How to Save Energy (August 1976)

If instead of loading all your imitation-silk shirts into your BMW and whisking away to Tahoe for the weekend you decided to stay home and find yourself, where would you be? In other words, how would you know for sure that you weren’t talking to yourself if you didn’t know where you were coming from? What I mean to say is, would you or would you not be down in the basement wondering to no one in particular about the advantage of putting up insulation for the winter? If you do find yourself (there’s that word again!) in the basement, I would be pleased to have the finder’s fee sent to me in care of this magazine. Otherwise, you deserve a stiff tongue-lashing. Anyone with their ear to the pulse of our dwindling energy resources could give you a snootful concerning your negligence in this matter, and if anyone who fits that description comes in, I’ll head them your way. For now, you’ll have to make do with me.

If you are the Average American, you may be wondering what you can do to help save energy. Wonder to more! Being in the unique position of one who got most of his good material in the Mesozoic Age, I speak from experience on the matter, unlike these so-called know-it-alls with whom we are currently swamped. For example, did you know that the fuel suppliers have been tricking you into using their product needlessly? Of course not. I won’t go into detail, but a good example is the instance of grease fires.

That’s right, grease fires, like you might create at home on your very own range. For years the power companies have been subtly spreading propaganda via the various fire departments through our great land urging the swift demise of grease fires wherever they exist, the implication being that they are harmful or dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth! Grease fires, if allowed to propagate and eke out a living normally, would be a tremendous free source of heat for cooking, etc. But with the present campaign to obliterate the poor dears, we are brainwashed into using the costly gas or electricity provided us by the power companies. I could cite examples from here until the Jupiter landing, but it wouldn’t do any good. Instead, I have decided to beat the power brokers at their own game, and you can profit. Just follow these simple hints in your own home, and watch utility bills go down.

First and foremost is water conservation. Even if you don’t live in arid Southern California, water is now getting scarce in all parts of the nation. All that brainwashing has contributed to this, you can be certain. Here’s a solution that not only cuts down on water usage, but at the same time solves most of the critical waste disposal problems connected with treating “used” water.

A relatively simple technique, it involves putting bricks in your toilet. Although there has been some publicity about this method, I am sure that many people are not knowledgeable about the theory behind it. Let’s approach it from the practical standpoint, rather than the technical. You will need some bricks, probably the red, standard building-type would be the best, and some strong mortar, which must exhibit waterproof characteristics when dry. It will be easier if you first turn off the water inlet, and pack the bowl of the toilet to within three or four inches of the top with concrete before you begin putting in the bricks. This arrangement will produce a reasonably strong plug without necessitating too much work. If you have packed the concrete in well, there should be no tendency to shift at all in the brickwork. After the mortar or concrete is completely cured, you may turn on the water once again, if you wish. This is not necessary unless you desire having a toilet that is potentially capable of operating as it once did. Now you can test the effect of this water-saving move. Flush the toilet in the usual way, and note that very little water, if any, will be used, as compared to the normal operation of the toilet. The job is a success. But wait, you have only witnessed one-half of the benefits of this method! Along with the trickle of water going down the drain is only the smallest amount of sewage that needs to be treated. A double benefit.

If you already feel better about your contribution to a cleaner earth, don’t get carried away. Remember, you have a long way to go to make up for that BMW of yours that goes from zero to sixty in less time than the bionic man. But relax, there are more painless ways to help without getting too bent out of shape.

If law and order are as important to you as to most of us, you probably have a cattle-prod around the house. It might surprise you to know that recharging that cattle-prod costs a lot of money. Far be it from me to suggest that you trade in your cattle-prod for a billy-club, nightstick, baton, bludgeon, or baseball bat — I enjoy a good romp as well as the next man — but in desperate times, unusual solutions are called for. If all the unusual solutions are out when you call, may I modestly suggest my book, Cattle-Prod Compendium; The Agony and the Ecstasy, as a starter. No matter what your feelings are about the techniques of using this fine utensil, you will most assuredly find yourself challenged by the thesis put forth in this sage tome, which teaches the replacement of brute force by subtlety. Of course, if you are determined to continue to be a heavy user, the very least you can do is recharge the little devil late at night, when electricity usage is at its lowest, rather than during the peak power consumption hours during the day (particularly the afternoon).

Other day-to-day things you can do to save on energy around the house without putting yourself out too much include items such as cutting down on phone calls made from “Princess” model telephones, which light up every time you use them, and lowering the voltage on your doorbell.

