Who Are Those Energy-Efficient Neighbors, Anyway?
By Carol O'Biso
In the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch and Sundance are pursued throughout the movie by a band of mysterious horsemen. In a recurring refrain Sundance looks back and says, “Who are those guys, anyway?” Butch and the Kid get so frustrated that Butch says, “Don’t they get tired? Don’t they get hungry? Why don’t they slow up? Hell, they could even go faster, at least that’d be a change.”
I can sympathize. Not that I’m being pursued; I just can’t seem to catch these mysterious people out in front. They are my “Energy Efficient Neighbors,” to whom I am regularly compared by Central Hudson’s Energy Efficiency Reports.
When our first Home Energy Report arrived in the mail I was shocked. It showed that we were using 16% more energy than our neighbors! And the bar chart … Oh my God.
It was like being in third grade and bringing home a bad report card. We have electric heat and hot water, so surely Central Hudson was comparing us to people who only use electricity for lights, fridges, freezers etc.. Closer examination of the report, however, indicated that we were being compared to “100 neighbors with electric heat and similar-sized houses.” Holy Cow! We don’t even know anyone else with electric heat, so how did they find 99 neighbors who have not only electric heat, but electric heat and a similar-sized house to ours?
I logged on to www.centralhudson.com/energyreports.com and found that my “neighbors” all live within 26 miles, so I guess I shouldn’t really expect to know them. I found out that I can make an energy conservation plan and can “commit” (by clicking) to various actions that will reduce my energy usage (washing our clothes in cold water can save $20 per year; using heated blankets and lowering the thermostat can save $10 per year; shaving a minute off my shower can save $60 per year, etc..)
It’s a very cool site full of very good suggestions, but I was troubled. The good thing about electric heat is that every single room has its own thermostat and in our house they are all completely OFF in any room we are not in. We were already using a wood burner to heat the downstairs, doing most laundry in cold water and using a heated mattress pad while keeping our bedroom freezing overnight (I won’t get up in the morning until my husband turns up the thermostat). What were we doing wrong? I started asking around to see if I could find the people who were using so much less energy than I was, but, funny thing, everyone I spoke to was trying to figure out who was using so much less energy than they were.
Well, in September of 2010 two ancient window air conditioners in our most frequently used spaces both died. We decided to bite the bullet and replace them with super-efficient air conditioner/heater units alternatively called mini-split systems or ductless air conditioners. These things are so efficient we got $1,500 back in a government rebate and $400 back from Central Hudson. Best of all, they are fantastic units for both heating and cooling and, wonder of wonders, we used 1,100 fewer kilowatts of electricity than the same two-month period the year before! That was in spite of a brutal winter.
By then I’d forgotten all about Central Hudson’s Home Energy Reports, but when our next one arrived in the mail I tore it open in triumph. Now I was going to be one of those guys out in front of the pack. Ha! Nobody was going to wag a finger at me this time.
Do I even have to write this next sentence? My rank is improving? I’m ranked 63rd out of 100! (Who are those guys, anyway? Don’t they get cold? Don’t they wash themselves?)
I called Central Hudson’s Home Energy hot line and got a call back from an extremely nice man named Barry Henck. He was kind and soothing and concerned and explained that the energy reports are not meant to be critiques. Central Hudson sends them to a third of their customers and then compares those to another third to see if knowing what your usage is has any impact on usage. Barry reviewed every possible reason my energy reports might be so high. He explained that no two homes are alike, that lifestyle patterns differ and, interestingly, that Gardiner is unique right now; people are building very large homes here, then disappearing back to the city. It’s possible, he said, that we are being compared to empty houses.
Barry Henck certainly calmed me down, though he was unable to identify why I haven’t done a better job of reducing my energy consumption. Maybe what my home needs is a fleet of tradesmen replacing all the windows, rehanging the doors and improving the insulation but, ummm, let’s not hold our breath waiting for that to happen. All in all, here’s what I think: Butch and Sundance did not come to a happy ending at the hands of those mysterious horsemen and I have stopped trying to keep up with my “energy-efficient neighbors.” Cutting energy consumption of any kind is a very good goal (not just for the cost savings) and Central Hudson’s website is a great resource for finding ways to do that. I’m going to keep plugging away at it.
And those Home Energy Reports? I’ve come to realize that they are very useful; they make good kindling.