowatt of energy not used results in a 100 percent savings of pollution. No pollution control system or smokestack scrubber can even approach that.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 4:38PM
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Happy new year!

I would normally have replied much sooner, but everything has been so busy with Christmas, then new year and all the rest.

Anyway, I have to agree that conservation is by far the best thing we can do right now, and I believe that it will allways be useful as almost all energy comes with a penalty. Both environmental and financial. I've been thinking about conservation quite a bit recently as I'm trying to get a rough idea how much it would cost to build an affordable house (you might have seen my posts about it?) and I want it to be economical to live in. This is partly an environmental concern, but also because it would be misguided to build an affordable house that isn't also affordable to live in. The majority of most anyone's wages go towards their house, so if I can build a house that uses minimal energy I can spend the money in other more enjoyable ways. I can also design it in such a way it comes in to the lowest possible tax category, but that's beyond the scope of this forum.

One of the things that surprises me is when I say I want to build a low energy house that uses renewable energy, people tend to picture something very expensive and custom built. When I researched it I found that commonly they're high end houses built for wealthy customers who were willing to spend a lot of money to have luxury items, like solar PV panels and houses built half underground. I don't however see why houses that use very little energy have to be reserved for wealthy people building custom houses, after all one of the main attractions of a low energy house is the very small monthly bills.

A low energy house design/concept that comes within (preferably below) average house prices is long overdue, and also has a massive market potential. Admittedly domestic energy use is a fraction of that used by industrial processes, and also accounts for a similarly small percentage of pollution, but I know nothing about industrial processes and (thankfully) don't pay the bills for them either. At least not directly. I do however know something about houses and how I believe they could work better.

My main aim is to build it smaller, but use the space in such a way it's relatively spacious with plenty of storage. I also want to exchange traditional and generally energy wasting and expensive materials for newer materials that cost less. Insulation, and lots of it, is important. I also want high quality finishing materials, but avoiding ornate details and using a more minimalist style should keep the costs reasonable. The other main issue is using the most energy efficient appliances possible, and also installing some renewable stuff like solar hot water heating. At least in concept it seems to work, and hopefully one day I will be able to try it out.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 8:09PM
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(Slapping forehead) I almost forgot about these-dry your clothes out on the clothesline. UV rays from the sun also kill bacteria.

Hand wash dishes. My dishwasher is used only for the storage of dirty dishes. It takes about 4 gallons of water (using 2-2 gal. dishtubs)as opposed to the 11-15 gallons used by the dishwasher. For pre-rinsing, keep a small tub of soapy water in the sink.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2005 at 9:05AM
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When we used to have a propane hot water heater our gas bill was crazy, almost as much as our car payment. With 7 kids we had to take showers in shifts. I got tired of telling teenagers to get out of the shower and i certainly wasn't going in there to drag them out. I installed a simple solenoid valve (the inlet valve from an old dishwasher) in-line with the hot water line to the shower, and i wired it to a timer set at 8 minutes. It works great, when your time is up,snap goes the valve and the hot water instantly shuts off. I installed it in our new house, also. I think we have saved a ton of money and yelling.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2005 at 7:47AM
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You may not be yelling at the kids, but what about the yelling from the person whose shower just went ice cold?

I wonder if they make any "pay shower" systems where you feed in coins to buy a certain amount of time?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 8:23PM
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One thing I was looking at is this heat exchanger you fit in the shower drain, and it transfers the waste heat in to the water heater's cold water supply. Aparently it can capture around 50-80% of the heat. It's a very clever idea, after all when you pour heated water down the drain you're just throwing energy away. Unfortunatly it's extremely bulky and quite expensive. I know I can't afford the space, and I doubt I can afford the cost. I'm thinking that I could make something similar myself that's far more compact, even if it's not as efficient. I figure that even if it captures just 10% (hopefully more) of the shower's heat then it's going to save substantial money vs. initial cost.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2005 at 8:57AM
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