I've been on a tear of late to eliminate or minimize standby loads. This arises from data revealing that during spring and fall, when HVAC use is minimal, standby loads comprise 25%, 5 kwh / day of our home's total usage.

5 kwh / day exceeds the total usage of our entire kitchen - fridge, chest freezer, range, dishwasher, etc.

At national average electric rates of $0.11 / kwh, each Watt of standby usage works out to a buck a year, so the sneaky little loads add up fast.

An early victory came in the form of learning that the starting battery trickle charger on our standby genny consumes 30-35 Watts. A $40, 10 Watt PV panel from Amazon has allowed me to kill that load while still maintaining the genny's cranking battery.

We have 3 garage door openers, specifically Overhead Door Phantoms. They are quiet and have been relatively trouble-free. Imagine my shock at learning each uses 14.5 Watts while sitting and doing nothing.

Doing the math, the three (aptly named) Phantoms have cost us $200 in standby power since we built the house in early 2008.

Thoughts, anyone?

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I believe that admonition from Jesus was after he threw the money changers out of the Temple.

I've never claimed to be an environmental saint, but I live in a 300 SF cabin with no indoor plumbing, use a composting outhouse and a wood-fired hot tub as my bath, heat with locally-sourced wood, use grid electricity but pay extra for 100% renewables, buy locally grown organic food, drive my 13 year old pickup truck (which is needed for work) as little as possible, and live on about $10,000 a year.

And you're quite right that my lifestyle is more than what the earth can tolerate, but far closer to what sustainable living really means. And, as an instructor of sustainability, I know all too well that we've already crossed the point of no return on the earth's climate, pollution and biodiversity loss and will leave no options to our grandchildren other than adaptation and resilience in the face of unprecedented devolution of what we call civilization.

But we at least owe to them a model of how they might best live in a post-carbon world rather than continuing to fiddle on the deck of the Titanic, oblivious of the legacy we've created with our "unsinkable" consumptive civilization.

I quite agree...I personally survived without garage door openers until 2008, but they have their place and I don't plan to give them up. I will, however, one way or another, solve ours' absurd standby electricity usage  that drove me to start this thread.

BTW, I'm with you on high mpg cars. My VW Jetta TDI, bought new in 2002, turns 10 this year. It has 280k miles, and, owing to multiple modifications, used to routinely exceed 55 mpg and often 60 mpg. It has fallen a bit owing to age and reduced use, but still hangs around 50 mpg.

Robert sets an awesome example of a low footprint lifestyle, but his is simply unsaleable. I'd starve trying to advocate anything approaching his degree of thrift, parsimony and sacrifice.

As a result of and perhaps as reward for having endured the Great Depression and won WW2, the US rolled out a consumption pattern highlighted by majority car and single family home ownership, sprawling suburbs and 40,000+ miles of four+ lane high speed limited access interstate highways.

Around the 1970s we realized that such untrammeled exploitation incurred great environmental costs, so we began to self regulate via the clean air and water acts and sundry other regulations to reduce the impacts of our living large.

The global threat we now face is that 3+ billion Indian, Asian and Chinese citizens, approximately 10x US population, know of and seek to emulate US prosperity. They demand houses, cars, highways, refrigeration, HVAC, computing, multimedia, etc, and they possess the economic wherewithal to have them.

The challenge is to deliver those services, commodities and lifestyles to all those people without further damaging the environment.

It's not the least surprising that an American who thinks he needs a 3400 SF home with 50 windows for a five-person family and won't give up his three garage door openers believes that the environmental problem is because of nations like India, which still has half their population living in dire poverty, and China with a per capita income of about $5,000 divided very unequally.

It will be quite some time before those countries together have as much impact on the planet as the United States has already and continues to. The problem of global environmental devastation rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the developed nations, with America having at least double the per capita impact of even more advanced European nations.

As long as we continue the irresponsible mantra that "a low footprint lifestyle...is simply unsaleable", we'll continue to be the prime cause of the unlivable planet that we leave to our grandchildren (if they even have a chance to reach adulthood).

Gus Speth, founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, environmental adviser to President's Carter and Clinton, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, writes, "If we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels – they are accelerating, dramatically – and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification."

Martin Rees, British cosmologist and astrophysicist, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and past President of the Royal Society of London (the world's oldest scientific association) has predicted a 50/50 chance of human extinction by the end of this century.

So it's good to know that you won't give up your gadgets as long as you can blame some non-white people for the problem.

I'm not sure if it was accidental or deliberate, but you inferred that I blame / don't want developing nations to obtain US quality of life. Incorrect - they have begun and will continue to construct and acquire the infrastructure, goods and services to do it. They are rolling out tens of thousands of miles of multilane highways, hundreds of new power plants, car factories, etc. I welcome those developments - countries with a solid middle class have the best chance of stamping out violent radicalism and becoming responsible players. We can't stop it and we'd be fools to try.

