This article was originally published in the May/June 1995 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1995

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Utilities Gang Up on AC Efficiency. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency has launched a High-Efficiency Residential Air Conditioning Initiative as one of its latest efforts at market transformation. Seven utilities (Atlantic Electric Company, Long Island Lighting Company, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Southern California Edison Company, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, and Tennessee Valley Authority) have signed on as participants to encourage manufacturers to produce higher-efficiency products. The utilities will give incentives for air conditioner and/or heat pump equipment that meets efficiency criteria broken into five levels (tiers 0, 1, 2, 3, and Advanced). Air conditioner criteria are given in both seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and energy efficiency ratio (EER). SEER indicates overall energy consumption, while EER is a better indicator of peak performance. For the first year, participating utilities will offer incentives for at least the first two tiers. Then tier 0 (SEER 11 and EER 9.5 for air conditioners and Heating Season Performance Factor [HSPF] 7.0 for heat pumps) will be dropped and utilities must give incentives for at least tiers 2 and 3 (SEER 13/EER 11/HSPF 8 and SEER 14/EER 12/HSPF 8.5). Currently only 10% of equipment on the market meets the requirements for tier 1: SEER 12/EER 10.5/HSPF 7.0. Demand-Side Technology Report, Jan. 1995 Cutter Information Corp., 37 Broadway, Suite 1, Arlington, MA 02174-5552. Tel: (617)641-5118; Fax: (617)648-1950.

Education Savings Persist. Energy savings from consumer education did not drop significantly over three years for participants in a Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. low-income weatherization program. The pilot program included one group who received traditional weatherization measures and a second group who, in addition to the weatherization, received energy education home visits and a setback thermostat and participated in an affordable payment plan (see Putting Education and Technology Together, HE, Jul/Aug '94 p.3). In the first year of the program, natural gas savings were 13.8% for the weatherization only group and 23.9% for the weatherization plus education group. To address criticisms that education savings can be unreliable and may not persist over time, a more recent study looked at the same groups after three years and found that the weatherization-only group had savings of 12.6%, compared to 20.1% for the weatherization plus education group. The drop off in savings was not significant and the education group was still saving far more than the weatherization-only control group. Alliance Update, Fall 1994, Alliance to Save Energy, 1725 K St., NW, Suite 509, Washington, DC 20006-1401. Tel: (202)857-0666.

Washer Manufacturers Get Horizontal. More clothes washer manufacturers are developing models that spin on a horizontal rather than vertical axis, in anticipation of new energy efficiency standards that will take effect in 1999. Horizontal-axis machines use about one-third of the water and energy and require less detergent. Two front-loading models are already available from Frigidaire (marketed by Gibson and White-Westinghouse), and a top-loading machine is available from Staber Industries, in addition to expensive imports from Asko of Sweden and AEG and Miele of Germany. Whirlpool plans to have a model on the market in 1996, and the Electric Power Research Institute is working with Maytag on a machine. The Quad Report, Sept/ Oct 1994, Consumer Energy Council of America Research Foundation, 2000 L St., NW, Suite 802, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: (202)659-0404.

A Washer That Dries--and a dryer that washes. The combination washer-dryer, available for the last ten years in Europe, has finally crossed the ocean to the United States. A single, compact unit houses both a horizontal-axis clothes washer and an electric dryer. At least three manufacturers are marketing models in the United States, stressing the space-saving and convenience features. The machine is front loading with controls on the front (making it easier to use for people in wheelchairs) and it automatically switches to the dry cycle after washing the clothes. The capacity of one unit, Equator Corporation's EZ1000, is ten pounds; the two-speed main motor uses 300 watts and 900 watts, and the dry heating element has 750-watt and 1,500-watt settings. The cost of the models currently on the market is comparable to the combined price of a standard washer and a standard dryer. Fortune, Apr 4, 1994, Time-Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10020. Tel: (212)522-1212; Fax: (212)522-0024.

Increasing Dishwasher IQ. A new Maytag dishwasher is able to sense amount of food soil, presence of detergent, wash-arm rotation, and water temperature, so that it can adjust the wash level accordingly. The so-called intelligent dishwasher tracks the time between loads (to adjust for dried-on food soil) and the number of times the door is opened to load more dishes. Maytag claims that the new dishwasher uses an average of 6.5 gallons of water in a 40 minute wash, compared to the average dishwasher use of 9 gallons of water in a 63 minute cycle. Energy and Housing Report, Dec 1994, Allan L. Frank Associates, 9124 Bradford Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20901-4918. Tel: (301)565-ALFA; Fax: (301)565-3298.

