Sunday, August 21, 2005

What A Gas

Two sixty one nine a gallon? Feh. Its up thirty cents a gallon since last month! Feh, i say again. Something has to be done. What can be done?

A year or so ago, President GW Bush said that, "There is no instant cure for the energy shortage." This was and is wrong. He says these kinds of things all the time, and i'm embarrassed to be an American. My president is scientifically illiterate and must surround himself with illiterates for advice. Regan was charismatic, but his credibility was hurt when it leaked out that he had sought out and gotten advice from an astrologer.

My car, a 1988 Mazda 626 with a 2.2 liter fuel injected 12 valve engine and 5 speed manual transmission, regularly gets about 35 miles per gallon of regular gas. It has an EPA highway rating of 32 miles per gallon. It has achieved 41 miles per gallon on a tank of gas - getting 615 miles on 15 gallons of gas. It isn't modified for economy. It achieves better economy in part because of the kind of driving it has too do (nearly all highway driving) and because of the way i drive it. I like to use the cruise control. My measurements show that at about the same speed, using cruise improves my mileage by about 4 miles per gallon. That's about 10 percent. Further, when on cruise, it is annoying to pull up behind someone and have to change lanes to pass or alter the cruise speed. Sometimes, if approaching a car slowly, when the car gets even with the other car, they speed up to match your speed. I've even seen cars that will pace you so that you are clearly in their blind spot for miles. Worse, sometimes they pace you so that they are in your blind spot for miles. Its better to just go slightly slower than most traffic so that they have to pass you. I let them ride my bumper if they want. Their aggression is wasted on my cruise control.

So my car ends up going a little slower than the rest of traffic. I get to where i'm going in about the same time. I make very few rest stops, sometimes going eight hours between them. On long trips, the same cars pass me again and again.

And, i'm driving some 35,000 miles a year. It wasn't my first choice. I recall when my commute was about 100 yards with fondness. Its just how it is.

My measurements show that my car gets about 17% better gas mileage at 60 than at 70. By going 55 miles per hour, my car gets twenty seven miles per gallon while towing my 16 foot boat. Most SUVs don't get 27 MPG, but my car gets that while towing a boat.

At any rate, one instant fix to the energy crisis is to bring back the double nickles. Post Speed Limit 55 signs on the nation's highways, and the instant effect is more than 10 percent less gas consumed. Why wait for the national mandate? It is quite legal to drive at 55 even if the speed limit is 70. In many places, trucks and busses are required to drive that speed (not that they do). Then you can enjoy your own private ten to twenty percent discount on driving right away. If everyone does it, then demand goes down and, probably, prices go down too.

In the 1970's, conservation made up the lion's share of what it took to get out of the crisis. Wear a sweater at home in the winter, and set your house to 67 degrees F. That's too cold for me, so i set it as low as i can stand - about 70. But in the summer, i try not to use air conditioning. This summer, i have not turned it on once. This has come as a surprise to my friends. It's been hot. Well, i like it hot.

Of course, if you're buying a new car, you can choose one that meets your needs with the best fuel economy.

There's more. Over the past five years, I have been replacing burned out incandescent light bulbs with those screw in fluorescent bulbs. I've tried most brands now. Some take a second to flicker on, but there are brands that come on basically instantly. Unlike the long tubes, which for me seem to always flicker at 60 Hz, the screw in bulbs seem to burn steady. That means i can read by them. This is a good thing, since i want to use them where i need light for long periods of time. The 22 watt bulbs are supposed to be as bright as 100 watt incandescent bulbs - but they seem to me as a little less. Still, i can get bulbs that are bright enough for what i need, and i generally end up with more light everywhere rather than less. So these bulbs turn out to be about four times as efficient as the old ones. They also last much longer. I'd rather have bulbs that never need replacing and pay a few extra bucks for them. They claim that buying them saves money. The bright ones claim to save $75 over their life. My electric company says that lighting comprises about 44 percent of home electricity use. Since one fourth of 44 percent is eleven percent, that should mean that i'm saving about 33 percent of my electric bill. That's one third. Since i tend not to use air conditioning and have gas hot water, it may be more than that for me.

I have also begun a project to double the insulation in my Attic. I'm about three quarters finished. I'm doing it myself in late fall and early spring - where the temperatures are moderate. So far, it has cost about a hundred dollars. It has been worth it in the improvement in comfort alone for the half of the house that is finished.

I have installed a little switch on the vent for my clothes dryer. In the winter, I vent the hot and moist air into the house. In the summer, it goes outside. Its in the basement, and i probably wouldn't do it if i spent most of my time down there. It doesn't seem to add lint everywhere in the house, or even the basement. It may be adding dust, however, requiring more frequent cleaning. This hasn't been really measured, as yet. It was under ten bucks, and has probably saved me more than that - though this hasn't really been measured either.

I'd like to do more still. My roof and attic get very hot in the summer. This makes the upper floor hotter than it might be. Changing my roof tiles from dark material to a more reflective material should make my roof and attic cooler in the summer. There is also a design called a double roof. There is a space between the two roofs, and the air between them is allowed to connectively flow out - so there is always a fresh supply of ambient temperature air. Perhaps when the roof needs to be redone in a few years this could be easily and cheaply retrofitted to about two thirds of the roof area.

I'd like to add passive solar heating to supplement the heat in the winter. This is basically a panel that heats water with the light of the sun, perched on the roof. Perhaps hot water from it could feed the hot water heater too. Then, showers would last longer - because when the main tank runs out, instead of having to heat up cold water, it would get hotter water from the start.

Another thing i'd like to do is vent the heat from my basement dehumidifier to the outside. That wouldn't make it an air conditioner, but as i only run it in the summer, and the heat it produces is not desirable in my house - even in my relatively cool basement.

Most of these improvements would pay for themselves, decrease my cost of living, and increase my comfort level - my standard of living.

It's too late to redesign my house from scratch. What i'd like is a to have more of the living space underground. That would make my summers comfortable without air conditioning. There are some housing concepts out there that promise to cut heating fuel bills by ninety percent. The time has come, and the way for it to happen is for people to demand it. How do you do that? Shop around. If you are building your own house, build it right from the start. It demands something that has been traditionally difficult - consumer education.

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