“A couple of years ago NCIPL did an energy audit at the Durham Shambhala Meditation Center, and about that time the Center also sponsored a showing and discussion of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”. As a (now retired) employee of the US EPA, I considered myself pretty environmentally aware, but I was surprised to learn that for most people their greatest contribution to carbon dioxide outputs comes not from their cars but from the fossil fuel burned to heat and cool their houses and run the appliances therein. In a way this was somewhat of a relief for me because I can’t afford a Prius, and I don’t have good enough depth vision to drive a car with such rounded fenders. So I’m sticking with my old 24 mpg station wagon for now, but I definitely wanted to do something. I found that just using a solar clothes dryer (known back in the 20th century as a clothesline) saved almost 40% on our electric bills in the spring and fall.
Also in response to both the audit and the movie, I looked into various options when the HVAC system in my home needed to be replaced and decided to go with a dual fuel heat pump rather than a standard gas pack. I found estimates that the dual fuel heat pump, while more expensive initially, would pay for itself in 7-9 years as well as generate less carbon dioxide from the day of installation. The guy that installed it said “Yeah, yeah, they say” but I’d estimate it will pay for itself in about 5 years.
I was asked to write a couple of paragraphs on the impact of the audit, but now I find it hard to stop. While nothing can ever be as cost-effective as a $2 clothesline, every time I was out there hanging up clothes on a beautiful sunny day, I found I still wanted to do more to utilize the abundant sunshine we are blessed with in this area. I’d heard that solar water heating, while more mundane, was more cost-effective than photovoltaics. However, the commercial solar water heating systems that we looked at cost at least $3,000 so we were looking at a big up-front investment and a long pay-back time. We are currently in the process of having a do-it-yourself solar water pre-heater installed based on a design from Mother Earth News. The cost will be just over $1,000 so we hope to at least recover our investment in our lifetimes as well as being the first in the neighborhood to have solar-heated hot water. Once we get that done we are going to put in a small off-grid photovoltaic system. I doubt this will ever pay for itself, but it will obviously make some difference in electric bills and carbon dioxide generated and also be a reliable source of electricity during power outages.”
-Jackie Stonehouer, Member of Durham Shambala Meditation Center
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