The typical U.S. household spends about $1,300 on its home energy bills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency . And for many of us who live in regions that experience extremes in weather patterns, $1,300 may be a conservative estimate. During “Enlightening America ’98,” a recent conference in Dallas held by the Energy Efficient Lighting Association , panelists from the lighting industry and the EPA disclosed the ways in which energy — particularly light energy — is being wasted, and what consumers and businesses can do about it. Speakers included Maria Tikoff Vargas, director of EPA’s Green Lights Program and co-director of EPA’s Energy Star Buildings Program; and Jack Briody of the Advance Transformer Company. Their overriding message: Saving energy means saving money. A lot of money. And in a society in which bottom-line profits as well as household expenditures are key, the message should be embraced by the masses. The problem is, it’s not.
Why? Consumer education is why. And consumer education, panelists indicated, often results from a trickle-down effect. When businesses decide to adopt strategies to conserve energy, word spreads, and consumers are soon to follow. In particular, businesses are finding that energy conservation is good public relations. Businesses adopt these methods and install energy-conserving technology not only because they’ll save money following the initial investment, but also because taking such measures gives companies bragging rights. “Green” businesses market their efforts to the public. The public’s eyes are opened to the bottom-line benefits of energy-saving technology, and thus make a few changes at home. And perhaps homeowners even bring a little profit to green companies through the energy-saving products they purchase for their homes. Everybody wins.
Case in point: “Energy Star”-labeled equipment. The EPA is working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy to promote the use of energy-saving equipment by designating such products with the Energy Star label. Together, the two agencies have established criteria for several consumer products that not only meet but exceed the minimum national energy-efficiency standards. Manufacturers and retailers voluntarily place the label on their models that meet or exceed those criteria.
According to the EPA, energy-efficient appliances and heating and cooling equipment could save homeowners up to 40 percent off of their energy bills. In fact, choosing an Energy Star-labeled air-source heat pump may reduce a household energy bill enough to provide a free month of cooling each year.
The EPA adds that households who install Energy Star-labeled equipment — including programmable thermostats, boilers, furnaces, heat pumps, central air conditioners, and appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and room air conditioners — versus standard new equipment could stave off the release of 70,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the lifetime of those products. To further illustrate the impact of that choice, the resulting pollution savings is equivalent to removing a car off the road for seven years. The same energy-efficient household may also reduce by approximately one-half the release of nitrogen oxides, which are prime contributors to smog and acid rain.
The efforts of the two agencies were spurred, of course, by concerns about the larger picture: air quality. Smog, acid rain, global warming, and increasing rates of respiratory disease are foremost in the minds of the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. But making a familiar call to the masses — the homeowners — is their most effective strategy for gaining support. So while global warming and acid rain theories have just as many proponents as they do disciples, seeing a drastic reduction in one’s home energy bill is sure to convince any homeowner of the merits of energy-saving technology. As you wince at your current energy bill, it’s food for thought.