Scurrilous race-baiting is obscene.

The challenge facing all of us is to manage global prosperity in as responsible a manner as possible.

I could sit on the sidelines and kvetch about US citizens' big energy footprint, and no fewer McMansions would be built.

Instead, I can build a business demonstrating how a new home (such as my own) can be configured to consume 25% of typical, or how, for $5-10 per square foot, an existing home may be retrofitted to consume 50% less energy with no loss of comfort or convenience.

Yesterday I demonstrated to a client how their new 2 stage pool pump uses 9.2 amps on high (as found) and just 2.5 amps on low and that "low" filters the pool just fine. They have a 300 SF detached garage apartment, 1 bed 1 bath now poorly heated and cooled with an oversized, corroding 1.5 ton heat pump. A SEER 26 9 KBtuh minisplit would do it for 1/4 the energy.

Could I have instead chided them for owning these things? Yes!

Would I be welcomed back to their home? No!

Would they then miss two easy ways to cut energy use by 75% and sundry other opportunities? Yes!

I don't buy the end-of-the-world argument. I'm old enough to remember the promise of "peak oil" by 1975 and being told Detroit would fold if required to increase energy efficiency.

Is climate change bad? Yes!

Will it get worse? Yes!

Will we fix it? I believe so...it'll be long, messy, expensive and controversial, but we'll fix it. The US led us into this mess, and I believe it'll lead us out of it.

Meanwhile I need to go check that my dear wife closed the garage door and then unplug the little pig!


If you believe that the US or any space alien will "fix" climate change, then you are either woefully uneducated about the subject or delusional (I suspect a combination of both with a heavy dose of the latter).

I quoted above two of the most educated, sane and respected people in the world who, after a lifetime of efforts to "fix" the environment have realized that environmental devastation on a global level has only accelerated.

James Hansen of NASA, the world's leading climatologist, has repeatedly stated that if we exploit tar sands oil - which both Canada and the US are determined to do - it's "game over for the planet".

These are not apocalyptic nut-cases. These are the best and the brightest. The most well-informed say that we have at most ten years to stop global carbon output completely (100% reduction) if we expect to live through the climate changes that are already coming because of previous emissions.

The real nut-cases are those, like Sir Richard Branson, who think we can re-engineer the planet to keep it habitable (or colonize space if not). Einstein called the attempt to find a solution using the same mindset that caused the problem: "insanity". He was right about that, as well as E=MC².

What you are doing seems perfectly reasonable only if you live in a box and refuse to look outside at the global picture and the history of human impact on the earth, of which more than 90% has occurred just in the last 100 years, and most of that in just the last 50-60 years since WWII.

To welcome the "developing" nations to emulate the American lifestyle is like Bonnie and Clyde doing missionary work to convert people to bank robbers.


I'm with Curt.  I want to go after the $500 annual energy savings, not the $20 savings.  I think you hook people with EE, from there some may develop passion and keep digging.  But get them unplugging garage door openers and they think EE means much greater sacrifice than reward, and you've lost them forever. 

I don't think you hook people with sacrifice for small reward.  I don't think that sticks.  And you definitely don't hook them with negativity.  Robert if there is no hope for solution why are you wasting your breath?  Simply to be judgemental?  Do you really find so much pleasure in that?  Seems you are against a lot of things, is there anything you are for?  

It may be for naught at this point, but I really enjoy helping people cut their energy use 30-70% and be MORE comfortable.  I think that could be viral, and could make a difference.  Maybe not, but then to what useful purpose do I put my time to?  I don't think "unplug your garage door opener" will get legs, nor do I think if it did it would matter much, nor am I interested in taking up what looks to be a very uninteresting and unsatisfying challenge.   

I'm not unplugging mine.  (one of many reasons - If I leave my car in the sun my rechargeable batteries fire my CO monitor, and I'd prefer not to use disposables.)  Besides, I like the convenience.  

Yes, Ted, I am against living in denial of the consequences of our actions and lifestyles, and even more against consciously rationalizing our lifestyles and welcoming their spread to the rest of the world as if it were a good thing.

If you call that being "negative" or "judgmental" then that's the way you choose to perceive it. I call it being responsible.

I call it judgemental and unproductive.  Unreasonable expectations without offer of solutions.  It reminds me of people who said solar "didn't make sense", those who say "electric cars are folly".  People who expect perfection to be delivered to them on a silver platter, without the mistakes and learning in between.  

