Ending Our Addiction to Oil

The following suggestions can reduce our dependence on oil and other energy sources. They can also help make a home more comfortable and save time and money. Some of these suggestions may sound sophomoric, they may be obvious to some but are routinely ignored by many others. Some of these suggestions are intended for the property purchase and building process; other are relevant for existing homes.

Here is my prescription to combat our addiction to oil:


  • The location of a property in relation to: work, school, shopping, etc. must be part of the evaluation of a home's price. The cost of fuel and the value of commuting time are but a few of the considerations that must be taken into account when purchasing a piece of property.

  • Two identical homes located at opposite sides of a hill can have very different energy needs. For example, in northern climates, a home located on the northern side of a hill will require more heating energy than an identical house on the southern side of a hill. The amount of sunlight falling on these houses and the exposure to cold winds makes a significant difference is terms of heating requirements. Location also impacts summer cooling needs.

  • A caller to my Saturday morning radio program asked my how he might make his new 4000 sq. ft. home more energy efficient. I blurted out that he might consider building a 2000 sq. ft. home. My answer was not very polite - but it was valid. Larger homes take more energy to heat, light and use than smaller homes. We may argue about the relative energy budget of a 2000 sq. ft. home vs. that of a home twice the size, but there is no doubt that the bigger home will use more energy than a similar smaller home. Monster houses have monster energy budgets!

  • There are also some ongoing arguments about energy code "details" but there is little doubt that homes built in accordance with the latest energy code specifications require less energy than similar homes built to lesser standards. Energy codes have made newer homes more efficient, we could do the same thing with cars!

  • Passive solar principles can be used in every home design to reduce heating and/or cooling costs. These methods are not new, they are not revolutionary and they will not be the total answer to heating or cooling requirements. But they work very well and their relative cost is low. The ideal time to employ these principles is during the original design phase of the structure, some of these ideas can be used in most existing homes.

  • One of the reason's for the failure of President Carter's attempts to reduce our addiction to oil had to do with the 'snake-oil' sales pitches that came with the various tax credits. There are still many 'snake-oil' programs out there. Here are a few examples:

    • Replacing your existing windows may result in more efficient units than the use of the existing ones but the net savings tend to be small. Have you thought about drapes? Storm windows?
    • "Energy efficient" air conditioning systems may use less energy than older models but they still use a lot of energy. Have you thought about some alternative ways to cool your home?
    • A new energy "efficient furnace" may save you some money over that of your 15 year old unit but duct and furnace cleaning and service might save you even more.

  • The cars we drive to and from our home's consume a lot of energy, mostly oil. There are some good and realistic ways to reduce oil consumption in this category. My wife's car is a 4-door hybrid (40+ miles per gallon). I drive a turbo-diesel station wagon and use bio-diesel (40+ miles per gallon). Both cars do very well on the highway. Both have been available for years, and both have been very reliable and fun to drive. No need to wait for hydrogen cars, we can use less oil by selecting more energy efficient cars and such cars are on the market today.

  • Set-back thermostats are inexpensive and can be set to automatically adjust the heat in the home. This is one investment that can easily pay for itself in less than one year's usage. (BTW - you never want to let the temperatures in your home drop below 55F).

    Robert Shaw Thermostat

    Example of a set-back thermostat

  • Florescent light bulbs are now available in most sizes and shapes. They cost more to purchase but save a lot of energy and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. One drawback - florescent light bulbs require special disposal methods.

    Light Emitting Diode light bulbs are now reaching the market. In addition to using less energy and lasting for a very long time, they produce little heat and thus make for ideal lighting in refrigerators and freezers and reduce summer cooling needs.

  • None of these suggestions will end our addiction to oil by themselves, but they can make a significant impact on our individual lives and on our society.

    See also: Topics: Topic: Pacific Northwest Air Conditioning, Q&A #24: Windows and Skylights, Topics: Preparing for Cold Weather