Thursday, February 15, 2007

Conservation is #1, Don't get the cart before the horse.

Because of posted comments, I fear we may have put the cart before the horse. Many want to jump to sexy alternative energy sources, but as I mentioned in a previous post, the most viable alternatives for meeting our energy objectives are actually conservation rather that alternative energy sources.

I'm going to mix energy with investments here, so if you are interested in both, as I am, you may want to check out my other blogs.

Probably the most viable energy alternative, as well as the best investment available anywhere, is the compact flourscent light bulb. A compact flourscent light bulb used 2 hours per day will pay for itself in 6-12 months depending in your electric rate. That means an investment in replacing an incandescent bulb with a flourscent yields an investment return over 100% per year. The return shoots to 200% for a bulb used 4 hours per day and to 300% for one used 6 hours, as many are. In warm climates where a/c is predominant you will gain even more by reducing your a/c usage. And rather than speculative, this return is virtually risk free. I dare you to find a better investment of any kind. As a bonus you'll be decreasing our dependence on foreign supplies of energy and decreasing greenhouse gases and other pollution. Not only are you a top flight investor, but you are helping save the earth in the process.

Other conservation may be a bit harder to define, but you can be pretty sure there are great investments all around your house. Examples:
  1. Insulation. The value of insulation has to be evaluated on a case by case basis, since it is subject to the law of diminishing returns. That means that the more insulation you currently have, the less viable it is to add more. But if your house is insulated below the established standards for your area and you plan to be in your house for a while, you can be sure insulation will be a great investment.
  2. Weatherstripping, caulking and niche insulation. If your house is well insulated, most of your heating and a/c bill is vanishing either through your windows or through gaps around your doors, electrical outlets or other openings. While improved windows are rather expensive and a bit hard to justify for retrofitting, other efforts such as weatherstripping, caulking and niche insulating are not. If the weatherstripping around doors and windows is not preventing a breeze when the wind blows, replacing it will be a great investment as is caulking any source of air intrusion. As for niche insulation...odds are good that even if your attic is well insulated, the pulldown steps into the attic are both unweatherstripped and uninsulated. There is a good chance the ductwork in the attic is insulated by less than an inch of insulation and the ducts are leaking like a sieve. A roll of duct tape and some strategically placed insulation will work wonders. If your water heater feels warm to the touch or if the pipe on the top of it is uninsulated, a $10-15 insulating kit will pay big dividends, especially if it is electric. And don't forget any electrical outlets or switches on ourside walls. Since the box takes up most of the depth of the wall, the outlets are frequently poorly insulated. Foam inserts that fit neatly behind the cover are just a few cents apiece at your local hardware store.
  3. Set back thermostat. One of the best ways to save energy is to set the thermostat warmer in summer and cooler in winter, but of course there may be a comfort tradeoff. You can make these adjustments when you leave and return with less effect on your comfort, but a better way is to automate the process. A set back thermostat can be an investment with triple digit returns, particularly if everyone is away from the house on a regular basis.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Improve your financial health and help solve some of the world's most pressing problems by taking some time to look for conservation measures you can take a small bite at a time. Many can be financed with the loose change that collects in your pocket in a few weeks time.

1 comment:

nemattox said...

I have tried to conserve energy by purchasing a fuel-efficient car. What are your thoughts on fuel alternatives, including electric hybrids, or even ethanol?