I think we set a terrible example to the world on a lot of fronts.  But saying that doesn't even start to change it.  Change requires leadership, not naysayers. It requires looking at the example we'd like to set, and taking strides in that direction, recognizing the strides will be imperfect but they will be better than sitting around complaining. 

We don't snap our fingers and get to net zero.  We evolve to it.  The market develops, best practices get distributed, and ability to deliver cost effectively improves.  Again, solar is the quickly evolving example.  

Perfection simply doesn't exist, but continuous improvement can.  Progress in any direction requires momentum, do you want momentum in any direction?  

Negativity kills momentum.  Do you want to create momentum, or kill it?  


I teach sustainable design and construction practices in order to encourage momentum in the right direction. But I do it within the context of the real issues facing global humanity and the impending consequences of our choices. No one can make responsible decisions without fully understanding and appreciating both the consequences and the immediacy of the threat.

Americans are as consumers like alcoholics are to drinking - addicted, in denial of the consequences, and unable or unwilling to make the only choice that will save them and their families: going cold-turkey, getting sober, abandoning their addiction completely.

No addict makes the necessary lifestyle changes until they "hit bottom" and understand just how dangerous and damaging their choices have been.

If the media and our political leaders were doing their job, every discussion about how to respond to the record-breaking damage wrought by hurricane Sandy would address climate change, how our everyday choices contribute to the rising tide of global destruction, and how we need to change the way we live if we are going to survive tomorrow.

The crisis of civilization is just as real and immediately dangerous as the crisis of alcoholism and drunk driving. There is only one responsible solution and that is to abandon our addictions to material affluence, technological gadgetry, and market-based responses.

But that's a message, however necessary, that precious few are willing to hear because it challenges everything we have come to believe.

As for your accusation of "unreasonable expectations":

Again, from Gus Speth, who knows environmental issues and pragmatism perhaps better than anyone on earth:

"If someone says these proposals are impractical, or politically naïve, then I would respond that we need impractical answers. There is merely a reflection of the condition in which we find ourselves. And if some of these answers seem radical or far-fetched today, then I say wait until tomorrow. Soon it will be abundantly clear that it is business as usual that is utopian, whereas creating something very new and different is a practical necessity."

"In general, the world of practical affairs does not truly appreciate how much negative change is coming at us, nor how fast. As a result, it has yet to develop the needed answers, except partially in small experiments across the landscape. So we must look beyond the world of practical affairs to those who are thinking difficult and unconventional thoughts and proposing transformative change."

Curt, Ted, Robert:

I've been following your threads and feel compelled to weigh in again.

Robert: I agree entirely with your assessment of the situation - the consequences are dire and we are collectively in denial (to varying degrees) about the situation the planet is in - and our responsibility about it.  It is a moral and ethical issue for sure.

Curt: regarding the end of the world argument: it is not the end of the world but the messes we are creating have resulted in the 6th most significant extinction event in the history of the planet, if my memory serves me correctly. 

And that is ONLY as far as this 6th event has progressed - this extinction event is ongoing and is likely to accelerate.

As far as your comment about peak oil, the only reason it did not happen earlier is that we found more and more.  It appears that we may have peaked already - but the silver lining of the slow economy has kept fuel prices from skyrocketing (yet, even at the relatively low price of $4 per gallon, people are freaked out and blaming everyone they can).

But I agree that you don't want to lay this stuff on people or it will turn them off.

Robert: no one is motivated by intensity and perceived or real negativism.  I should know - that has been my mode of operating much of the time.  Though I think your assessment of the situation is a lot more accurate than Curt's is (though I only have this thread to tell), you are not going to get people to join you with a message that comes across as too intense, or condescending or shaming.

And I AGREE with you - and am much closer to sustainable than the average American.  Imagine all the folks who are much less conscious to these issue - they cannot even deal with such serious topics and will not hear what you say the way you deliver it.

I recognize the dilemma: the severity of the problem requires immediate action and response - but you cannot change people's consciousness levels too quickly - it is much too much overload.

Finally, a response to your statement about playing fiddle on the deck of the Titanic: though all the band members perished in that famous shipwreck, the implication that their contribution was useless could not be much further from the truth.  In fact, given that they knew they were going to die, there was no better contribution that could make to the situation: they helped to maintain calm and probably contributed to some lives being saved in the process.  And they helped other folks die more peacefully than they would have otherwise. 

Hopefully we have not gotten to the point where we cannot change where things are headed.  I am not hopeful - but I take solace in the fact that there are so many things I do not know, expecially about human nature, that can affect the outcome.  In essence, I am comforted by my ignorance.

I think a Wendell Berry quote sums this up:

"Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."

I appreciate the work you/we all do to create a better world.  Eventually we are going to have to worry about a lot more than the phantom loads of garage door openers - but keep up the good work.

I'll have to check mine, thank you! t


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