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GC: Leave a smaller carbon footprint, live an energy-efficient lifestyle

By Jessica Rodrigo
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.


Nowadays using less energy - at the home or on the road - is a hot trend. It's not only important to leave the planet in a good condition for other generations to enjoy; it's also a good idea when it comes to non-renewable resources.

For homeowners and renters alike, being green can save a few bucks, which can also be a perk.

According to a 2009 study, the average residential monthly electric bill in Texas was $141.20. That's nearly $1,700 a year.

Purchasing the right appliances can be a good start to using less resources and a step in the direction of leaving this planet as green as it was eons ago. Todd Evans, owner of Appliance Pro in Victoria, said dishwashers, refrigerators and washers are the biggest energy guzzlers in a household.

"The big thing nowadays is saving money on electricity and water, as far as the consumption of it," Evans explained. "That's really what the government is pushing for."

In 1992, a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy produced a system with the Energy Star program that would help consumers not only save money, but also protect the environment through the use of energy-efficient products and methods.

Through the initiative, products are labeled with stickers that identify computers, televisions, refrigerators and other major appliances as being energy friendly.

"That's the way the wind is blowing now. Everyone is going toward the high-efficiency, energy-saving appliances," he said.

It's possible that prices for Energy Star appliances can range from 15 to 20 percent more than the prices of your regular products, he said.

During certain times of the year, the government issues credits and rebates for consumers when they purchase Energy Star appliances, which may vary from state to state and between different appliances. Energystar.gov, state and federal websites offer information for consumers who are looking to save money on their purchase.

At home, Evans, 39, said he owns a dishwasher and refrigerator that are energy-efficient appliances, but adds that he didn't buy them for that reason.

"Most of your energy-efficient appliances are your medium- to high-end appliances," Evans said. "They'll have most of the features that people want."

Low-noise settings, multiple or pull-out drawers and low-water settings are examples of features that are important to families with children because of accessibility, increased washing, etc.

"All new appliances are highly energy-efficient anyway," he said. "Versus 10 to 15 years ago, they are already efficient. The non-Energy Star refrigerators of today use half or less of the power of 20 years ago. They're still more energy-efficient than they used to be."

Before anyone begins to consider purchasing a new refrigerator, he said, it's important to remember the difference in cost between an Energy Star and a non-Energy Star appliance, and how much they are actually saving in water and energy usage.

"You're gonna pay more for the Energy Star. It doesn't offset the cost of the difference of the appliance versus what you're going to actually save in electricity," Evans said, adding that it will vary between families and frequency of use of the appliance. "It's going to take you several years to make that back."

Alternative cars

For one Victoria lawyer, it was an electric toy train that sparked a desire to own an electric car.

"I was intrigued by why cars aren't electric," John Griffin remembered. "I would ask my Mom and Dad if trains are electric, why can't cars be electric, and my Dad would say, 'Well, they just don't make them like that.'"

As he got older, he followed the industry's movement through the realm of electric-operated cars and saw first-generation vehicles break into the market, only to be revamped and re-released in the most recent decades.

When Chevrolet announced it was going to begin producing its version of a hybrid car a few years ago, Griffin jumped on the phone with the team at Atzenhoffer Chevrolet.

"I told Manny over at Atzenhoffer that I want to be the first one on the list to own one," he said. And since last June, he will always be known as the person to own Victoria's first Chevy Volt.

Griffin uses his Volt for travel in and outside the city and explained that the hybrid car will get him anywhere within 35 miles without a drop of gasoline. After that, the engine will turn on and begin using fuel to generate electricity to run the car.

"If I didn't have to go to Houston, Austin and San Antonio so often, I wouldn't be using gas at all," Griffin said.

When the car is operating with the gas engine, he says he can get between 38 and 42 miles per gallon, which ranks average for 2012 most fuel efficient cars by EPA Size Class (excluding electric vehicles).

So long as he can plug into an electrical socket between stops, he can drive freely without using gasoline to fuel his trip, which also equates to more miles without any exhaust emissions.

"We're happy to be a part of a bridge to a more energy-efficient future; we're not anti-gas by any stretch, but we're definitely pro-strategies that lessen out dependency on gas," he said. "It's moving us toward a more energy-independent future. It's gratifying to be a part of that."

On the other hand, the Nissan Leaf - a fully electric vehicle - has made its debut in the Golden Crescent.

Hutch Pine, the general manager at Victoria Nissan, explained that most hybrid and electric cars are not very useful to those who have to travel out of town on a regular basis.

"It's not the most practical car for most Victorians," Pine said. "On a full overnight charge, it will get between 86-115 miles."

Austin, San Antonio and Houston fall just beyond the range of 115 miles. Going to and from Victoria on business or on the weekends might require the driver to stop and re-charge in the middle of the trip to avoid running out of electricity.

"It wouldn't work for me. I have family who live out of town, so it wouldn't be practical," the 38-year-old said. But he added that the Leaf is a zero-emissions vehicle, which is better for the planet.

An energy-efficient home

According to Tony Prokop, a homebuilder in Victoria, the American Dream is to build and own a home.

For new homes, he said, there are four energy-efficient trends people have shown an interest in during recent years, including the use of cool-ply decking, vinyl windows, energy-efficient air conditioners and choosing the right insulation.

Cool-ply decking - This particular paneling serves as a radiant barrier that helps reflect heat. It turns heat out from the home and may keep it about 20 degrees cooler.

Vinyl windows - A lot of older homes were built with aluminum windows, he said, and those can get hot. Also, double-paned windows, which are manufactured with different low E ratings for the gas trapped between the two panes, can help to keep temperatures down.

Energy-efficient air conditioners- With the temperatures that South Texas experiences, running the air conditioner during the summer time can increase electric bills by the hundreds. These units have varying seasonal energy efficiency ratio ratings and are more efficient than older models.

Insulation - Having the right kind of insulation in the walls and attic of a home can make a difference during the different seasons. Choosing a foam insulation that hardens may be better than the older blanket or roll insulation.

"All of these work together," he said. "If you insulate from the top, you'll want to change your windows to better contain the temperature inside the home."

Prokop, who is also president of the Victoria Home Builders Association, has been a part of the building industry for more than 30 years.

"I've been working with a lot of people to build the homes they want," he said. "These are just some of the things that people have been going for."

If re-modeling an existing home, he said, some simple tricks might include checking the weather striping around doors and windows.

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