Tonight marks the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of Lights. While both cultural consumerism and family tradition has led me to closely associate the holiday with eight days of gifts and wild amounts of potato pancakes (latkes) and deep fried foods like Sufganiot (Jelly Donuts, see above), the story of Hanukkah itself is deeply tied with modern concerns of energy conservation and environmental stewardship.
The story of Hanukkah contains a great "eco-miracle", when in a time of great suffering, a tiny amount of oil, enough to light a lamp for one day lasted for eight whole days. We commemorate this miracle each year to celebrate light which is sacred. And although the story takes place thousands of years ago, this holiday is so very relevant in our time, and we should take great heed to the message: the light, the oil, the energy which we use is sacred, and we must conserve it wisely and make responsible choices about our energy usage.
And so, a Hanukkah PSA I would like to remind everyone that one of the best way to reduce our energy usage is to start with our homes. One of the most useful ways to address energy in the home is to get an energy audit. Audits are not cheap, and can run between $180 for a thorough walk through to upwards of $700 dollars, but they can save you thousands of dollars in energy costs in the long run. If you are worried about the price, consider gathering your neighbors and with enough homes, the auditor might be able to negotiate a discount.
Energy auditors are trained to go methodically through housed to check for ways to save energy (and reduce energy bills). They use methods such as a blower door test, which helps determine the air-tightness of a house and leakage, and tools such as a thermal imaging camera which can help assess where there are areas of heat loss.
The following are pictures taken by a friend who is a trained auditor with the thermal imaging camera, and present a striking demonstration that one of the easiest ways to reduce energy waste is to unplug electronics when not in use!
1) A DVD Player plugged into a powerstrip, but the powerstrip not turned off:
2.) A computer speaker plugged in, but not on:
The next photos are in regards to insulation. Insulation is an important factor in keeping your house both warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It prevents air from freely flowing through walls and disrupting the temperature of the home. Insulation around pipes and water heaters also also reduces the amount of energy required to keep hot water warm, and acts very much like a cozy in order to keep your tea pot warm (or for that matter your beer cold).
3.) An uninsulated crawl space and basement, which appear in lighter color:
4.) Unevenly insulated pipes. The insulated sections are maroon and red, the uninsulated sections yellow and white:
The heat lost from plugged electronics, uninsulated pipes, rooms, and water heaters is significant, but can be reduced by making even some of the smallest changes. This holiday season, take a moment to walk through your house with a critical eye, unplug everything not in use, and switch your light-bulbs for CFL's. If the windows are drafty caulk the edges and pull your blinds down, roll up blankets to place in front of drafty doors, spend $25 dollars on an insulator blanket for your water heater, and then finally sit down and make a plan for the next step. Hanukkah lasts only for eight days, but the changes that can be made now will last for years to come. Think of it as the best gift to your home (and your electric bill) ever.