These next few ideas involve some measure of sacrifice, but the truly patriotic among us will not flinch from them, but will spring to the aid of our fair country. (I am talking about you, you know.) For the first, you will need some of that clear glow-in-the-dark paint. Not the stuff they stamp on the back of your at Disneyland and some nightclubs, the other kind. Make sure you don’t get any of that hippy paint. Now with a little care and a good brush, treat all of the portraits, pictures, etc. in your home. In the daytime, the chemical hardly shows, but at night you’ll realize a tremendous savings by being able to turn off those energy-hungry spotlights. Just think of the atmosphere that this futuristic effect will lend your home, and how much money you can make selling your now-unneeded spotlights to someone else!

And speaking of futuristic, what about your television? That’s right, your TV. It consumes 47 times its weight in hard-to-generate electricity every three hours! No, I’m not about to tell you you can’t watch TV and still be a loyal American. What I am going to tell you is how to get the same enjoyment out of your TV and cut the electric bill by 75 percent. Fortunately for all of us who love TV, the circuitry is so designed so that most of the energy is consumed in the single act of providing the set with a picture. All those transistors area actually quite economical. It’s that pesky picture tube. Bad luck for the robber barons of the power business, though. There is a knob on your TV somewhere that will “cheat” them out of their money without any inconvenience to you. If you can find the “brightness” control on your set, you are ready to save big money. All you need do is turn it all the way to the left (counter-clockwise), sit back, and smile all the way to the bank. A side benefit of this is the corresponding reduction in electro-magnetic emissions and eyestrain experienced by people who have tried this method. If you suffer from eyestrain or wear glasses, you owe it to yourself to try this and see if there isn’t a noticeable improvement in as little as four or five hours of viewing time.

This next suggestion affects folks like me a lot, but if you’ve still got some of that good old-fashioned pioneer spirit, this might appeal to you. For a very few minutes of light manual labor each day, you can actually save pennies a year by selling that old automatic letter opener and doing it by hand! It may not seem like much, but it’s little things like these that make the house-hold budget stretch farther than truth in the mouth of a politician.

Everybody knows (that’s how I heard about it) that the most power-hungry things in your home are the ones that either make cold stuff hot, or hot stuff cold. It’s a safe bet that your biggest savings will come from the wise use of appliances around the home that fit this description. The main offenders are the iron, the stove (or oven), the electric blanket, the furnace, the air conditioner, the water heater, and the refrigerator. For the first two, the best I can tell you is to use them as seldom as possible. More easily said than done, I know.

As for the furnace and the air conditioner, researchers have discovered that it is costly and counter-productive to run them simultaneously, so take the hint. Even the lowly electric blanket is a spendthrift, so you will save a bundle by getting rid of it and sleeping in your tuxedo.

But I’ve kept the biggest and best for last; the water heater and refrigerator. The water heater is the more simple of the two, but it may cost a little initially to get on the right side. You will kick yourself for not thinking of it before, so here it is. Any numbskull could tell you that it is easier (and cheaper) to heat hot water than cold water, and therein lies the answer to this seemingly insurmountable problem. That is; buy a hot water heater instead of a cold water heater! I won’t dwell on this point, nor will I gloat over my solution, but I do advise that you look into this matter at your earliest convenience.

Last, but far from least, we come to the refrigerator. Don’t worry, I am not going to rob you of your cold beer and ice cream, but would you be interested in a way to keep that beer and ice cream (and anything else you might store in your refrigerator) at a fraction of the cost? Of course you would! Without delay, I put it to you thus: if heat rises and cold sinks, imagine what happens each time you open the refrigerator door. The cold all pours out the bottom, and the heat from the room rushes in at the top to take its place (this is assuming you are not going to have a beer when it’s colder in the room than it is in the refrigerator). If you’re half as clever as you would need to be to have an attention span long enough to wade through this mess, you’ve undoubtedly seen the big freezers that some folks have in their homes to store food in … perhaps you have one yourself, and you have noticed that they are built differently than your refrigerator. If you look at it carefully, you will see that it is constructed so that the top surface comprises a door, which opens upward. Besides making it impossible to get to anything at the bottom of the freezer, this ingenious design traps the cold air in such a way that it can’t get out when the door is opened. Here, then, is the key to cutting down on the cost of running your refrigerator. In a few minutes you could be taking advantage of the same physical law that allows those freezers to run so efficiently by simply laying your standard refrigerator on its back. You will note that the cold air can’t spill out as before, and as long as it stays in, the hot air from the room (remember the heated room?) will stay where it belongs, in the room.

In closing, just let me say in all modesty that if everyone in America spent as little energy as I do in their daily lives, all of us would be much better off.