PV Water Heater. A solar water heater powered by photovoltaics (PV) has been patented by Hunter Fanney and Brian Dougherty of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The new design has multiple types of electric resistance heating elements, and a microprocessor selects which element or combination of elements to use for maximum efficiency at any given time, based on the amount of sunshine. Fanney estimates that a water heater with a PV array measuring about four meters by four meters could supply 60% of the total needs of a family of four. One advantage over solar thermal water heaters is that there is no need to install expensive piping to pump water to the rooftop and then back to the storage tank. A prototype will be monitored for a year. Popular Science, Feb 1995, 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. Tel: (212)779-5000; Fax: (212)779-9468.

Is Your Furnace Running? In order to estimate the benefits of furnace efficiency improvements such as variable-speed blower motors, it is helpful to know what percent of the time the furnaces are running. Two Wisconsin utilities monitored furnace run times for 44 control homes and found that furnaces are significantly oversized. In January, a 1,755 degree-day month, the furnaces in about 45% of the homes ran less than 30% of the time, and less than 10% of the furnaces ran more than 60% of the time. In March, which had 1,019 degree-days, half of the houses had furnaces running only 12% of the time, and no furnace ran more than 40% of the time. In another study, E Source has estimated furnace run-times of 20% to 70% during the heating season.

In Canada, Bert Phillips of Unies Ltd., who is conducting research for the Canadian Electrical Association, has found that installers put in furnaces rated at two to three times a home's design heat loss. Phillips' study also showed that many Canadian homeowners run their blowers continually, citing improved air quality and energy efficiency as their reasons. Demand-Side Technology Report, Dec 1994, Cutter Information Corp., 37 Broadway, Suite 1, Arlington, MA 02174-5552. Tel: (617)641-5118; Fax: (617)648-1950.

IRS Ruling on DSM Inconclusive. The Internal Revenue Service issued a Technical Advice Memorandum to Southern California Edison (SCE) on January 9 that allows SCE to take tax deductions for money spent on DSM programs from 1983 to 1985. Previously, the IRS had sent SCE a bill for back-taxes and penalties, declaring that the utility could neither deduct nor depreciate DSM spending because it results in a future benefit to the utility. SCE challenged the IRS and even sought permission from the California Public Utilities Commission to switch its remaining DSM programs eligible for shareholder incentives into expense accounts. The new ruling clears up the tax issues for previous programs but does not clarify the tax liabilities for shareholder incentives. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Ralph Cavanagh says that, while the ruling means traditional forms of conservation will receive favorable tax treatment ... [t]he IRS still reserves the least favorable tax treatment for the best market-based programs. The IRS's aggressive auditing position could force utilities to pay taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars that they spend on DSM each year. California Energy Markets, Jan 27, 1995, NewsData Corporation, 51 Bache St., San Francisco, CA 94110. Tel: (415)824-3222; Fax (415)824-3223.

Legionella in Water Heaters. A Canadian study of 211 water heaters in Quebec found that 40% of tested electric resistance heaters were contaminated with Legionella, while no gas- or oil-fired heaters were contaminated. The researchers, from the Universite Laval in Quebec, believe that since the lower heating element in electric water heaters is several inches above the bottom of the tank, a cool hospitable environment can exist for Legionella growth in the sediment at the bottom. However, the heat source for gas and oil water heaters is beneath the tank where it heats the sediment directly to higher temperatures. They also found that the gas- and oil-fired heaters in the study were all set above 140 degrees F, generally higher than the electric heater temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees F.

In the United States, the Electric Power Research Institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found no link between type of water heater and cases of Legionnaire's disease in a study of 150 patients in Ohio. They also tested 450 water heaters and found only four with Legionella contamination, concluding that electric water heaters do not present a significant health risk. Energy Design Update, Jan 1995, 235 W. 102nd St., #7J, New York, NY 10025. Tel: (212)662-7428; Fax: (212)662-0039.

Disaster-Proof Homes. Houses built in south Florida will have to be able to withstand greater wind and impact resistance under new building code rules. New buildings in Dade and Broward counties already need lateral bracing on truss systems, additional hurricane straps, stronger gabled roof ends, and nailed, rather than stapled, sheathing. Home builders and contractors have lobbied to delay the new provisions, which require that building components located up to 30 feet above grade be able to resist a nine-pound 2 x 4 piece of lumber shot out of a compressed air cannon at 34 miles per hour (to simulate wind-blown debris). These missile tests are based on Australian hurricane standards. The impact tests will also create stress using fluctuating pressures. Single-family and mobile homes suffered the most from Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, which caused $16 billion of uninsured losses--up to 18,000 mobile homes were damaged or destroyed in Florida and Louisiana. The Energy Newsbrief, Oct 6, 1994, IRT Environment, P.O. Box 10990, Aspen, CO 81621-9689. Tel: (303)927-3155; Fax: (303)927-9428.

