- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

The rising cost of energy caught many Americans by surprise and in the midst of unprecedented individual wealth we're talking about energy conservation again.

Regardless of how we got where we are (I'll forgo the political soapbox this time), conservation just makes good household budget sense.

Actually, our consumption of energy on a house-by-house basis has dropped in the past few decades. The Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) reports the average on-site energy consumption per household dropped by 27 percent between 1978 and 1997 while the number of U.S. households increased by 33 percent.

These statistics are even more remarkable when one considers the size of American houses has increased markedly in the past two decades. The percentage of homes with six or more rooms increased from 41 percent in 1978 to 49 percent in 1997.

This drop in energy usage demonstrates the more efficient housing being built in today's market as well, when you take into account that between 1978 and 1997, the percentage of households using a microwave oven climbed from 8 percent to 83 percent, dishwashers went from 35 percent to 50 percent and personal computers went from practically none to 35 percent.

The National Association of Home Builders Research Center (www.nahbrc.org) reports that in the past 23 years, building materials and construction techniques also have accounted for energy savings.

Here's why:

• Increased insulation in walls and attics.

• More insulated exterior doors and windows. Use of insulated doors increased from 44 percent in 1978 to 85.2 percent in 1999, while use of insulated steel doors increased from 35.9 percent to 87 percent in 1999.

• Increased foundation insulation, which reduces energy loss in one of the last remaining major "sinks" in the home and provides warmer, more comfortable floors.

• Newer appliances and plumbing fixtures conserve water and require less energy for heating needs.

• More efficient refrigerators conserve more energy than older models and rely on refrigerants that have much less impact on the ozone layer.

• Newer dishwashers use 40 percent less energy and newer clothes washers use 45 percent less than models manufactured in 1972.

• Passive solar design, employed more often in new construction, captures the sun's rays to provide "free" heat.

So why the energy crunch? Well, again, I promised to stay off the soap box. Suffice it to say that the "No Growthers" won this time and consumers will keep them in office until their energy costs skyrocket because of faltering power plants and low fuel production.

There, I said it. Now don't you feel better?

Meanwhile, here are a few tips to help make your house more energy efficient and to cut back on consumption and these are good ideas despite the price of tea in China or oil in Kuwait.

• Turn up the thermostat in summer and turn it down in winter.

• Check and change the heating and air conditioning filters regularly.

• Switch to fluorescent lamps where possible.

• Look for air leakage throughout the house, which can account for 30 percent of the overall heating and cooling load. Use weather stripping, storm windows, foam sprays and other products to seal cracks and holes throughout the house.

• Check the insulation levels in the attic and crawl spaces. Add more where needed.

• Change the hot water temperature setting down to the 115-to-120-degree level.

• Change energy use habits. While this is possibly the hardest to implement, it's actually the cheapest. Turn off lights not in use, take shorter showers, only run full dishwasher and clothes washers with full loads, etc.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Send comments and questions by e-mail (manthonycarr@erols.com).

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