Mike Murphy

Daylight-savings time ended yesterday, Nov. 4, at 2 a.m. The season started three weeks early and ended one week later, thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. We enjoyed four extra weeks of time - to save energy. Clock settings don’t really save daylight, of course, but perhaps changing the clock does match modern lifestyles better. And, with any luck, we saved some energy by using Mother Nature’s nearest sizzling star instead of some fossil fuel burning machines.

However, saving energy puzzles me at times. It’s difficult to figure out how much savings really are obtainable. Perhaps that is why energy conservationists seem to have a habit of equating various energy saving measures to automobiles and automobile parts. We’ve all heard such comparisons: “taking 16,000 cars off the roads,” or “removing 40,000 tires from our country’s landfills.”

In our own industry, a programmable thermostat installation that could save up to 33 percent on heating and cooling bills, “can prevent enough CO2 emissions to remove 600 cars from the road for a year,” according to information found on the Home Depot Website. Really? I’d like to meet the 600 people who have started taking public transit as a result of my seven-day programmable.

Will energy savings cause people to stop driving, and simply park their cars? And, I can’t even begin to fathom who is going to rummage around the landfills throwing out all of those tires. Where would they throw them? Perhaps a different landfill in New Mexico? They seem to get stuck with everybody’s hazardous waste; a few extra tires couldn’t hurt.


If you have stayed with me this far you know that the point of the savings comparisons is to relate to something people can easily understand. Nearly everyone over the age of 16 in this country has at least attempted to drive a car, so the comparison works. Or does it? How many people are really engaging in energy saving efforts? Even though the number of people actually concerned about living a conserving lifestyle may be on the rise, there is still a long way to go.

According to Wikipedia, American lifestyle changes have put higher demands on heating and cooling resources. The average size of homes built in the United States has increased significantly, from 1,500 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet in 2005. No matter how hard we try to conserve energy, we just use more of it as we expand our economy and the American Dream.

Maybe the concept of tying energy efficiency to taking cars off of the roads isn’t working very well. We are just too attached to our horseless carriages. Here is a horse of a different color. The color is green.

Purveyors of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) seem to have figured out the trick to comparing energy savings. The Home Depot took a different tact as it began a CFL giveaway to entice customers to adopt the strange-looking, squiggly, curly bulbs that cost considerably more than regular incandescent bulbs. The bottom line is that since April 2007, the company has sold nearly 1 million of the wormy-looking bulbs. The reason? CFLs consume up to 75 percent less energy and they last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Also, Home Depot provides an online light bulb calculator so that a customer can determine how much they could actually save.

One 60 Watt incandescent bulb can be replaced with a 14 Watt CFL. It will provide $3 savings in the first year, a payback of 10 months assuming a $2.76 purchase price. The savings over the life of the bulb will be $45. Amazingly, no cars were taken off the road. Just simple common sense; customers get dollars back in their pockets after short periods of investment.


Payback and return on investment may be making their way back to a selling situation near you. True, the investment in a $2.76 squiggly light bulb isn’t near the actual investment of an HVACR system solution; but the concept of talking to customers about the long-term health of their wallets might be much more effective than trying to convince them that buying a high-efficiency system will reduce their carbon footprint and take a Cadillac Escalade off the highway, as if they care.

Publication date:11/05/2007