His study of energy expenses paid off

in Energy News

David Director is a man who loves spreadsheets.

He spent years at his keyboard, poring over documents, looking for answers to one of life's burning questions.

How much energy can you save if you really pay attention?

Director tallied everything, logged the numbers, charted them, spreadsheeted them. He listed the electricity use of his lights, appliances, and electronics. His heating oil bill. His natural gas consumption.

Then, he chipped away at it all.

The answer to his question (and the title of his analysis, which he prepared in detail) was astonishing: "How I cut my home energy costs more than half - without giving up anything!"

In just a few years, the annual expenses for oil, electicity, and natural gas in his Wallingford home fell from $5,861 to $2,705.

And he did it without having to huddle in a cold, dark house.

"He's really defied the notion that your energy bill is inevitable and unmalleable," said Phil Coleman, a cohort who is an energy analyst for the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Director, a retired software engineer, lives with his wife and daughter in a 1950-ish home of 2,800 square feet.

He started his quest in 2008, when oil prices topped $4 a gallon, and he realized he was spending $3,000 a year just to keep his house warm.

"I looked at that oil bill for one year, and I said, 'this is ridiculous,' " he recalled last week.

He replaced his oil burner with an $8,000, high-efficiency gas boiler. "Sure enough, it was pretty expensive - until I plugged the numbers into the spreadsheet and found that it would pay for itself in about five years," he said in his analysis. After that, it'll be like feeding a savings account.

I was tempted to skip over this in a column intended for a broad audience. How many of us are up for a heater swap-out?

But it provides a valuable lesson: Big projects can have big effects. And once you do it, you have energy savings without even thinking about it - as opposed to trying to save energy by turning off lights, which requires constant effort.

After the heater success, "I got sort of encouraged," Director said. That's an understatement.

He started putting all his electric devices and their power use onto a spreadsheet.

When it didn't add up to what Peco said he was using, he was delighted. It meant "there was lots of hidden stuff to find."

His 14-year-old refrigerator was using 100 kilowatt-hours a month. He replaced it with one that uses 40. It will pay for itself in less than a decade.

He turned off the even older, even less efficient fridge in the basement. The family kept it for parties, but otherwise, they don't miss it. "Better inventory management was all we really needed," he said.

Director unplugged excess TV set-top boxes - known energy hogs.

He reduced multiple computer systems.

His inner Sherlock Holmes was relentless.

As for replacing incandescent lightbulbs with CFLs or LEDs, he'd already done most of that. So the 50 percent savings could have been more!

Director's latest - and perhaps most obsessive - project was to purchase an energy monitoring gizmo called The Energy Detective - TED.

He hooked it into his electrical panel - others may want to hire an expert - and it continuously measures the power consumption of the house.

Every morning, he checks the usage on his computer. TED tells him when the refrigerator cycles. Whether someone left the basement light on. When the programmable thermostat makes the air-conditioner kick on in summer.

"TED is my spy," said a gleeful Director. "I can tell if something is out of whack."

His full analysis - including graphs from the spreadsheets - is posted on the website of the local sustainability group he belongs to: aFewSteps.org.

In effect, he's done the homework for the rest of us. Our homes may be different, but we can still use his experience as a blueprint.

Coleman, the group's president, said its name reflects the idea that people can make a difference with just a few steps.

"Obviously, David has taken more than a few steps," Coleman said. "He's gone miles."

Director says he still hasn't found all the energy culprits, and likely never will. But the reality is that "everything I did find made a difference - and a substantial one at that."

The point, he said, "is not to impact lifestyle . . . the idea is to use energy with intention." To that end, his wife gets to keep the bank of lights for her African violets.

Is Director a fanatic? He jokes that he may be. Or maybe he's just smart.

"Anybody can do this stuff," he said in his analysis. "A lot of it is free, and you don't have to do it all at once. I spent four years, a little at a time. The reward is that you get to keep all that money, instead of giving it to the energy barons, and spend it on yourself and your family."

"GreenSpace" alternates weekly with Art Carey's "Well Being" column. Contact Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147, sbauers@phillynews.com, or @sbauers on Twitter. Visit her blog at www.philly.com/greenspace.


News Type: 
Energy News