A power trip worth taking

Feeling powerless about your household power?

A network of foreign oil concerns, regional distributors, and local purveyors of electricity and heating fuel makes it hard to know just where to aim your ire whenever you have trouble keeping the house cool, or warm.

We control our demand, and we're keeping it high. Residential energy consumption is expected to grow 30 percent by 2020, says the Department of Energy, with 75 percent of that increase linked to a rising call for electricity.

Credit that to an extended housing boom in the South (think central air conditioning) and to a national propensity for building more spacious homes and then stocking them with electronics.

Yet per-household energy costs have dropped, by some measures. Real energy prices have declined since the late '70s. And electricity (relatively cheap at the user end, though it requires coal to produce) is often the "delivered energy" of choice for heating.

Money-wise consumers still look to save. Some shop for utility companies. Some try for a little self-generated power.

On a more basic level, we can identify waste, and cap the outflow of the air that we condition to keep our homes comfortable.

A home-renovation program that aired recently on HGTV showed a home-energy specialist holding a smoke-emitting device beside caulked windows, floorboards, and electrical outlets.

The smoke - it may as well have been a cloud of dollar signs - vanished through small openings.

The quick fixes shown ranged from weather stripping to child-safety outlet plugs.

Much more can be done. An energy audit (see our lead story) can be a cost-saving exercise.

Reach us at work@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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