This article was originally published in the July/August 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1994
Putting Education and Technology Together
I would like to point out two items that I neglected to emphasize in my article, Can We Transform the Market without Transforming the Customer? (HE Jan/Feb '94 p. 17). First, the role of the setback thermostat in the energy education field test at Niagara Mohawk should be included in the description of the results. While the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) can install setback thermostats on appropriate homes as an approved measure, very few are installed: past experience shows that customers do not understand how to use them and tend to be dissatisfied with them. This program was no exception. The weatherization-only control group had only a few setback thermostats installed. In the education groups, setback thermostats were installed in every home that could accommodate them, with the exception of a few households with elderly, sight-impaired people. The results, then, that showed an increase in savings of 63% (16.3 compared with 25.7%) was the result of the combination of education plus setback thermostats.
This result implies that other programs can be designed in ways that marry education and technology in a way that increases the effectiveness of both. There may be other interactive measures (as opposed to passive measures like insulation) whose effectiveness can be enhanced by education, or cases where education can be enhanced by technology. A particularly appropriate example is the use of devices to control load, especially as part of time-of-day rate programs. I appreciate the input of Rick Gerardi, Director of the New York State WAP program, for pointing out the importance of this issue.
As a result of this research, the New York State WAP program now includes energy education, and the New York Public Service Commission requires all regulated electric utilities to incorporate education into their low-income weatherization programs.
A three-year follow-up evaluation of the Niagara Mohawk project is currently underway. This research will provide the first documentation of the persistence of savings from an education/setback thermostat program. Results will be presented at the National Low-Income Energy Consortium and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's Summer Study.
Water-Heater Temperature Settings
Consistency is supposed to be a virtue, but it is rarely practiced when it comes to recommending water-heater temperature settings. Some say 140deg.F is ideal, others say 120deg.F is the magic number, while others say the decision isn't that easy--120deg.F or 130deg.F, unless you have a dishwasher without a booster heater.
That's the trouble when you try to make blanket recommendations--they just don't work for every situation. While a good water-heater temperature for showers might be easy to determine, the addition of dish and clothes washing appear to make things more complicated. But does it?
As I understand the situation, dishwasher manufacturers are primarily concerned about spotting on glassware that can result from lower water heater temperatures. But they don't have to pay for the hot water. What I've been suggesting to people is to try a 120deg.F setting, if that isn't satisfactory, gradually increase the thermostat setting until the spotting goes away. My experience is that households on a city water supply will find that 120deg.F works fine. It seems to be people on their own wells who find some advantage in higher settings. Whether water treatment will take care of the problem, I don't know.
The fabric and laundry industry seems to have taken another approach. They know that a recommendation or disclaimer about water heater temperatures in an owners manual probably won't persuade anyone to change the temperature settings, so they recently revised the definition of hot, warm and cold water used on fabric care labels--what used to be warm is now hot.
And dare I mention the possibility of Legionella bacteria in home water systems, which could affect those with weakened immune systems? What should we tell folks about setting their water heaters?
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