Saving energy: one man's equation for comfort

You may or may not have met Stuart Diamond on the ''Today'' show or other TV programs. He's a sought-after guest on such shows because, on the surface at least, his life style is little changed from the cheap-energy era of pre-1974.

The point is, he doesn't pay very much for such luxury. In fact, he pays a whole lot less than many of his neighbors do for a much more Spartan life style.

Energy efficiency is the key.

Mr. Diamond lives on Long Island in a large Victorian house, which he keeps heated to 70 degrees whenever he's at home. The car in his driveway is there to drive, not to stay parked. He doesn't believe in staying cold or staying home when he doesn't want to. In short, he doesn't believe in sacrifice.

There is absolutely no need to turn back the clock, he insists. Sacrifice, he points out, ''is using less energy as wastefully as we previously used more energy.''

The answer, in the Diamond view, lies in cutting out this waste, making the same energy do so much more. So much energy is still wasted in our society, according to Stuart Diamond, that all we need do is to save it in order to return to the old days of relatively inexpensive comfort and well-being.

Doing this may require a little effort and self-discipline, but generally it is ''so easy to do,'' he says.

Simplicity, that's the key. Diamond hammers the theme over and over again. Some of the simplest and cheapest actions - the low-cost, even no-cost steps you can take - will save you the most money.

Take Diamond's own home, that five-bedroom Victorian he bought in 1979. It was, he says, a ''workman's special that guzzled heat.'' So the first thing he did was take an energy audit with his index finger.

''I went around the house - under doors and around windows - and everywhere I felt a draft, I put in caulk or weatherstripping.'' He also tuned the furnace. All told, in the two years he has owned the house he has spent approximately $ 300 on improving the energy efficiency of the structure. During this time he has seen his energy bills - heat, hot water, and cooking - plummet from $2,000 a year to around $600.

No wonder he still lives largely as though the '74 oil embargo never happened.

Mr. Diamond writes on energy and environmental matters for Newsday. In recent years he has interviewed more than 5,000 people on energy, discovering in the process that many of the answers are quick, cheap, simple, and don't involve sacrifice.

''You don't need a Rolls-Royce to drive to work,'' he would tell people. ''You can get there just as effectively for a lot less money.''

As an example, a lot of energy can be saved by turning down the thermostat at night or when you go out during the day. There are thermostats on the market which automatically adjust the setting for you, he says, but they are expensive (around $80) - one of the ''Rolls-Royce'' items. In contrast, there is a thermostat ''fooler'' on the market that works just as effectively and costs only $20. Just plug it into the nearest electrical outlet.

A tiny, low-cost electric heater raises the temperature in the immediate area of the thermostat, thus fooling it into not calling for more heat in the house. If you can't find one in your local hardware store, order one from Flair Manufacturing Corporation, 600 Old Willetts Path, Hauppauge, N.Y. 11787.

To spread his message on inexpensive energy-saving practices, including where to get energy-conserving gadgets that really work, Diamond wrote a book, entitled ''No-cost, Low-cost Energy Tips,'' published by Bantam Books for $1.95.

Like the message it is propounding, there is a lot of value for very little cost in this book. It is one of the best I have read on the topic.

Diamond lists 52 ways to save energy, which quickly translates into saving money.''

Clearly, $50 saved,'' he says, ''translates into dinner for two at a fancy restaurant.'' Add all the savings up and you may well be able to afford a vacation on what you now spend on energy. Some books list hundreds of energy-saving measures. ''I've cut the list down to the most simple and cost-effective measures,'' Diamond says. ''Who's got time to do hundreds of things. I haven't. I'd like to do, maybe, 10 things fast and then get on with the rest of my life.''

Diamond's advice to those people who are thinking about the conversion from energy wastefulness to energy efficiency is to do ''a few things at a time - even one thing at a time. See what happens. Then perhaps try something else.

What he has done is state what you may expect to save when you take a particular step.

Thus, choosing what to do first is pretty simple.The paperback deals with caulking and insulation (insulating the roof, a job you can do yourself, is much more important than insulating the walls, which will probably require a contractor) and with people's habits.''

Leaving the door ajar while taking out the garbage or going to the car is like taking a quarter and tossing it into the gutter. Do it 200 times a year and that's $50 down the drain.'' There are more than 500 million doorways in the United States. Opening them unnecessarily is estimated to cost the nation more than $1 billion in wasted energy - ''money,'' says Diamond, ''that would pay for a lot of jobs.''

Most housewives know that a pot with a lid will come to a boil faster than one left open. There's a reason for that. The lid traps in the heat - gets it to stay around and do more cooking for you before it escapes. A lid on a pot cuts cooking time by about 20 percent and, accordingly, cooks with 20 percent less energy. Even so, many people still cook spaghetti, vegetables, and so on without a lid on the kettle.

No wonder some families use twice as much energy (and money) to cook the same food on the same type of stove.

Once in a discussion with an engineer at a leading tire-manufacturing company , Diamond noted that the tire pressure stated on the walls of all tires was invariably higher by 5 or 6 pounds than the auto manufacturers recommended for the cars they built. Why, he asked himself, did the auto manufacturers do this? ''To get a softer, more comfortable ride,'' was the reply.

Diamond's remedy is to look on the sidewalls for the recommended tire pressure and not the owner's manual.

And talking of cars, Diamond notes that ''you pay for a car tune-up whether you have one or not.'' An untuned engine can add $200 to your annual gasoline bill, he estimates.

All told, the book highlights 52 steps which a person can readily take to lower his or her energy bill. As the author puts it: ''There is no magic to winning the energy war. Victory comes in small fixes - a little here, a little there.

"A journey of a thousand dollars begins with a single tube of caulk.''

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