This article was originally published in the May/June 1992 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 1992




Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.


One Family's Electricity Savings

Every now and then we hear of a case of energy conservation above and beyond the call of duty. Pam Coxon and her husband David have reduced their electricity consumption in their San Francisco house by about 65% over the course of the last two years. Two new technologies made this possible: widely available compact fluorescents and a super-efficient refrigerator.

It all started with a few 15W Panasonic compact fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts, purchased from a mail order catalog in December 1989. A $4-per-bulb rebate from Pacific Gas & Electric made it easier for the Coxons to decide to give compacts a try. One of these bulbs-a porch light on a daily timer-has seen about 9,000 hours of use.

Then the Coxons decided to go all-out. As Pam says, We were intrigued with the technology and quite excited about the savings, so we began looking all over San Francisco for places where we could buy more. Over the next six months or so, Pam was able to find more types and brands of compact fluorescents at various locations in and around San Francisco: specialty stores like Earthsake and Save Energy, as well as a lumber company and a hardware store. Again, many of the bulbs had utility rebates, which made them more accessible. Still, for most of the Coxons' intended uses, such as the living room, porch and kitchen, the energy-efficient lights were cost- effective to buy even at the full price.

By the middle of 1990, Pam and David had replaced the 16 bulbs that accounted for at least 92% of household lighting electricity use. Pam says that these were purchased for about $200; full price would be around $340. We appear to be saving about $100 per year, so the [simple] payback would be 3 years, she adds. (Month-by-month electricity use appears in Figure 1.) Today, they have installed a total of 26 compact fluorescents in all but the most remote locations in their home.

One lesson the Coxons learned is that the availability of different sizes and styles of bulbs really does matter. Pam could not use compact fluorescent lamps in her favorite hurricane lamp until she discovered OSRAM's EL line of electronically ballasted bulbs, which are slim and light enough to fit. After being turned on to the OSRAMs, though, Pam was excited: I liked the fit so much I actually bought another hurricane lamp! Difficulty finding harps that allow longer or wider compacts to fit different lamps and shades is a notorious problem. On the other hand, lamp sizes and shapes can have advantages over incandescents-the porch light looks great all alone with no diffuser at all. And lights that switch on softly and warm up gradually can be quite soothing.

Still, they have encountered some minor problems. One bulb burned out on the day of purchase, but the seller replaced it. Another burned out during the first year, after only a small fraction of its advertised 10,000-hour life. The Coxons had to absorb the cost of that one.

In the course of choosing compact fluorescent lights, the Coxons had to think about their true lighting needs. Since incandescents with equivalent light use about four times as much electricity, the estimated savings in electricity is 90 kWh (per winter month), Pam explained, Our actual PG&E records show that we saved a bit more than this, about 100 kWh. This discrepancy is most likely due to some downsizing of our light output. We had a number of 150W incandescents, which we replaced with compact fluorescents with substantially lower light output, and correspondingly greater savings in electricity.

Since this experiment has a sample size of one, we cannot separate technological from behavioral changes. It is clear, though, that the winter electricity use from 1989- 1990 to 1990-1991 drops by about 100 kWh, equivalent to the savings from those 20 compact fluorescents, assuming average daily use of around 2-3 hours each.

The Next Step: A Super-Efficient 'Fridge
The Coxons did not stop there. Once their lighting electricity use was about as low as it could get, they realized that their 12 ft3, '50s vintage refrigerator had all along been the largest single electricity guzzler in the house. After finding a home for it at a local school, they decided in August 1991 to go for the most efficient replacement they could find-a refrigerator-freezer hand-built by Sun Frost, of Arcata, Calif. According to a 1987 study by the California Energy Commission, the 12 ft3 model the Coxons bought uses 350 kWh per year, about one half the electricity of a typical equivalent energy-efficient refrigerator. The Coxons eventually want to convert to a solar powered version.


Immediately they saw a dramatic drop in electricity use (see Figure 1). A Sun Frost costs about $1,750, though, so the extra energy savings over a more typical efficient unit (650-700 kWh/year, $800) yields a simple payback of around 30 years, too long to justify the purchase on economic grounds alone. But the Coxons are highly motivated and feel satisfied having bought the Sun Frost, and adjusting to its lower, wider profile was not at all difficult.

Lessons from One Family

After replacing a handful of the most-used incandescent bulbs in the Coxons' home with compact fluorescents, a typical utility auditor would have considered their home retrofitted. They did, though, succeed in achieving twice the savings we would expect from a typical household. We can see the possibilities for the future in the Coxons' self-documented example. It just takes people like the Coxons to demonstrate energy savings and get the efficiency ball rolling.

-Andrew McAllister


Figure 1

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