This article was originally published in the September/October 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1994


Conservation Clips was compiled by Jane Byrne of Home Energy.

Electric Lawn Mowers. In an effort to assess the potential of electric lawn mowers to help improve the utility's load factor, Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCo) gave away 300 cordless, rechargeable electric lawn mowers last spring. A survey of customers who received them found that 80% preferred them to their old gasoline-powered units. Reasons for the preference included the low noise level (cited by 63%), end of the need to store gas (53%), ease of starting the motor (40%), and the lighter weight (40%). Ten percent had no preference, and the other 10% liked their old mowers better. On the negative side, 36% said the electric mower did not have enough power, and 30% disliked its long charging time. The Black & Decker mowers have dry, sealed lead-acid batteries that run for 78 minutes on a charge. A full recharge takes 20 hours; 3 hours are needed to recharge to 75% of capacity. PEPCo's Jack Baraar estimates that each mower uses about 40 kWh per year. Demand-Side Technology Report, April 1994, Cutter Information Corporation, 37 Broadway, Arlington, MA 02174. Tel: (617)641-5118.

Spinning Both Ways. Frigidaire has introduced a clothes dryer that spins first in one direction, then the other, exposing more clothing surface area and resulting in more even drying and less tangling and wrinkling. For an extra $30 over conventional one-way spin models, the dryer reportedly uses 40% less energy and shortens drying time by 37%. In the electric model, air flows over the clothing at 170 cubic feet per minute (CFM) for four minutes and 26 seconds, then the spin is reversed and the air speed drops to 85 CFM for 25 seconds. The gas model spins in the initial direction for seven minutes and 30 seconds, then reverses for 25 seconds. The cycle is repeated until finished. Popular Science, June 1994, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Tel: (212)779-5000; Fax: (212)779-9468.

Curing Sick Buildings. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) are researching ways to use ultraviolet light to destroy volatile organic compounds. These pollutants include cigarette smoke, gases released by new carpets, formaldehyde from adhesives, and toluene from paints and solvents. UTRC is working on a photocatalytic reactor that would hook into a building's HVAC system and destroy pollutants by bombarding them with ultraviolet light in the presence of special catalysts. Research will test the effectiveness of different photocatalysts and establish guidelines for designing and testing a prototype device. NREL In Review, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1617 Cole Boulevard, Golden, CO 80401-3393. Tel: (303)231-1243.

Utilities Share DSM Resources. Sharing resources can enable small electric cooperatives to provide new customer services such as home energy audits. Northwest Rural Public Power District and Panhandle Rural Electric Membership Association in Nebraska now share a marketing manager. Niobrara Valley EMC in Wyoming is also looking to Northwest to help start its own program to market energy audits, blower door tests, thermal storage, and heat pumps. The Energy Newsbrief, V.8 #24, May 9, 1994, IRT Environment, P.O. Box 10990, Aspen, CO 81612-9689. Tel: (303)927-3155; Fax: (303)927-9428.

Recessed Lighting Fixtures. Recessed lighting fixtures which penetrate the ceiling vapor retarder combined with poor attic ventilation can cause condensation problems in homes in cold climates. An Alaskan case study found that improperly sealed fixtures allowed warm, moist air to migrate around and through the light fixtures into the attic. Eave ventilation was not capable of removing excess moisture, which condensed out and froze on the bottom of the roof deck. When the ice melted, water leaked back onto the insulation and through openings in the vapor retarder to cause serious moisture problems. This case and others like it show the importance of vapor-proofing the enclosure and surrounding mounts if recessed light fixtures are installed in cold climates. Northern Building Science, Mar/Apr '94, Alaska Craftsman Home Program, Inc., 900 W. Fireweed Lane, Suite 201, Anchorage, AK 99503-2509. Tel: (907)258-2247; Fax: (907)258-5352.