Beyond SERP. Whirlpool's 22 ft3 winner of the Super Efficient Refrigerator Program (SERP) contest could be left in the dust by an experimental refrigerator designed for off-gridders. The 7 ft3 refrigerator operates on 8 watts and 70 kWh per year, about a tenth of what the larger SERP refrigerator uses, and about a third of what would be required for a similarly-sized SERP-type refrigerator. (The SERP refrigerator beats the Department of Energy's 1993 appliance efficiency standards by more than 25%.) Sunpower Inc. claims its CFC-free refrigerator can be powered with a 50-watt photovoltaic panel and requires no batteries because it creates its own 24-hour ice storage to carry it through the night. By using vacuum insulated panels,.Sunpower hopes to lower the annual consumption to 50 kWh with the next model under development. The Energy Newsbrief, November 14, 1994, IRT Environment, P.O. Box 10990, Aspen, CO 81621-9689. Tel: (303)927-3155; Fax: (303)927-9428.

Hookup Fee for Energy-Guzzling Homes. Public Utility District (PUD) No. 3 in Mason County, Washington, charges a special hookup fee for new energy-inefficient residences in its service territory, and the Washington Supreme Court recently upheld its right to do so. The case before the court involved a $2,000 fee imposed by the PUD on electrically heated homes that don't meet Super Good Cents standards. The fee was challenged by the Washington Manufactured Housing Association in a class-action suit arguing that it is essentially a construction standard pre-empted by less stringent federal regulations. The PUD convinced the judges that it was simply establishing a reasonable rate, since the fee is designed to recover costs associated with serving the inefficient residences. Conservation Monitor, Oct 1994, NewsData Corporation, P.O. Box 900928, Seattle, WA 98109-9228. Tel: (206)285-4848; Fax: (206)281-8035.

Hybrid Ballast Extends CFL Life. A new hybrid ballast introduced by Beacon Light Products of Meridian, Idaho, uses a micro-chip controller as a starter module on a magnetic ballast, so the lamp starts without a flicker. The hybrid is cheaper than most electronic ballasts and eliminates the radioactive source, or glow bottle, of typical magnetically-ballasted lamps. Other advantages to the hybrid ballast are that it operates over a wide range of input voltages and reportedly extends lamp life significantly, although it does not operate the lamp as efficiently as an electronic ballast. Beacon's internal tests indicate that a lamp could undergo four times more starts than typical magnetically-ballasted lamps and ten times more than electronically-ballasted ones before lamp cathode failure. The ballast's power factor is typically .95 and total harmonic distortion is reportedly less than 15%. A dimmable version of the ballast is expected to be released next summer. Compact News, Fall/Winter 1994, The California Compact, c/o McAfee Design, 16817-B Hawk Drive, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268. Tel: (602)816-0345; Fax: (602)816-0345.

Energy Software for Architects. Pacific Northwest Laboratory, the University of Oregon, and Softdesk Inc. have developed a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tool that calculates heating and cooling loads for architects during the design process. The software, called Softdesk Energy, links with Autodesk architectural AutoCAD drafting software. From an Energy menu in the drafting tool, Softdesk Energy can be brought up at any time in the drawing process once the outside perimeter of the building has been drawn. It pulls data from the information entered in AutoCAD and uses default values until the user has entered more specific information on insulation levels, structural types, and lighting. In the early stages of design, the architect can try out different options to see the impact on energy usage without waiting for the details needed for a complex energy analysis. As it calculates, the software creates a chart of heating and cooling loads throughout the year, based on ASHRAE's Simplified Energy Analysis Method (SEAM). Building Systems Update, Nov 1994, P.O. Box 999, MS K5-02, Richland, WA 99352. Tel: (509)375-3615; Fax: (509)375-3614.

Fountain of Youth for Water Heaters. The demise of storage water heaters after relatively short lifespans (typically about ten years) is usually caused by rust--a problem that can be remedied by regularly replacing the anode rod, at far less expense than buying a new water heater. The sacrificial anode rod has a steel core with a magnesium, aluminum, or zinc that diverts corrosion from susceptible places within the tank to the rod. Once the anode is spent, parts of the steel tank begin to rust and the water heater fails within a few years. In fact, the main distinction between tanks with five-year versus ten-year warranties is that the ten-year tank has two anode rods instead of one. The ease of replacing the anode rod varies from tank to tank, depending on where and how the rod is attached, and replacement anodes cost from about $18 to $30 each. Home Power, Feb/Mar 1995, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520. Tel: (916)475-3179; Fax: (916)475-3179.

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