Stricter Appliance Efficiency Standards? The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed stringent and possibly controversial appliance efficiency standards which would essentially outlaw production of standard electric-resistance water heaters and require the use of state-of-the-art electronic ballasts for fluorescent lights. The standards could affect manufacturing starting in 1997 or 1998. The proposed standards would require an energy factor (EF) rating of 1.89 for a typical new electric water heater. Only heat pump water heaters have EF ratings greater than 1.0, so the new standard would essentially prohibit the production of electric-resistance water heaters. DOE estimates that heat-pump water heaters meeting the standard would cost twice as much as the typical water heater does, and would reduce electricity use more than 50%. The payback on the investment would be two years.

The proposed energy-efficiency standards for fluorescent lighting ballasts may eliminate all but fully electronic ballasts, which use 20% less energy than typical magnetic ballasts. This change would effectively eliminate the familiar buzz of fluorescent lights. Also, under the proposed standards, room air conditioners would be required to have a minimum energy-efficiency (EER) ratio of 9.3-11.1, depending on the style and size. (Current standards require an EER minimum of 8.0-9.0.) DOE estimates that the revised standards would have a typical payback of 3.5 years.

While there are currently no efficiency standards for ranges and ovens, DOE has now proposed some. DOE estimates that the standards would result in a 30% reduction in oven energy use, a 24% reduction in energy use by stoves, and a 6% reduction in microwave oven energy use. DOE also proposed standards for color televisions, and revised current standards for vented space heaters, pool heaters, and mobile home furnaces. Alliance Update, Spring '94, Alliance to Save Energy, 1725 K Street N.W., Suite 509, Washington, D.C. 20006-1401. Tel: (202)857-0666; Fax: (202)331-9588.

Gas Ovens and Ranges. In a project for the Gas Research Institute, Battelle researchers tested 10 modifications to gas ovens and ranges for energy savings. The measures included adding thermostatic controls to ranges, increasing the insulation, and chrome-plating oven interiors. The researchers determined that seven of the measures would result in some savings on gas bills, but not enough to pay for the modification over a typical 18 year appliance lifetime. The maximum savings from any one measure came to about one dollar per year, and three of the measures actually resulted in higher energy use. Battelle did not consider improving the electric ignitor which would be expected to save much more than one dollar per year in electricity costs (see One More Miscellaneous Use of Electricity, HE May/June '93, p.14.) Battelle will expand this study to include all the design options considered in the most recent proposed DOE standards for ovens (see above). Popular Science, May 1994, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Tel: (212)779-5000; Fax: (212)779-9468.

Yellow Energy Labels for Homes. Like the familiar EnergyGuide labels on household appliances, Florida has developed a Building Energy Rating Guide label for homes. Unlike other building energy rating systems, which shy away from predicting actual heating and cooling costs, the Florida label includes a dollar amount for annual energy costs, plus an indicator arrow showing how the labeled home rates on a scale from least- to most-efficient. Developed at the Florida Solar Energy Center, the label includes a breakdown of costs by end use. The labeling system was mandated by the 1993 Florida Building Energy Efficiency Rating Act, which originally required a rating system for all buildings. However, after strong opposition by the state homebuilder association, the legislature passed an amendment making the labels voluntary. Energy Design Update, May 1994, Cutter Information Corporation, 37 Broadway, Arlington, MA 02174. Tel: (617)641-5118. Fax: (617)648-1950.

Straw-Based Structural Panels. Iowa-based Agriboard is nearing commercial production of a structural building panel made of compressed wheat straw. The 8216 ft panels are 8 inches thick and weigh about 400 pounds each. The panels are manufactured in a ram press from wheat straw heated to 300deg.F. Company vice president Bill Thompson claims he measured an R-value of 3.1 per inch. At 81/4 inches, Thompson says the wall panels provide R-26 insulation and a builder using the panels can eliminate up to 60% of the wood framing ordinarily found in stick-framed houses. Journal of Light Construction, May 1994, Builderburg Partners, Limited, 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. Tel: (800)434-4747; Fax: (800)434-4467.



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